The following night we made our U.S. television debut on Saturday Night Live. The Sex Pistols had been scheduled for the show only to cancel after an alleged oversight regarding work permits. Needless to say the expected viewing figures for the debut of U.K. punk outrage were in our favour.
We arrived at NBC with the intention of playing a couple of songs from our live set. Maybe something got lost in translation, but none of the humour seemed nearly as “dangerous” or funny as they seemed to think it was, or perhaps they were just having a bad show. The record company interference certainly didn’t help my mood.
We were getting pressure to perform a number from My Aim is True. I honestly believed that the words of “Less than Zero” would be utterly obscure to American viewers. Taking a cue from an impromptu performance by Jimi Hendrix on a late ’60s B.B.C. television show, I stopped this tune after a few bars and counted off an unreleased song, “Radio, Radio”. I believed that we were just acting in the spirit of the third word of the show’s title, but it was quickly apparent that the producer did not agree. He stood behind the camera making obscene and threatening gestures in my direction. When the number was over, we were chased out of the building and told that we would “never work on American television again”. Indeed, we did not make another U.S. television appearance until 1980. Although this clip from SNL went on to be rerun on numerous occasions, I was not allowed back on the show until 1989. However, I was forgiven in time to be invited to re-create the moment, with the Beastie Boys as my backing band, for the show’s 25th anniversary special.