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When Trent Reznor, the Misfits and More Rocked Public Access TV

public access
Screengrabs via YouTube

It’s one of the cornerstones of the rock ‘n’ roll hustle: Never, ever pass up a chance to play on TV, lest you miss your big break. This truism was especially sacrosanct back in the ’80s and ’90s, before the internet made it possible to discover your new favorite band without leaving your couch or flipping on the boob tube — but without a chart-topping hit, landing a spot on Good Morning America or Saturday Night Live was damn near impossible. Public-access TV programs, on the other hand, were always eager to showcase the talents of local bands.

Because so many of these local music shows were funded by taxpayers, programmers didn’t need to worry about placating advertisers or executives. This provided the nation’s iconoclasts with unparalleled opportunities for exposure — and you can bet your ass they took it.

In time, many of the programs went under, but their legendary on-camera sets are alive and well on YouTube — and so, we sifted through the grainy flotsam in search of the best public access television performances ever. You’d be surprised by how many big legends graced those tiny stages: everyone from Trent Reznor and the Minutemen to Die Kreuzen and Deicide. Read on, and reminisce. 

TRENT REZNOR (AM Cleveland, 1987)

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It’s one of rock’s darkest, most hilarious secrets — prior to his gloomy apotheosis as the force behind one of rock’s most successful bands, Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor was the keyboardist / backing vocalist in Slam Bamboo, a cheery, irredeemably cheesy synth-pop outfit from Cleveland. The band’s performance on local morning show AM Cleveland finds Mr. Self-Destruct rocking a floppy haircut and tickling the keys with comical intensity. The best moment comes around the 1:00 mark, when Reznor catches himself peering into the camera, prompting a noticeably awkward glance stage-left.

AMON (DEICIDE) (Tampa Cable Access, 1988)

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Public broadcasting, as we all know, is “paid for by viewers like you,” which means there’s a lot of on-air fundraising involved. In 1988, a Tampa-based PBS affiliate tapped a local musician by the name Glen “Amon” Benton — death metal forefather, and eventual Deicide frontman — to play one such event. “If you’re wondering what these fellas are doing behind me,” the suited host says, flanked by the corpsepaint-clad crew, “I don’t know either.”

SIEGE (Boston Public Access, 1984)

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Siege existed from 1981 to 1985, and this video is from 1984. Think about that for a minute. Considering the brutality and unconfined rancor in the video above, it’s hard to believe that they weren’t sent down from another, more primitive civilization to show us all what hate REALLY looks like.

THE MUMMIES (Counter Culture Cable Access TV, 1991)

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Looking to understand why the Mummies are loved 25 years after their initial run? Check out the records and then check out this insane clip of the band performing live in 1991. Vocalist Trent Ruane is out front, falling all over the place, knocking over people and objects again and again, all while clad in a mummy outfit and absolutely dripping with punk attitude. This is fun as hell, and exactly what we want from our live shows then, now and forever.

DIE KREUZEN (Milwaukee Public Access, 1983)

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The 1983 clip of Die Kreuzen from a Milwaukee cable access show exhibited the power of the Wisconsin band during their hardcore-focused phase and before their debut LP. The 30-minute clip also contains a rare roundtable-style interview with the band.

BUTTHOLE SURFERS (The Scott and Gary Show, 1984)

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Televised on local channels in the Washington, D.C., area from 1983-1989, The Scott and Gary Show was among the first programs to shine a light on alternative rock, hosting early performances from icons like R. Stevie Moore, Half Japanese and the Velvet Monkeys. In 1984, a little-known band called the Butthole Surfers played the program (as did a rising rap act straight out of New York City, who called themselves the Beastie Boys). It made for one hell of a performance, to say the least.

FLIPPER (San Francisco Cable Access, 1983)

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Shortly after the release of their seminal debut, Album – Generic Flipper, San Francisco noise-rock pioneers Flipper appeared on a Bay Area cable access show for a fury-laden hour-long set, interspersed with an awkward interview in which the band lays sprawled out on the stage, smoking cigarettes and goofing around with the host, who at one point accurately describes them as “the most obnoxious band in San Francisco.”

MINUTEMEN (Boston Public Access, 1985)

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Before MTV started unplugging guitar rigs, Minutemen decided to do that on their own for their appearance on cable access. Starting with their classic “Corona” (maybe best known as the theme for Jackass), the band runs through originals and a healthy number of covers by bands like Van Halen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Blue Öyster Cult, the Meat Puppets and more. It’s an interesting and rare look into the trailblazing band and, in particular, the late, great D. Boon.

WEEN (Nothing Really, 1997)

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Ween were hardly unknown when they appeared on Pennsylvania cable access show Nothing Really in 1997; over a decade into their career, the oddball savants had already risen to prominence in alternative rock circles thanks to Pure Guava and Chocolate and Cheese. You never forget your roots, though — and so, shortly before releasing their magnum opus The Mollusk, Ween headed home to perform two songs off the album. Pay particular attention to guitarist Dean Ween’s bow-legged opening pose — in time, that squat would become known as the Crabcore power stance.

VARIOUS ARTISTS (Why Be Something You’re Not, 1980s)

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Why Be Something That You’re Not, named after the Negative Approach song, was a short-lived Detroit cable access show. Punk was the focus of the show, which featured an interview segment and a live performance element. They played host to a number of luminaries, including Necros, Misfits, Crucifucks, Negative Approach and others.

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