Friday, October 12, 2012

I Want My MTV

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of I Want My MTV (Plume, 2011).

I pretty much wanted this book from the instant that I heard about it, and it didn't disappoint. It's a fantastic oral history of the network that every teenager in America, after 1983, cared about at least just a little bit, no matter how much they protest that couldn't have been the case. Dozens of network programmers, VJs, musicians, journalists and managers - Kurt Loder is one of the few insider names who, unfortunately, didn't participate - have all gone on the record to tell the story of the channel's first fifteen years or so, before reality programming and malaise finally set in and music videos were no longer in fashion, left to the internet's tender mercies.

Oh, there is dirt. I ended up feeling bad for Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons. I even ended up feeling bad for Billy Squier, of all people. Somehow, either I had forgotten or I had never seen this one legendarily awful video of him air guitaring his way around some blowsy bedroom through spasms and pants-on-fire issues while wearing a darling ripped pink tank top. Squier thinks it derailed his career. YouTube confirms its awfulness. It's even worse than that Journey video on the loading dock, but I wonder how much damage it really might have done. I'm not even aware of MTV singling it out in the late eighties as an example of a totally awful video. I don't even think that the local UHF "Ghetto MTV" station that we enjoyed, waiting for our cable company to pick up MTV, showed it.

(Actually, I think the story of what was then WVEU-69 would make a darn fine story as well. It started as a music video channel that kept the B-52s, Eddy Grant, and "Big Electric Cat" by Adrian Belew in ridiculously heavy rotation before eventually becoming the home of syndicated action shows like The Champions, UFO, and Spectreman. These days, it's a CW affiliate. Boring! But there was one Thursday night around 1984 where they played the uncensored "Girls on Film" and "China Girl" and some other nudity-packed videos. Legendary. Also, they'd frequently green-screen their VJs on top of the videos like they were pretending to interact with the artists. No way would MTV ever do that.)

Anyway, the book is huge - about 600 pages - and engrossing and funny, and assumes a degree of either reader knowledge or a willingness to pop onto YouTube. Naturally, there are omissions - for all they promoted and used the character, I was surprised that Randy of the Redwoods was glossed over entirely, while, on the artistic side, the prolific director Tim Pope was barely mentioned at all - and, just like the typical offerings on the channel itself, whacking great chunks will drift by in long discussion about artists or genres that won't interest everybody. But whether you're interested in the music or the incredible divastorm of office politics, a tangent sure to please everybody else who could not stand Adam Curry, there is plenty to enjoy here. Recommended for pretty much everybody in America presently between the age of 35 and 45.

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