Over the years, I’ve grown quite fond of “oral history” type books. You know the type-they cover an event and try to get as many soundbites from people who were involved in the event, so it’s like you’re reading a conversation, if that makes any sense.
As you’re well aware, I’m a pop culture junkie, so when I realized there was a book that covered MTV’s first decade, and contained observations from the executives, personalities and artists who were integral to the network’s launch and initial popularity, I was on that shit like white on rice. As it turns out, “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of The Music Video Revolution” is a hilarious and informative read. Just about everyone who was anyone in the early years of the network (provided they’re still alive to tell the tale) makes an appearance here, and they all have interesting things to say.
After almost two decades of vacuous reality programming, it’s hard for some people to remember (or imagine) what a big fucking deal MTV was to the music industry. The network not only turned music into (at least partially) a visual medium, but the were instrumental in exposing innumerable artists and genres to a wider audience. The emergence of hair metal, the breakthrough of hip-hop, even the Boy Band Revolution of the late Nineties (too late to be covered here)…all made possible, in large part, by a network that didn’t even make money for the first few years of it’s existence.
Want some truth? I witnessed very little of the period covered here in person. Well—correction. I was certainly alive when MTV started, but I didn’t live in a place where I could watch the network regularly until 1994, and at that point, they were already waist deep in “Real World” (although it was right before the best season ever started). So, the years of MTV being a novelty, or even groundbreaking, were already in the past. As a result, a lot of the stuff I read in this book still had sort of a cool discovering-for-the-first-time quality to it.
Of course, there are also the oft-told stories. There’s still a TON of disagreement about the whole Michael-Jackson-breaking-the-color-line on MTV thing, for example. This tale has been told by 100 different people in about 100 different permutations and, well, you know…it’s kinda like your parents telling stories about things that happened when they first started dating. Time has warped the memories a little bit. Add in the natural human urge to embellish, and…no two people are gonna have the same story.
As someone who has followed and/or worked in the music industry for virtually his entire life, I’m quite familiar with the personalities that a lot of the label bigwigs and businessmen who started the network have. If you can tolerate that “my shit doesn’t stink” mentality (typical of corporate America), then there are some stories here that you’ll absolutely love. A key word to remember as you’re reading this book is “excessive”. The money was excessive, the risks taken were excessive, the drugs were excessive, the personalities are excessive.
I don’t know if I’m willing to share any specific stories with you guys (’cause you should REALLY get the book), but among the book’s participants are all of the living original MTV VJs, plus personalities like Downtown Julie Brown, Adam Curry and Dave Holmes, as well as artists ranging from Sebastian Bach to Pat Benatar to Paula Abdul. Bobby Brown clarifies (not really) the story behind the infamous VMA performance where a vial of coke (or, as Bob says, his diamond watch) fell onto the stage floor mid-dance routine. Billy Squier devotes an entire passage to his career-killing “Rock Me Tonite” video, and a who’s who of pop, rock and hip-hop pops by for cameos.
Bottom line: if you have even a passing interest in any of the following: music videos, popular music of the past thirty years, pop culture, hilarious stories, drugs, racism/sexism/homophobia, television or anything that’s happened to change the way we interact since August 2nd, 1981, then you NEED to pick up a copy of this book.
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