From June 5, 1981 to December 30, 1988, The USA Network was the home of Night Flight—one of television’s most innovative attempts at capturing the pop culture zeitgeist. Created and directed by Stuart S. Shapiro, Night Flight was a four-hour program comprised of music videos (featuring mainstream and alternative artists), cult movies (it’s where I first saw The Intruder  and J-Men Forever! ), documentaries, comedy clips and other bits and pieces of random pop arcana. It made Friday and Saturday night viewing an absolute treasure (I had started to realize by that time that Saturday Night Live was not as “cutting edge” as was promoted…besides, all the “good people” had left by this time), and it exposed me to a wide range of musical influences that I would normally have turned up my nose at; when USA introduced the show to Mr. Pillow and replaced it with their inane Up All Night movie showcase (with the likes of Rhonda Shear and Gilbert Gottfried), it was like I lost a dear friend.
Night Flight would soldier on in syndication from 1990 to 1996, and as of recent can be viewed in fifteen-minute chunks (technically ten, since there’s a commercial break) on IFC (this got underway in 2018). If you’re misty with nostalgia for the show’s glory days, you can subscribe to Night Flight Plus: a monthly/annual fee will give you access to full segments of the show. Since I’m just a simple country blogger, I’ve not been able to afford a subscription but I do DVR the IFC segments…and it’s a great deal of fun revisiting, even in its brevity. (The memories have become so tattooed on my brain that I only have to hear “Clark Gable” say in the 1941 cartoon Hollywood Steps Out “Don’t go away, folks—this oughta be good!” and a wide smile breaks out on my stone face.)
My love for Night Flight made me curious to check out Identifi Yourself: A Journey in F**k You Creative Courage, a book written by Shapiro that was released in December of last year. (I got a heads-up about this book from friend of the blog Clint Weiler at MVD…but it was Stuart himself who provided me with a pdf copy, so many thanks to him.) Shapiro has lived a remarkable life as writer-director-producer and Internet entrepreneur, which sprang from his humble beginnings as the son of a junk man and later concert promoter. Stu founded the independent film company International Harmony in 1974, which brought us such timeless cult classics as Shame of the Jungle (1975; an animated feature with voice work from Christopher Guest and Brian Doyle-Murray), Tunnel Vision (1976; a sketch movie spoofing TV that featured the likes of Phil Proctor and Howard Hesseman), Rust Never Sleeps (1979; hey hey my my), and Reggae Sunsplash (1980; a Night Flight standby).
Shapiro relates some colorful anecdotes in Identifi Yourself—the encounter with Ike Turner particularly sticks out in my mind, as does his sneaking a trailer for Shame into a preview screening for Animal House—and I think his entire career would have made for a wonderfully conventional book. Identifi takes the opposite tack; like Night Flight, it’s most unconventional—with a good deal of Stu’s prose giving way to the kind of “rah-rah-you-can-do-it” dialogue you’d hear that day you signed up for that motivational seminar at the Holiday Inn out on the interstate, thinking you’d score a free lunch out of it. Identifi is filled with inspirational nuggets like: “Identify yourself when wake up and when you lie down. Remember the best time to take the realistic personal inventory is in the beginning of the day. Everything is always clearer in the beginning.” It’s worked quite well for Shapiro; he’s the founder and president of an online communications firm called iConstituent, which explains why there’s the occasional optimistic political talk (“Vote in every election!”) that I’m sure would eventually result in a verbal donnybrook if Stu and I were knocking a few back at Duffy’s.
“All my life I have been an indie producer and entrepreneur living a prolific life of ups and downs, with a healthy mix of successes and failures,” notes Shapiro. “I wrote this book as a personal guide for fostering a creative life force and nurturing the courage needed to face the tough roads we all have to travel.” It’s an interesting read, though I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit it’s not my particular cup of Dark Oolong—I’ve spent too many years mastering Cynicism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and I’m too old to take a different road now. Once again, many thanks to Stuart for scoring me a copy of Identifi Yourself and on a personal note: thanks so much for Night Flight, Stu.