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A Rocket Incident
by Pat Pierson

"I just want to know who the F*CK shot me!!!!"
        -Charles Rocket: 2/21/81

Winter 1981
It was a very cold Saturday night in upstate New York when I was up visiting friends during my winter break in February, 1981. There I was: A bummed out sophomore in an NJ high school willing to take a bus 8 hours north to see my friends in Three Mile Bay, NY (right near the Canadian border). It was during these trips I would raid Mike Lively and Brian Whattam's record collections and make tapes. Both of them were GREAT sources of all the new stuff coming out. I was an f*ing deliriously obnoxious kid wanting to hear it all. God bless Mike & Brian for all their patience.
Back on Monday night while I was researching for a Woody Guthrie blog I was writing, I kept on seeing this item pop up on the AOL news list: "former SNL member's death ruled a suicide." Since I was too engulfed in the Guthrie search I waited to check it out. I did turn the TV on, but there was NOTHING about it. I figured it was Gail Mathias. I wasn't that far off, actually.
Once I was done writing, I googled "SNL suicide" and up came "Charles Rocket" amongst the results. WOW!
I was a "fan" of SNL's WORST lineup: The 1980-1981 season. I watched religiously in the hopes that something MIGHT come out of it. It was dreadful. Week in and week out, I followed as Joe Piscopo and the rest paraded an endless line of crap skits and poor comedy. I'm fuzzy on the facts, but it wasn't until later that Eddie Murphy began to REALLY appear as one of the key "extra" guys. Rocket's faux pas pre-dated Murphy's rise.
The most amazing thing about music AND my damn crazy obsession about it, is that I STILL have the cut tapes I made back in high school. So, just as I googled for the date of the SNL episode I ran to my tape collection, which luckily enough, is kept in chronological order. If the Charles Rocket "F*ck Episode" aired on February 21st, I knew there'd be a tape which was made during that week, because I CLEARLY remember seeing the episode at Brian's house.
There they were: the 11th & 12th Collections. (#13 got lost somewhere in the years.) One was made at Brian's house on February 14th and the other at Mike's on the 19th (his cat skipped the turntable on "Do You Remember R&R Radio" and I kept it intact). Amongst the tuneage was a lot of Ramones (I FINALLY was getting into them; prior to 1981 they were hardly played on the radio), Phil Seymour, Beatles BBC sessions, Artful Dodger's "Rave On," XTC, Clash, Only Ones, Police ("Zenyatta Mondatta"), The Records, Split Enz, Supremes, Vapors, Bay City Rollers, Squeeze, Raspberries, Planets etc. How cool was 1981?!!
I vividly remember this trip because when I finally made it up to Watertown, there was almost FOUR feet of snow on the ground. It was surreal. I'd spent the winters of 78/79 and 79/80 up there, but they weren't nearly as SNOW crazy as this one. THIS WAS NUTS! So, between Brian's and Mike's I squandered about the tundra-like landscape and bummed around and made tapes. Mike and I also went record shopping and hit the Salvation Army for gear and '60s vinyl.
Both Brian and I were, and still are, HUGE Second City Television fans. So, per usual, we sat through SNL to get to SCTV!!!! I DO remember the night: I was bumming because I had to head back to NJ the next day. The return to school was on that Monday, February 23rd.
I was glued to the tube and was awaiting SCTV to come on at 1AM. Just as I knew the final "goodbye" part of SNL was the only thing left of the episode, I knew I could run and get a cup of coffee out of the Whattam kitchen. This would wire me good for the next 90 minutes of SCTV. The Whattam's made good coffee.
So there I was making my cup of coffee during the quiet 12:58am evening (Brian's parents were sound asleep; I think his dad was still konked out in his living room chair). Still, I was watching the "goodbye" part because they "wheeled" Charles Rocket out in front of everyone as a goof, because during one of the sketches (I think the news segment) someone shot him. It was a spoof on the "Who Shot JR" episode of "Dallas."
As I'm walking back into the living room, I hear Charles Rocket say (very off the cuff), "I just want to know who the f*ck shot me..." And, POOF, the show was over. I asked Brian if he'd heard what I just heard, and I don't think he realized it. It was too weird. It was like, "No ones say the F-word on TV, even if it is LIVE."
Since this SNL cast was so lame, no one actually cared, although Rocket got axed down the line. The next day I hopped a Greyhound for Jersey and left the arctic chill behind with a bag full of four and half hours worth of cool music and a fuzzy memory about Charles Rocket cursing on network television in the wee hours of the morning. Back home nobody else was talking about it, because NO ONE watched SNL anymore.
Not to make light of the sad serious fate of Charles Rocket, but his fleeting moment of notoriety hardly went noticed, if at all. He was, however, the brightest light of the lamest cast SNL ever had. He really was better than Piscopo, but was never given the chance to prove himself beyond the one season. Years later, I saw Rocket in an episode of "30something" where he played a self-centered ego-bloated Hollywood star who was hired to do a commercial for Michael and Elliot's ad agency. Rocket stole the episode with one of those rare appetites that had glimmers of the true "star" that could've been. I was amazed at the talent which obviously had been squandered since the SNL fallout in 1981.
Rocket died on October 7th in Connecticut.


©2005 Pat Pierson

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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