Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mom, Jerry, and The Buggles

It is pretty difficult to escape the fact that today is MTV's 25th birthday. Just about every media outlet has picked up the story and is running some nostalgic pop-analysis piece about the station's social import. It is hard to deny that no matter how debateable its importance or value, the legacy of MTV is at the very least significant. Like it or not, it is a part of the "social fabric."

As a member of the "original" MTV Generation (hair bands and Downtown Julie Brown vice latter-day Real World and Laguna Beach) and deeply addicted to television since my first exposure to a Cathode ray, MTV comprises a large chunk of the iconography of my youth. I have vivid recollections of moments in my house where MTV was on in the background. But what made me start recalling the halcyon days of Music Television was picking up on the coincidence that MTV shares a birthday with two significant people, my mom and Jerry Garcia. (And yes, we'll get into why I know Jerry's birthday.)

My mom and MTV go hand-in-hand because she was the one constantly telling me I couldn't watch it. When we moved back to the States after living overseas, one of the first things we did was get Cable. I didn't know exactly what cable was, but I knew it had something to do with our TV and that if we didn't get it I might die. When it was finally installed, two excruciating months after we moved in, the secrets of the world were revealed to me. We now had 30 channels to choose from and having lived with only the Armed Forces Network radio and television stations for 3 years, the sensation was similar to that of surfing the internet for the first time. Anyway, one of the first channels I discovered was MTV and my mother immediately shut it off. According to her I shouldn''t be watching it because it made me "too hyper." Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I would literally bounce off of the living room walls whenever the videos for "Panama," "Round and Round," or especially "We're Not Gonna Take It" came on. For a long while there was a constant guerilla war going on in my house where I would sit very close to the TV with the volume down and the remote in my lap surreptitiously watching MTV. As soon as I heard my mother's footsteps on the linoleum in the adjacent kitchen I would flip the channel over to something innocuous. Eventually she gave up and it was all I would watch in the afternoon whenever GI Joe or Transformers wasn't on.

On the other hand the weird coincidence of Jerry's birthday and the birth of MTV is that in a way, he and the Dead (outside of the commercial bloating of their entire scene as years wore on) represented the antithesis of what MTV was about. They and the rest of my parents' generation of music was all I would listen to in middle in high school as my adolescent love for MTV morphed into pubescent loathing. (My obsession with Zeppelin and the appearance of hair on my balls occurred almost simultaneously.) They were Substance rather than Style. They were Analog. They were Real. So while going through my Classic Rock phase I learned the minutae of all the Greats, went to reunion shows, played on the fringes of the Dead scene and picked up a lot of useless knowledge such as Jerry Garcia's birthday. For most of that time I swore off of MTV and admittedly missed out on a lot of cool stuff (most notably 120 Minutes).

So now after vascillating between extremes, I am somewhere in the middle of the road when it comes to one of the trashiest networks on television. There are horrible shows that I watch from time to time and revel in, but I also don't think I would miss it too much if the channel were to simply go away. I suppose I need to find another August 1st birthday to properly represent the insouciance of my present-day regard for MTV.

So Happy Birthday, MTV. You were always there for me even when I wasn't.


At 8/01/2006 2:37 PM, Blogger Dara said...

I wasn't allowed to watch MTV either. My mother thought it was too risque. I had to sneak off to my friends' houses to watch.

Once a week, I was allowed to watch a bad 30-minute music video show on Nickelodeon. (My mother thought it was more child-friendly.) It played a lot of Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi. Come to think of it, that explains a lot.

It does not, however, explain my late-high school and early-college obsession with the Grateful Dead.

At 8/01/2006 7:52 PM, Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Another fond remembrance of "Nick Rocks" where I too was introduced to music videos?

I am awfully sorry you missed 120 Minutes, though.

At 8/02/2006 8:07 AM, Blogger Jason said...

It's true, my refined hipster taste in music was not developed until well into my college experience. My only real piece of cred is that I discovered Wilco almost 10 years ago. Ha!

As for the Dead, I will spare everyone a long spiel but I do believe that they did more for "American" music (folk, country, R&B, bluegrass, and jazz) then they will ever be given credit for. They turned several generations of fans onto music they would have otherwise never been exposed to, myself included.

At 8/03/2006 8:36 AM, Blogger Ryane said...

I wasn't supposed to watch MTV, but Headbangers Ball was very conveniently on laaaaaaaate--so no one every knew. Rock on!


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