Who doesn’t love a sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll story?
In their new book, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution (Dutton/Penguin Canada), Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum serve up a healthy dose of nostalgia, titillating tales and informed cultural insight about a renegade television network that changed pop culture.
Focusing on MTV's “golden era” (from its launch in 1981 to 1992), their hilarious and clever oral history includes interviews with more than 400 industry insiders, MTV VJs and execs and bands such as Metallica, the Police and Beastie Boys.
“We felt there was a built-in audience of people who missed their MTV,” says Marks, the former editor of Spin, Blender and Billboard magazines who, like his co-author, is a seasoned music journalist. “There's a lot of nostalgia and fond feelings about what the network was, like a best buddy.”
The eighties were “a fun time to have your prime,” Marks recalls. “MTV was a rare confluence of popular and cool. Everyone on the ground floor felt they were involved in something pretty rare – the coolest project ever.”
Tannenbaum, who was the music editor of Blender, agrees. “One of the reasons people loved MTV so much was the way it brought together a generation,” he says.
“Kids watched MTV together. If you were the first kid in your neighbourhood to get cable, even if nobody liked you, they still came over to your house. So people were getting exposed to music and bands and videos together, at the same time. You would go to school the next day and say, ‘Did you see the Pat Benatar video?’ Or, ‘Isn't that Cars video crazy where the singer walks on water?’ It was a shared and unifying experience, the last semblance of a monoculture.”
Now, Marks says, some people feel the network has betrayed them with reality-TV shows like Jersey Shore. “But MTV's mandate was always to make money and do whatever it takes to please their audience.”
Even if its evolution has disappointed some, MTV has had a huge cultural impact. Had the fledgling network failed, “music videos would not have happened the way we know them now,” Tannenbaum says. “The video industry didn't exist when MTV began.
In retrospect, it really is an incredible leap of faith. When MTV launched, they had maybe 200 music videos, so in order to succeed they needed the record companies to keep making more and better ones.”
Special to The Globe and Mail