Without MTV, as a 12-year-old, I never would’ve been able to lift moves from Jon Bon Jovi for all those sold-out air-guitar shows in my bedroom (it’s true), or had a wet dream about Tiffany (shh!), or learned from Slash how to dangle Marlboro Reds at just the right affected (disaffected?) angle while ripping a guitar solo. I didn’t smoke or play guitar yet. But when I did, I was ready. And, thanks to MTV, I was always ready for another Saturday night by the time the bell rang in homeroom on Monday morning.
At midnight, when other pre-teens were watching Saturday Night Live or sneaking out to the boardwalk (I grew-up in landlocked Pennsylvania but I still imagined that the other kids in my neighborhood did this), I would sequester myself in front of my family’s large screen TV for an hour of “Headbanger’s Ball” with my host, Rikki Rachtman. It was here where I’d watch the Scorpions perform “Rock You Like a Hurricane” inside an iron-rod cell while fans (or foes, I could never tell which) climbed, shook, and rattled the cage. It was here, at this cultural outpost, where I’d study Axl Rose and Sebastian Bach and Sammy Hagar and Joe Elliott front their respective bands for massive audiences amidst pyrotechnics, swooning girls, and enough spandex to cover a four-lane highway from here to hell. I watched the videos and played along from home. It was long past my bedtime but I’d watch anyway, biding my time in the basement until I could upgrade my status to actual audience member, with a fistful of metal and a rebel yell.
The audience, it turns out, is all that MTV will show these days. The money is still for nothing, the chicks are still free, but they just don’t play music videos on MTV anymore. They play reality the very thing we hope to escape by turning on the television in the first place. Do you think Mark Knopfler still wants his MTV?
On those rare wee-wee hour occasions when MTV does air videos, the programs don’t even bother to show the whole thing. Halfway through a clip they cut back to the beach house. I’m so ADD that I pop Ritalin all day every day and I’m still disturbed by MTV’s total incapability to play a three and a half minute video without interruption. Have we become that busted, that disabled, that debilitated, as viewers, that we can’t even watch what we came here for?
Yes, I know this has been said before by every kid over the age of 25, but your Honor, I know where I’m going with this. Please let me proceed. Without MTV, where are we to go for our music videos? Well, first we migrated to VH1. That channel was supposed to be for an older demographic anyway, and while we didn’t get it at first (with all its Phil Collins specials and Tom Petty marathons), in time, we became that older demographic. Suddenly VH1 was the new MTV. While Carson Daly allowed himself to become an apple pie effigy for throngs of thonged teenie-boppers , we watched Kurt Cobain reveal the essence of his songwriting prowess on “Unplugged.” When VH1 started getting into “content” programming, we even enjoyed specials about the downfall of our favorite bands (“Behind the Music”) and had our favorite songs explained (“Storytellers”).
Yes, VH1 was the new MTV, until it became the new, new MTV. For those of us who maintained an adventurous taste in music even after our old high school friends admitted that Radiohead was the last “breakout” band they discovered, MTV2 had promise. But then MTV2 became the new VH1 I mean, the new, new VH1.
That ain’t working; that’s the way you do it. You act dramatic on the “empty-vee.” You’ve got your money for nothing and the chicks are free, but where have all the videos gone? And why aren’t newspapers all over this shit? Why isn’t Anderson Cooper dedicating 240 of his 360 to this? Why isn’t Chris Matthews interrogating the fuck out of Adam Curry?
We all assume that the United States won’t be a superpower forever, but our lack of a single mainstream source for new music videos will expedite this process. The effects will be more insidious than global warming (though hopefully more reversible). Without music television, the “cool kids” will go the way of the Arch Deluxe, New Coke, and the Teletubbies.
Without music television, everyone you know will start to resemble your old middle school English teacher nondescript, dispassionate, slightly broken. I say that sympathetically. I loved my middle school English teacher. Mr. Menlow. He was very decent. It wasn’t his fault that he always looked like he was riding an elevator with strangers or waiting in line at the ATM he never watched a single music video in his life. When he was young, he could either leave it to Beaver Cleaver or say “Goodnight Gracie.” He had no choice, you see. Music videos just weren’t around back then.
Sure, before MTV there was Dick Clark and AM/FM radio. Just like there’s satellite radio, MySpace band pages, and iTunes now. But music videos, indeed, music television, brought us more than just music. It brought us instructive culture. MTV famously ran an iconic in-house promo that depicted an astronaut landing on the moon, staking it with the MTV flag. One small step for man, one giant step for mankind. It really was, man, it really was. Without it, I fear for our children. Reality shows about spoiled rich girls in big houses can’t save your tortured soul the way three chords and the truth can.
We need Wayne Coyne to show us the way by walking on top of the crowd in a giant inflatable bubble. We need to see first-hand that Conor Oberst can make the pretty girls cry with a pretty song. We need The Mars Volta to tear shit up and teach the children that they should jump off of amplifiers, not buildings. We need Morrissey to show our closeted young homosexuals that there are places right here in America where straight even macho men will idolize and adore an openly gay male artist, just like we need Bjork to show our dejected daughters that even freaks can become heroes.
And, more than anything, we need the Jack Whites of rock n’ roll to show our young Americans what it means to be young Americans.
But where are we going to find this, if not on MTV or VH1? On DVD of course! That’s why any and all parents, teachers, babysitters, day-care workers, pediatricians, lifeguards, librarians, coaches, next-door neighbors, and bus drivers must heed the call. Help save America! Help save our youth! Gather all the kids you know, sit them round the living room, offer them some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and then play them the entire Coachella DVD start to finish. Let them get out of control if they want, let them tear your place apart, but when it’s over, make sure you tell each and every one of them that if they work real hard, and do their best in school, that one day they too can attend music festivals, drink beers, get high, get laid, and dance onstage in a Santa suit with the Flaming Lips.
And if they don’t seem to be listening, turn on American Idol and scare the shit out of them with the alternative.