Believe it or not, there was a time when MTV actually played music videos and could really be called Music Television! When MTV was born in 1982, I didn’t have cable television but I was obsessed with the idea of seeing the music I loved on screen.
During the hey-day of MTV, I’m lucky that any of my friends wanted to hang out with me. All I ever wanted to do when we’d go to their houses was watch MTV and when we did, I was the crazy person waiting for Duran Duran videos to come on screen. Without MTV, I could not have experienced Live Aid. MTV brought music to life for me and for many others of my generation.
When I heard that the original MTV VJ’s were collaborating on a book there was no doubt that it would become one of my #13in2013 books to read. It took me only one night to practically inhale the history and the stories from VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave.
VJ isn’t your typical biography because it’s about the lives of 5 people, the early days of cable television and a revolution within the music industry. Profound when you think about it but the book is easy reading. The friendly style of early MTV is evident even in the book’s format because as a reader you feel like you’re in the room during a conversation between four friends (Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman and Martha Quinn) just rehashing old times. The 5th original VJ, J.J. Jackson, died of a heart attack in March 2004 but his views were included in the book via excerpts transcribed from videos and books.
Sadly, there aren’t a lot of photos in the book but these pioneers of the video age do a great job of giving readers a visual picture of not only great stories about some of the hottest artists of the 1980′s but it also allows you to know more about the VJ’s as individuals and how they became a part of the creation of a cultural phenomenon during the early days of cable television.
VJ allowed me to revive my early teenage years in ways I hadn’t thought about in many years. I nearly got whiplash when they described the pre-MTV NYC “cable access” shows “The Robin Byrd” show featuring a porn actress and “Midnight Blue” with naked Al Goldstein. I was instantly transported to being at my friend’s mother’s house and being utterly shocked and amazed that these people were naked and doing interviews on television!! Thank you MTV for widening cable programming in NYC (and everywhere else on earth) and letting us experience “porn” in the form of “Girls On Film” by Duran Duran instead.
Nina, Mark, Alan and Martha know the audience for this book. They were smart to make the titles of chapters excepts from lyrics of songs in heaviest rotation during 1982-1987. It reminded me of the days of liner notes and gave me a chance to revisit my rarely used 80′s music idiot savant talent of being able to name a song and artist with just a few words.
VJ not only gives you a peek into the lives of 5 original MTV VJ’s and the music industry from 1982 – 1987 but there are some great tidbits included. **Spoiler Alert** If you are planning to read this book and DON’T want to know the juicy details, don’t read any further.**
I was shocked to find out that most of the VJ’s weren’t hired because of their knowledge of music (although Mark Goodman and JJ Jackson were paid considerably more than what the other VJ’s were paid), they were hired because they fit the categories overheard used by an executive when he said, ” We’ve got our black guy, our Jew, our vixen and our jock.”
Not surprisingly, there were A LOT of drugs. However, I didn’t peg Alan and J.J. as the party animals. Mark Goodman admits that he now has cirrhosis due to his drug and alcohol abuse of the past.
It threw me for a loop to learn about some of the couplings. I didn’t know Peter Wolf (from the J. Geils Band) was married to Faye Dunaway from 1974-1979 or that Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders was with Ray Davies of The Kinks (before she was with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds), that Eric Clapton played on a Corey Hart record or that Nina Blackwood and John Waite (of “Missing You” fame) had a “special involvement”.
Even in the 1980′s payola was alive and well when Atlantic Records used the power of MTV to catapult the Australian band INXS, to success in the United States.
It was interesting to find out that established artists were always professional but newer artists were often not. According to the VJ’s some of the more difficult interviewees were Bob Geldof, Joe Jackson Bow Wow Wow, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Romantics. David Bowie grilled Mark Goodman about MTV about being discriminatory in their playlist and while he had a point (MTV refused to play any Michael Jackson on the channel until “Thriller” hit it big), the VJ’s were not at all involved in choosing videos for airplay – in the early days the VJ’s wouldn’t even see the videos they were introducing or talking about!
For those of you who believe everything in life can be related to a Seinfeld episode, did you know that the character of “Crazy Joe Davola” is based on a real person named Joe Davola who started in MTV’s mailroom, created the show “Remote Control” and went on to produce “The Arsenio Hall Show” and develop “In Living Color” and “Spin City”? It’s the truth!
It was disappointing to hear about the egos of John Cougar Mellencamp and John Waite. but great to see the humanity of stars like David Lee Roth, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Motley Crue, and Kiss and the individual VJ’s as well:
- Martha is a huge Beatles fan and names her cats after their songs. Only after having a daughter did she understand why Tipper Gore went after the music industry with her Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) group and had a crush on Alan Hunter but squelched it after his wife called her out on flirting with him.
- Nina is from California, she’s exceptionally shy, plays the harp; started wearing gold lip gloss after Adam Ant told her that’s what he wore to make his lips look more luscious and was the first to interview Duran Duran (and declined when John Taylor asked her out on a date - JT’s not my guy either).
- J.J was a Marine, the first DJ to introduce Led Zeppelin and The Who in the States, a close friend of Rod Stewart’s and partied hard into the night even when he had the early shift at MTV.
- Alan was in a David Bowie video, father to the first baby born of an MTV employee and was also born on Valentine’s Day (like me!)
- Mark was a self-proclaimed “dick” during the very early days of MTV due to his ego (and possibly drugs), lived in Riverdale, NY at one time, thinks The Thompson Twins are underrated and repeatedly cheated on his former wife, DJ Carol Miller.
Interestingly, all of the VJ’s moved from NY to LA after they left MTV. Martha Quinn described the transition that I’m experiencing perfectly when she relayed the first joke she ever told doing stand-up comedy about being a New Yorker who just moved to Los Angeles - “…the biggest difference is the driving. Here you can’t go out and have a glass of wine because you have to drive home. In New York, you can go out, have as many drinks as you want, and hail a cab. Then a totally drunk stranger drives you home.” So true.
Don’t download this book buy it in hardcover. This is a book you’ll want to see on your shelf. It will remind you of a time that’s now considered “Classic MTV”. If you experienced MTV between 1982-1987 this is your biography too. Mark Goodman gives one quote that I think sums up the book for me, “We’re the reason you have no attention span. And you can pin reality TV on us too. You’re welcome.” Thanks MTV!