Commentary

I Miss My MTV

I just finished reading “I Want My MTV,” a book so briskly paced, super-informed and volcanically entertaining that it makes the Hunter S. Thompson oeuvre look like a government air filter RFP by comparison. Have any of y’all read this thing? It’s an oral history of the channel’s genesis and pre-Snooki glory days, during which a bunch of people who had no idea what they were doing birthed a massively influential cultural behemoth and, inadvertently, loosed Johnny Hates Jazz on our collective consciousness.

If you came of age in the MTV era and you haven’t checked this out, you should be ashamed of yourself (says the guy who just discovered the book, originally published in 2011, last week). In fact, out of a sense of obligation to the universe for delivering this softcover miracle to my doorstep, let me create a new disciple: I’ll send a free e-copy of the book to the individual who emails me the most compelling rebuttal to the argument that “Don’t Come Around Here No More” represents the 1985 pinnacle of human music-promotional achievement.

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To the detriment of my job and my children’s welfare, I’ve spent most of the past six days catching up with the videos of my youth. I’ve referenced my hardscrabble upbringing once or twice in this column, but let me share now just how dire it eventually got: Our area of town wasn’t wired for cable TV until the late 1980s. Really, it wasn’t. This meant that my MTV watching took place in friends’ living rooms (with the supervising adults exchanging looks of deep concern) and on grainy video (courtesy of a cool Denver uncle who filled VHS tapes with the no-chit-chat overnight block of MTV programming). This is probably why, to this day, I will defend the musicallyandvisuallyindefensible with great vigor.

It’s an amazing story, when you think about it. In an era before the current everything-is-content era, music videos straddled the line. Their central underpinning, like all promotion, was “buy/consume/wear/do this.” Yet somehow they managed to inject whimsy, joy and even a sense of menace into the process. A great percentage of videos look ridiculous and self-parodic in hindsight. But at the time? The entire operation felt revolutionary.

To give these half-formed thoughts a test-drive, I spent part of the morning looking at modern-day music videos. Keeping in mind that I’m an old person awash in nostalgia and frozen in time pop-culturally, I got bored and disoriented within ten minutes. The Big Data video (and especially its f-bombing companion site) does meta-commentary really well. Taylor Swift (“Tay-Tay”) appears to have a sense of humor. That’s as far as I got.

My God - how did we watch music videos for four hours at a time back in the day? The obvious answer is “because no Internet, dummy.” But still.

My music-video walkabout came with one disappointment. Duran Duran has been on a press rampage in recent days, touting a new record (I will always say “record”) and affirming their musical relevance to anyone who will dutifully transcribe their witticisms. Yet two weeks before the new music is set to be released, there’s no video. What, is the record company no longer willing to pick up the tab for plane tickets to Sri Lanka and five cinematographers-cum-llama-handlers? Lousy unruly llamas. This depressed me.

I’m not sure I have a point about anyone or anything here. For me, the exercise served as a reality check of sorts, for the notion that any promotional content could ever land with the impact of a “Thriller” or even a “Scream.” I’d love to be proven wrong. That’s all.

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Quick housekeeping announcement: I’m out next week. In lieu of a vast plane of emptiness, this space will feature what we’re calling “It’s New 2 U: Critique Classiq,” an attempt to monetize old crap… I mean, give a fresh audience to a “Video Critique” column that was criminally under-read upon original publication. Check it out, kids. Let’s see if we can’t drive that page-view counter waaaay up into the double-digits.

5 comments about "I Miss My MTV".
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  1. James Hering from The Richards Group, August 27, 2015 at 5:36 p.m.

    After reading this, I just might possibly start playing bongos like a chimpanzee.

  2. Brett c Mccarty from Big Rocks Marketing Cooperative, August 27, 2015 at 6:11 p.m.

    I loved reading this.  Sadly I am older than you...I remember coming home from college to discover my younger brother and sister gobsmacked over this new thing called MTV.  Remember the push button cable box on the long cord so you could drag it over the floor to your chair?  And everyone else could trip on it?  After college, I watched my share of MTV, but never four hours at a stretch!  Thanks for the memories.

  3. Rosanne Gain from Gain - Stovall, Inc., August 28, 2015 at 12:17 p.m.

    As a person who grew up loving radio and music, and being in radio for a time, i appreciated the significance of MTV when it debuted. But, as a person who grew up thinking radio was the "theater of the mind" I resisted watching videos of the songs I loved so much. I wanted - upon hearing the opening chords - to feel a rush of memories but I wanted them to be MY memories. I did not want to picture myself sitting on a couch watching someone else act out the song on TV. That said, really enjoyed reading your article.

  4. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, August 28, 2015 at 4:10 p.m.

    Before there was MTV there was something called music video hour or something that I remember watching at night like on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it showed music videos but was just programming with no hosts or anything, perhaps that was the test before they launched MTV. In those days we had a TV in the basement for the kids and every once in awhile my parents would yell down at me, "What are you watching down there?" they didn't know what to make of my comment, "Music Hour". Oh well funny stuff! I too miss MTV.

  5. William Graff from beIN Media Group, August 28, 2015 at 6:31 p.m.

    I worked on a pre-MTV hsted music video show from New Jersey produced for CATV called Cable Rock. The "logo" was a paper mache` boulder with a foot of coaxial cable sticking out of it (!) We had largely-improvised host segments with visiting musicians between the videos. No one got paid, but it was great studio experience for those of us just starting out.
    The only other place you could see music videos those days was in punk dance clubs, so when MTV signed on, it felt like part of an undergound scene that only "we" knew about. It was always on in the background at parties, and was an early exampl eof TV-as-wallpaper.

    Finally, there is no rebuttal to Don't Come Around Here No More as the apotheosis of 1985 video art. I just perused a list of MTV's top 100 from that year - "Susudio"? "California Girls"? All pretty lame - the Petty video stands head and shoulders atop that year's selections

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