A trip, and a stumble, down memory lane
A Stone’s Throw
It’s a sad commentary on my life, but, I confess, I watched “Saturday Night Live” last weekend.
On Sunday I watched the show’s 40th-anniversary lollapalooza that featured highlights from the past, new skits, guest appearances and all the usual whoop-di-doo.
And the night before that, I watched a rerun of the very first “Saturday Night Live.”
It was a lot of television — almost five hours, more than I usually watch in a month.
And, all in all, it was a revelation about “Saturday Night Live,” about me — and, of course, about Aspen.
In fact, I had watched that very first episode of “SNL” back in October 1975 when it was broadcast, you know, live. It was purely by accident. One of my roommates was watching and said, “Hey, you might like this.”
He was right. I thought it was great. I was hooked.
I watched “SNL” pretty religiously for years. Then semi-religiously. And then, eventually, like so many people, I became a vocal member of the “I remember when ‘SNL’ used to be funny. What happened?” club.
If you only watched Sunday’s 40th-anniversary show, you might be tempted to agree with my 1975 impression that the show was brilliant. Several great moments from that first show were featured in the reminiscences.
But if you watched the rebroadcast of the entire first episode Saturday, I suspect you will have experienced the same revelation I did: It wasn’t really that great.
Sure, as relief from the normal stolid TV programming of the day, it was refreshing. And some of the skits were indeed brilliant.
But as a whole, it was hit and (very much) miss. The brilliant moments were far outweighed by skits that landed with, at best, a dull thud.
I suspect the show did improve over the following weeks and months. But I think it is also a solid bet that, even then, it was never as brilliant in reality as it shines in my memory.
Memory is like that: spotty, hit or miss. (Like “SNL” itself.) Sometimes we remember only the good things and block out the rest. Sometimes, perverse creatures that we are, we remember only the worst.
So that was my revelation about “SNL”: It wasn’t as brilliant as I thought.
And my revelation about me was that I had been so pigheadedly fierce in my insistence that — damn it! — the early shows really were great.
I’d tell anyone who asked that I’d seen that first show and it was astonishing!
I remember an interview a few years ago with Lorne Michaels, the show’s producer from the very beginning, when he dared to say that those early shows weren’t as great as everyone remembers.
I was outraged. Why would he lie like that? I decided he was just making excuses for how lame the current shows were — and they were mighty lame.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I can cling fiercely to my delusions and faulty memories.
I am, after all, human. At best.
But that brings me to the real point of this exercise: the revelations about Aspen.
As you probably have already guessed — clever people that you are — I need to accept the fact that, like “SNL,” Aspen 40 years ago was not as consistently brilliant as I remember.
No matter how fiercely I might want to cling to my delusions, I know that’s true.
Oh, I’m still certain Aspen was a great place back then — just maybe not the paradise on earth I so desperately want to remember.
For one simple example, my memory is very clear that during my first winter here, it snowed several inches almost every night, with perfect bluebird skies almost every day.
Those memories are clear as can be. But I suspect that they just might be wrong.
I remember that ski bums — and semi-reformed hippies like I was — could find a place to live in town, buy a semi-affordable season pass and get by on the skimpy wages that local businesses paid.
That part is true, but what I manage to forget most of the time are the desperate nights spent sleeping on vile couches or filthy floors in drafty apartments, scraping together a handful of loose change to buy something to eat and freezing my feet standing in puddles of slush pumping gas for a living.
I remember a town full of carefree young artists. I suspect that most of the art that got produced was really pretty awful.
But even more than my revelation about the gaps in my memory, that Saturday-Sunday double dose of “SNL” made me realize that today’s Aspen is a lot better than many of us will admit.
And that was driven home by (forgive me for being a little snarky here) the shocking condition of some of the “SNL” alumni who tottered on stage for the Sunday show.
If you think Aspen looks a little like a high-priced trophy wife with inflated, um, assets and too much plastic surgery — well, I agree. But on that same scale of comparison, some of those “SNL” alumni from 40 years ago looked like corpses washed up on the beach after three days floating at sea.
That’s not fair, of course. I don’t have to be fair.
People age, gracefully or not, and die. Cities age, gracefully or not, but (almost) never die.
Aspen — like “SNL” — may not have been as brilliant 40 years ago as I remember. (May not? Definitely not — could not have been.)
But Aspen — again, like “SNL” — definitely was brilliant in its own way, refreshing, exciting, different.
And Aspen — this time unlike “SNL” and definitely unlike some of those “SNL” stars from 40 years ago — still is brilliant in its own way.
Nothing lives up to memory. Nothing lives up to perfection. Nothing lives up to the best we want it to be (though we have to keep fighting for that).
But make no mistake: Aspen’s still doing mighty well.
More Paul McCartney than Chevy Chase, if you know what I mean.
Andy Stone is a former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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