Emp-TV

5 Apr

Move over Flock of Seagulls - here are the true paragons of great MTV hair

I just finished one of the gazillion rock-themed books I got for Christmas: I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution.

Even though writing about music videos is like dancing about architecture videos, I loved the book. Through first-person narratives from stars, one-hit wonders, producers, VJs, extras and fans, I relived the hours … and hours … I spent watching the channel. I think my record was fourteen hours straight when, due to lack of a social life, I spent New Year’s Eve watching the MTV Video of the Year countdown.

From its first weeks in 1981, when they played whatever REO Speedwagon clip they could find, to 1992 when it earned a place in hell for creating reality television, MTV’s heyday matched my own. It began airing during my sophomore year in high school, so this was probably the one and only time I was part of the national zeitgeist. No wonder I sigh wistfully when I go to a consignment shop and see a shoulder-padded purple leather jacket on the rack. It is a testament to the last time I had any hope of being edgy.

It’s hard to convey to kids today how scary MTV was when it began. It brought unsettling images into the living rooms of suburbia 24/7, many involving hair dye, bra straps, guyliner and that adorable little boy from the Jackson 5 grabbing his crotch. Everything became unhinged. Red blooded American boys were intrigued by that cute chick singing lead vocals for Culture Club. Protestants borrowed rosaries from their Catholic friends to complement their rubber bracelets and lace gloves. AOR stations had to put Prince into their playlists.

In short, MTV created a whole new way for kids to freak parents out.

This guy full on freaked me out ... yet ten years later I was producing drag shows in San FranciscoFun fact from the book: Tom Petty, who is a musical Zelig if there ever was one, was a key reason for the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center. Tipper Gore’s six-year old daughter was watching MTV in another room when “Don’t Come Around Here No More” came on and spooked the bejeezus out of her. Outraged by that and other salacious material the little girl had been watching—unsupervised—Tipper used her influence as a senator’s wife to advocate censorship of “objectionable video content” … no doubt to protect other little girls from mothers who were too distracted to turn off the damn television.

Of course, music videos are alive and well on YouTube, but the thrill is gone. When you can see your favorite video anytime online without sitting through six hours of hair metal first, there’s no sense of achievement. And now, anyone with an iPhone can put together a video that would make Dee Snyder’s hair uncurl. When anything goes, nothing is shocking. Back in the day, MTV was many things but it was never jaded.

So sit back, enjoy one of my favorite videos from a simpler time – and let me know which video you’d endure a day’s worth of Poison and Cinderella just in case it was the one that was going to play next.

See you on the flip side …

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4 Responses to “Emp-TV”

  1. pamhoughton April 6, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    I was in college with no access to cable when MTV came out, so I think I missed out on a lot of the early revolution. However, I always liked Madonna’s Express Yourself video (probably because I always liked the song); I also liked REM’s Shiny, Happy People – maybe I liked the shiny, happy visual of Kate Pierson and Michael Stipe singing together. An of earlier time, I liked Haircut 100 – but now – I can’t recall any of their videos. Anyway, sounds like a good book.

    • lpon45 April 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      Haircut 100’s big hit was “Love Plus 1” I believe. Nice, boppy tune!

  2. every record tells a story April 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I had heard this was a good book – I think I may just have to buy it now….

    • lpon45 April 14, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      The book is worth the read; it’s got some great anecdotes. I particularly liked Darryl Hall talking about working with the panther in the “Maneater” video and the story about how Tom Petty’s crew got sucked into a fight between Duff McKagan and Vince Neil. Check it out!

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