Monday, December 12, 2011

I Want My MTV

I Want My MTV

Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.

Those words ushered in one of the wildest, weirdest, and most unpredictable television networks in history: MTV. Music Television. Twenty-four hours of music videos hosted by people called VJs (video jockeys). Craig Marks tells all (or rather, in this oral interview format, lets others tell all) in this bewitching and bewildering account of the executives, directors, VJs, and of course, bands and performers, who made it all possible. MTV's humble beginnings (MTV people had to watch the premiere in New Jersey because no New York cable company carried the network), the rise and fall of VJs, MTV's nearly late to the game entry into the rap world, the befuddling standards and practices (yes, MTV had them) that were thrown out the window for certain performers (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Guns 'n' Roses), the heavy metal hair bands (and the women who starred in their videos), grunge music, and the introduction of non-music oriented television shows (Remote Control, House of Style), which eventually led to The Real World, The Jersey Shore, and the end of music television as we know's all here, folks.

Anyone who knows anything about music during the 1980s knows that this particular era was full of astonishing excess displayed by many in the music industry (even, be still my heart, by New Kids on the Block), record executives, and anyone attached to MTV. This excess is displayed in all its gory glory; you've been warned. Frankly, these stories get to be a bit old and predictable after a while. The sections on MTV's influence (especially the Clinton campaign), the love-hate relationships musicians had with the network, the Milli Vanilli scandal (Fab Morvan, the surviving member of the group, spoke honestly and at length) and the development of key shows
(120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps, MTV Unplugged, and Headbangers Ball) were the most fascinating. The heavy metal guys were very entertaining, particularly whenever Winger was whining about the audacity of MTV allowing Mike Judge to make fun of them and when the Headbangers Ball guys made fun of Bon Jovi. Also loved reading about a 17 year old kid from Philadelphia named Will Smith rapping about how parents just don't understand, and how the Beastie Boys turned into their own parody.

The author interviewed an impressive amount of people, but I was still disappointed by the absence of several people, namely Axl Rose and Eddie Vedder (but not surprised). We hear from Debbie Gibson and Paula Abdul *multiple* times, though. There was a lot of talk about Michael Jackson (mainly how he forced MTV to call him "The King of Pop"), but I wanted more about the actual making of his videos, particularly Thriller and his deep conflict with its supernatural elements.

While there was definitely nostalgia for 1980s/early 90s MTV and much disappointment over the network's current programming, I was intrigued to find that many musicians were relieved that the emphasis on music videos and MTV's dominance in the music industry is over. Still, for many people who grew up watching MTV during the 80s and early 90s, this book will make you want to call your cable operator and tell them, "I want my MTV!"

(Take heart, those overcome by 80s and early 90s nostalgia during the reading of this book; there's always Youtube. That's why it took me so long to read the book; I interrupted my reading many times to Youtube a video or MTV show that was being discussed. Best to keep your computer/mobile device nearby while reading it.)

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