Q&A: Blockhead On Public Access, The Baby Show, And Learning About Sex From Channel J
"Public access was a platform for the weirdest New Yorkers who had any sort of gumption to create," says Blockhead, a hip-hop producer whose new album on the Ninja Tune label, Interludes After Midnight, is named in homage to a late-night show on channel 35 that just so happened to be hooked around the concept of what we'll call nakedness. Having grown up in Manhattan, public-access TV formed part of the fabric of Blockhead's upbringing; he ran a show himself that included cameos from Aesop Rock and Adrian Grenier, while his hip-hop schooling was embellished with public-access broadcasts hosted by Heather Hunter, Ricky Powell and a curious endeavor involving a Boot Camp Clik-obsessed "old guy who looked like Rick Rubin and was all about weed." We got Blockhead to reminisce over the most bizarro public access footage he's ever witnessed, receiving death threats for his own show, and the legacy of the risqué Robin Byrd.
Interludes After Midnight is named after a public access TV show, right?
Yeah, it was sort of this porn channel. Actually, leased access were the porn channelsyou had to pay for them. The show was a naked guy who would interview porn stars in kinda like a studio. It was like this low-budget studio setup with, like, plants around the desk and this old naked hairy guy interviewing girls. They'd play that for 20 seconds and then they'd play four minutes of escort commercials. It's channel 35 now. It might still be on.
Is your album a tribute to that show?
Well, I was initially going to call the album The Robin Byrd Era, but she wouldn't let me use her name for legal reasons. So the sentiment of the album is more about that time than public access itself. It's about the years when public access was a staple of my life, like the late-'80s and early-'90s 'til the late-'90s, and this was a regular thing in my life and a defining era in my life. But I did name a song after a show called Midnight Blue that Al Goldstein did, and there's still a song called "The Robin Byrd Era" on there. So there's little references to things in my mind, but it's not like a companion piece to watch public access to.
When did you first discover Interludes After Midnight?
I was in fifth grade, 10 years old, having a sleepover at a friend's and it was Channel J then. It was wildly inappropriate. That was my first window into porn. It was kinda like a a rude awakening, 'cause it jumped a lot of levels about what an 11-year-old should see. It definitely moulded me to an extent! Then there was also Robin Byrd, who is still on. She's a legend. It's amazingthey're still showing the same Robin Byrd episodes I was watching back in the '90s now. She must be about 60 years old now. She's a big local celebrity, but also a huge gay rights activist. She's in a way a gay celebrity, and she's definitely revered by the gay community. I have a friend who goes to Fire Island for the weekend and he drove by a dock and saw Robin Byrd sitting in a chair being worshipped by like ten gay dudes.
What were your first impressions of The Robin Byrd Show?
Well I remember I was too young to differentiate if she was hot or not! It was just, "Oh, a girl in underwear!" Then she became a staple. Everyone who had cable knew who she was.
What was your favorite part about The Robin Byrd Show?
The frolicking was the best part. The stripping was always really creepy, and you'd never know when you'd get a tranny, so for an 11-year-old it was using it for learning.
Who was the best transvestite on the show?
There were some shockingly passable ones! But she did things like she'd interview the people and do this song called "Baby, Let Me Bang Your Box" at the end of each show. She would lip-synch to the song and she would put the dudes' penises in her eyeand usually they were gay dudes and they were not into itand she would bury her face in the girls' breasts.
How did "Baby, Let Me Bang Your Box" go?
[Sings] "Baby let me bang your box..." I'm trying to think what genre that would be. It's kinda like early Motown, like the Supremes mixed with country music and ragtime. It's a great song.