Welcome to Wellsville: Top Ten Musical Cameos in The Adventures of Pete & Pete

Video Roundup
Janice Headley
Polaris // photo by Dave Lichterman (view set)

It's been called "the greatest children's show ever", and we here at KEXP aren't gonna argue. It was on this day in 1993 that the first episode of season one of The Adventures of Pete & Pete aired on Nickelodeon. (Note: this isn't counting the five specials that aired in 1991-1992, but the first episode that kicked this show off as a bona fide TV series.) 

The Adventures of Pete & Pete was a landmark show for many of us (as you can read in KEXP writer Dusty Henry's piece here). With its quick-cut style and kooky storylines, it was a show that appealed to all ages, as evidenced by its cooler-than-anything casting and special guest appearances. We've collected ten of our favorite musical cameos below, in absolutely no particular order — and it was hard to limit ourselves to just ten when there were so many awesome cameos in total. For the sake of sticking to ten, we've omitted those who had reoccurring roles, like punk legend Iggy Pop who played James "Pop" Mecklenberg and folk chanteuse Syd Straw who portrayed math teacher Miss Fingerwood. 

Also, to keep it under ten, we're omitting Polaris, the "fictional" band played by members of Miracle Legion. Show creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi were huge fans and commissioned them to write original music for the show. Over the three seasons the show ran, Polaris produced a total of twelve songs, including the ebullient theme "Hey Sandy" which they can be seen performing in the opening credits. (Polaris do get a special mention below in the episode "Hard Day's Pete.") 

Be warned: if you've never seen the show before, there might be some spoilers below. But, if you've never seen the show before, boy, are you in for a real treat once you finally do. 

1) Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

(as Captain Scrummy in "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation," Season 1, ep. 4)

One of the earliest and most notable musician cameos comes from the R.E.M. frontman portraying Captain Scrummy, an ice-cream-man pedaling Sludgecicles on the beach. Wearing a tattered and torn seersucker jacket and a captain's hat, he deems Big Pete a "bona fide Sludgecicle man" and warns him from bothering his contemporary, the mysterious fellow ice-cream-person Mister Tastee. ("Why do you think he wears that plastic head all the time? To keep kids like you from asking too... many... personal... questions!")  Sadly, Captain Scrummy never returned to the docks of Cloghaven Beach. Perhaps the kids tried to get a little too close to him, too.

2) Kate Pierson of the B-52's

(as Mrs. Vanderveer in "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation," Season 1, ep. 4)

In that same episode, we get an appearance from Stipe's fellow Athens, GA-icon Kate Pierson of the B-52's. Were they on a break from filming the "Shiny Happy People" music video? It's quite possible since music video director Katherine Dieckmann was also the director of this episode. In an interview with AV Club, co-creator Will McRobb said:

Yeah, that was probably another pivotal moment on the show. Stipe — I mean, who could be cooler? And he played a role that was really weird, and he played it his own way. I think once people saw that, they’re like, you know, “I’d like to do that, too.” Katherine and he were pretty tight at the time, and I don’t know how she talked him into it — he’s notoriously shy about doing stuff like that. How many cameos has Michael Stipe done in his whole career? I can’t think of too many, but he did that, and we’ll never forget it.

Pierson portrays Mrs. Vanderveer, a mysterious blind millionaire who seems to have some kind of connection to the elusive Mister Tastee. In the DVD commentary, Dieckmann discloses that the beehive'd rock star spent so much time in hair and make-up that they were starting to lose daylight. They also divulge that Mrs. Vanderveer was meant to be a former girlfriend of Mister Tastee, as hinted by the fact that he told her that her eyes were "bluer than a Blue Tornado bar", and the reason he disappears is that she wants to have children with him.

3) Debbie Harry (aka Blondie)

(on "New Year's Pete", Pre-Show specials #5)

Washing cars? Mowing lawns? Nope. When Pete and Pete need to make money in order to buy a $456 jetpack, they stomp the pavement offering their services as landmine detectors. (Never mind that they're actually burying the landmines themselves.) The former frontwoman for Blondie plays a potential customer in the neighborhood, who dismisses the boys saying, "I'll have to ask my husband." "Is he home?" inquires Big Pete. “No, I’m not married. But as soon as I do meet that certain special someone I’ll be sure to ask him.”

Acting was nothing new to Harry; by this time, she had already starred in many film and TV projects, like the John Waters film Hairspray and an episode of Tales from the Darkside

4) LL Cool J

(from "Sick Day," season 2, ep. 10)

Sure, nowadays, LL Cool J is a well-known actor, but back in 1994, it was a major coup to land the rapper a role in a Nickelodeon show. In "Sick Day," Little Pete fakes an illness in order to get out of school, much to the delight of the teachers who cite a day without him is like a "Hawaiian vacation." LL Cool J doesn't have to stretch his acting chops too much in his role as Little Pete's teacher Mr. Throneberry, but he does show early promise when he jumps on the school intercom to broadcast the coded line to his fellow teachers: "Don Ho will not emerge from the valley of darkness." 

5) Sarah Shannon of Velocity Girl

(from "Sick Day", season 2, ep. 13)

In that same episode, the Velocity Girl frontwoman portrays a sneaky grocery store clerk who sells an expired tapioca label to Little Pete that he can use to feign a stomach ache. "Remember," she warns, "If you get busted, this never happened." According to IMDb, "Shannon agreed to play the role of the Grocery Clerk, upon the condition that her real name was added to the name tag on her uniform." Here's hoping she still has that name tag today.

Sarah Shannon now fronts the "kindiependent"-band The Not It's, who will be headlining KEXP's Deck the Dock event on Sunday, December 9th, along with Mikey Mike the Rad Scientist, a dance party with KEXP DJ Abbie, and hot beverages to help keep you warm. This event is all ages, free, and open to the public. Join us there indoors at Pier 66 at Bell Harbor!

6) Luscious Jackson

(from "Dance Fever," Season 3, ep. 5)

In the episode "Dance Fever", Luscious Jackson are booked to play the school dance, playing songs from their 1993 debut album Natural Ingredients as well as "Satellite" off their 1992 EP In Search of Manny. Big Pete finds himself crushing on guitarist Gabby Glaser; meanwhile, dance chaperone Mr. Mecklenberg (played by Iggy Pop) is sad that his daughter Nona (played by actress Michelle Trachtenberg) doesn't want to dance with him. Watch him crooning on stage backed by Luscious Jackson, and see if you could've said no. 

Fun fact: in an interview with IGN, Michael C. Maronna, the actor who portrays Big Pete reports, "Scottie, who was a grip on Season 1, is married to Jill Cunniff of Luscious Jackson."

Sadly, season 3 of The Adventures of Pete and Pete has yet to be released on DVD. In a 2012 interview with the L.A. Times, co-creator Chris Viscardi says, "It's packaged, it's recorded, we did commentary tracks with a bunch of the cast, there's all these special extras on it. They pressed them, we saw it. Nothing." Ten years ago on LiveJournal, Vicardi elaborated: "The reason is that there is a song in an episode by the now-defunct band Luscious Jackson and Nickelodeon doesn't want to pay for the rights. Until they do, the DVD's will just sit there, unsold and unseen. A shame."

Who wants to start the Kickstarter campaign?

7) Juliana Hatfield

(from "don't tread on pete", season 1, ep. 6)

High school cafeteria food can be kinda suspect (as Big Pete puts it, "When you look back on all the best meals you've ever eaten, I bet my big toe not one of them started with a tray") — so, it's a good thing Juliana Hatfield shows up as Wellsville High School's newest cafeteria lady, Emma. Following a Bob Dylan-"Subterranean Homesick Blues" homage of meatloaf, Emma warns Big Pete away from the mystery meat, catching disapproving looks from the other cafeteria workers. Not surprisingly, she doesn't last long as a lunch lady, and is soon found leaping across the school fence towards freedom, whipping off her sanitation-sanctioned hair net, and cryptically calling out to Big Pete, "I'll meet you in Iowa!" 

This wasn't Hatfield's only acting job — in 1995, she played a homeless girl (spoiler alert: actual angel) in a Christmas episode of My So-Called Life. In a 2008 interview with The Villager, Hatfield states: "I would love to have just one more role – one really good role – and I would be content. I don’t want to be an actress, I just want one more role. Before wasn’t as good because I had no idea what I was doing.” So, heads up, casting agents. 

8) Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes

(from "X=Why?", season 2, ep. 8)

In the episode "X=Why?”, Big Pete's best friend Ellen is waging a war against math. Word problems are her biggest enemy: why do we need to know how fast two different trains have to be going to arrive at the same destination simultaneously? Why should we care about Farmer John and how long it takes him to collect eggs? Unfortunately, Ellen's rebellion (reb-ellen-ion?) causes great strife to Miss Fingerwood, who lives and breathes math. (In this episode, we learn that her cat's name is The Square Root of Seven, and the first time she saw the number 2, her infant-self thought it was her mother.)

With Miss Fingerwood in a mental breakdown, a slew of substitute teachers arrive, kicked off by Mr. Zank, played by Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano. Unfortunately, not even the man who wrote the song "Add It Up" could stay strong against Ellen's anti-math onslaught. Eventually, Ellen realizes the consequences of her revolt, and the kids team up to get Miss Fingerwood to return to school. (And appropriately enough, the episode ends with a Syd Straw song over the end credits.)

9) Marshall Crenshaw 

(from "Hard Day's Pete", season 1, ep. 8)

Taking its name from the Beatles song (obvs), "Hard Day's Pete" is a star-studded affair, all about finding and obsessing over a favorite song. One day when Little Pete is heading to school, he passes by a band playing in their garage, portrayed by Polaris (portrayed by Miracle Legion). He becomes enamored of the song they're practicing — "Summerbaby" — but the next day, the band is nowhere to be found, and all Little Pete has left is his memory.

To recreate the song, he forms a band called The Blowholes with Miss Fingerwood and the meter man, Mel (played by Marshall Crenshaw).

The band try writing new songs (original pieces written for the show by Robert Agnello), including a beautiful duet between Miss Fingerwood and Little Pete, but, ultimately, all Little Pete really wants to do is figure out "Summerbaby," and really, who can blame him?

Back to the Beatles reference though, it's interesting to note that Marshall Crenshaw's first band was called Astigfa (an acronym for "a splendid time is guaranteed for all", a lyric from The Beatles' "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite"), and in 1978, he got his big break portraying John Lennon in the touring musical Beatlemania. Full circle!

In 2012, The Blowholes reunited for one night only (without original drummer Clem “Muttonchops” Linnell, who was played by actor Aaron Schwartz), which you have to watch below.

10) Richard Edson of Sonic Youth

(on "Valentine's Day Massacre", Pre-Show specials #1)

"Valentine's Day Massacre" was the very first episode filmed and produced after The Adventures of Pete & Pete was promoted from shorts of 60 seconds to specials of 30 minutes. In this episode, Big Pete gets a crush on Miss Fingerwood, but unfortunately, so does Mr. Beverly, the man who paints the lines on the high school stadium field. 

Mr. Beverly is portrayed by Richard Edson, who was Sonic Youth's original drummer. Edson left the band after the release of their self-titled debut album to play drums with the band Konk. But, really, the bulk of Edson's career went to acting. His IMDB page lists 105 credits, with roles in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, Ferris Bueller's Day OffHoward the Duck, Do the Right ThingDirty DancingSuper Mario Bros, and that's just to name a very few. His most recent role was earlier this year in the movie Burning Shadow

The Adventures of Pete & Pete Seasons One and Two are available on DVD. The Polaris albums Music from The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Live at Lincoln Hall are available via the band's own Mezzotint label.