Listen. Can you hear it? It’s very faint. It’s the sound of my generation getting older. Why, you wonder? Because today MTV is thirty. Yup, thirty years ago today Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and Martha Quinn made their debuts as “VJ’s.” “Video Killed The Radio Star” came on. A new day was dawning.
I didn’t get MTV at my house until I was fifteen. Mostly I watched it at Meranda’s, where we danced to Tracey Ullmann’s “They Don’t Know” and Duran Duran videos. Videos, well let’s just say this: They usually didn’t make sense. You’d have poofed up hair boy bands singing onstage, or they were chasing people in some foreign country. Or they were singing ballads, looking wistful as they did it.
Then you had the bad boys, the hard rockers. These were the guys who also had big hair, but it was long, baby! And no product for them, no sirreebob! We’re talking Van Halen with David Lee Roth jumping around. Quiet Riot warning girls watch their boys. Michelle Kiernan (who was a year behind me in Catholic school) were watching MTV when Quiet Riot video was on then Mrs. Kiernan called them for dinner. They kept on saying “when the video is over” Mrs. Kiernan canceled MTV the next day. Things are different now. Now they can just pause the video and go to dinner.
Women were represented on MTV with Pat Benetar, Cyndi Lauper, and of course, Madonna. Madonna’s videos debuting were an EVENT. What the heck was she going to do next? Dress up like Marilyn Monroe? That Madonna! How wacky can she get?
When I finally got MTV in 1987, it was shifting. The old VJ’s were leaving, now we had new ones like Kevin Seal, Downtown Julie Brown, and Adam Curry. Adam Curry was the man with the hair. My Mills friend Laura once saw Adam Curry at her work and “my 12-year-old brain squealed with delight on sharing the same air as him.” Shows started to appear like Yo! MTV Raps Headbangers Ball, and Remote Control debuted. They all had one thing in common, as my friend Athena points out: they all looked low budget. Really low budget. Like they got the furniture at Goodwill. But it didn’t matter; people still loved the shows anyway.
In the 90’s MTV was shifting from videos to reality/game shows. I saw the first Real World set in New York. You know you watched it from the beginning when you think “That Eric and Julie would’ve been a cute couple!” Yet of course my favorite season was when they were in San Francisco--they taped near where my dad lived so it was great to see the neighborhood. It was that season where we met Pedro Zamora. Born four months before me, he was HIV positive. He knew that being on MTV was having the biggest audience yet to spread his message about not getting HIV, and he took advantage of it. When he became sick after filming ended, money came from all over the road to help him with hospital costs. He died the night after the show ended its season in November 1994. His news made the national news. MTV wasn’t that network with videos anymore. It was the network to be taken seriously.
I stopped watching MTV around 1998. Part of it was I was getting older, my music tastes were becoming different. Plus I was irritated with MTV that they canceled one of my favorite shows Austin Stories, which told the story of three friends living in Austin, Texas, which at times felt like Jerry Seinfeld meeting Richard Linkletter. A couple of the episodes are on YouTube, check them out. I was changing, MTV was changing as well. The sets were becoming better, the VJ’s becoming younger. It was time to move on.
And yet, I get nostalgic for the days of MTV yore, where the VJs felt like they were your friends, a 10,000 Maniacs video could be followed by Michael Jackson, and Downtown Julie Brown had the best clothes. Wubba wubba wubba, MTV. People still want you, no matter what.
And now, without further ado...
My favorite music videos!
Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” told the story of a girl loving a bad boy. They go bowling, Tracey dances, there’s a cameo from Paul McCartney, who could ask for anything more?
10,000 Maniacs’ “Like The Weather” Natalie Merchant dancing in that red dress, with sporadic wind gusts and rain, sheer perfection.
Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Yeah, it was overhyped. But who can deny the power of Madonna kissing the statue of an African American Jesus, then realize hey! It was a community theater play! All that’s missing is glasses of Tang!
Michelle Shocked’s “Anchorage” tells the story of a woman finding out about a best friend who has moved to Anchorage. Cut with Shocked on her skateboard in New York City, it tells the bittersweet story of friends drifting away.
Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” The hairspray was going fast for this one as the top UK and Ireland’s singers (except for Americans Kool and the Gang) united to help starving children. Okay, they probably didn’t celebrate Christmas in Africa, but it’s the thought that counts!
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries