During the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary show on Feb. 15, Tina Fey joked on "Weekend Update," "Also joining us, one of the show's original producers: cocaine."
That brought back a memory. Back in 1979, I pitched Rolling Stone on an article about Garrett Morris, one of SNL's original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. He was clearly the most unsung member of the cast and deserved his own feature in the mag. The editor agreed, so the interview at 30 Rock was set up.
What I remember most about that interview was Morris offered me cocaine. Presumably, the white powder was everywhere backstage in those days, the show's rocket fuel that kept things speeding along. John Belushi was so famous for his cocaine use that he ultimately died from it (actually a speedball).
Friends and I used to get together every Saturday evening to watch the show, followed by the even better SCTV. It was 150 minutes of pure comic brilliance. One of the friends had a jewel box filled with drugs. Though I was mostly a pothead, we did hoover some lines at the time. It was the '70s; that's what people did then before coke's negative effects began to take its toll.
I never met Belushi, but I did interview him. I was writing for the Soho Weekly News in New York when the Blues Brothers spun off into an album, concert tour and finally a movie, starring Belushi and his harmonica-playing sidekick, Dan Akyroyd.
The Blues Brothers were receiving pretty bad reviews from the rock critics, who felt they were succeeding by ripping off the music of struggling black acts like Sam & Dave. Roomful of Blues had tried out to be their back-up band, but Belushi and Akyroyd settled on Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn from Booker T. & the M.G.'s instead. This set off a pissing match with Roomful's front man, who said the Blues Brothers were a joke.
I'd been trying to snag an interview with Belushi to no avail until I received a call form his publicist saying he wanted to talk. So next thing I was on the phone with the embattled Blues Brother. It didn't take long for Belushi to erupt like one of of his SNL characters. "What am I, fucking Al Jolson?" he asked as I barraged him with questions. 'What the fuck do these people think I am anyway? I can't fucking understand why they would attack me." Belushi reserved one of his choice broadsides for a female writer who criticized the Blues Brothers: "Tell her I'd kick her in the cunt, but I don't want to ruin my shine." The interview was classic, one of the highlights of my journalistic career. The story's headline said it all: "Samurai Blues Brother."
One of SNL's heirs to Belushi's madcap chubby guy roles was Horatio Sanz, who along with Jimmy Fallon played college stoners Gobi and Jarret in the recurring "Jarret's Room" sketch. When I was with High Times I produced the Stony Awards. In 2003, we crowned Sanz as Stoner of the Year. He accepted the trophy (a bong) at the show. That was a highlight as well for me when it comes to my personal connections with Saturday Night Live.
Nowadays, the show keeps rotating its cast, and in doing so, finding new stars like Kate McKinnon and Jay Pharaoh. The coke years have passed, but it's still fun to curl up on the couch at 11:30 pm, smoke some pot and have a few laughs.