OPINION: Memories of the real MTV

Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha gets airborne. (Special photo)

Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha gets airborne. (Special photo)


Brad McEwen

ALBANY — I was flipping through the channels the other night and came across the broadcast of the 2014 Emmys just in time to hear host Seth Myers make an interesting joke about the awards being given out on a Monday night for the first time since 1976.

He suggested this was due to the fact that MTV had aired its 2014 MTV Video Music Awards the night before, thus bumping television’s annual awards show to the following night.

The punch line of Myers’ joke was the irony of MTV still giving out awards for music videos when the network doesn’t actually show videos anymore.

In truth, the network still shows the occasional video, and for those who suffer from insomnia there’s plenty to watch between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Aside from that, however, anyone surfing over to Music Television, will be met with programming that seems as far removed from music or videos as something you’d find on Animal Planet.


Screen shot of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer video. (Special photo)

Being of the generation that came of age during the height of MTV, when video did, in fact, kill the radio star, it seems strange to me that young folks today can’t sit in front of their TV for hours on end watching their favorite artists, along with cutting edge up-and-comers, deliver their latest tunes accompanied by visual effects.

As a young boy for whom music was more important than just about anything else, including baseball, basketball and any other sporting endeavor you can think of, having access to music in a visual format 24/7, right in my living room, was the end-all, be-all of totally awesome.

Literally anytime I could commandeer the remote control from my parents, I was popping over to MTV and staying glued to it until I either fell asleep or a parent wrenched the clicker from my clutches.


The class MTV logo. (Special image)

Closing my eyes, I can instantly recall some of the more important and impactful moments in my life spent watching MTV. In the interest of sharing, here’s a brief rundown of some of the highlights:

— Rushing home during the height of hair metal mania to catch “Dial MTV,” a weekly countdown of the hits of the day driven by fans calling the network and voting for the videos they most wanted to see. One day in particular that stands out in my mind is the day Guns N Roses’ "Welcome to the Jungle," displaced Motley Crue’s "Wildside," as the top video of the day, just a few days before the up-and-coming band would open for the Crue right here in Albany.

— My father waking me up one afternoon after I had fallen asleep in his easy chair to let me know that he would be blocking MTV from our cable feed thanks to the video that was playing when he walked in the room. For those of you who might remember Wreckx N Effect’s "Rumpshaker," video, which aired back when hip-hop literally got an hour of “Yo! MTV Raps” each day, you’ll know why Dave wasn’t too keen on what his impressionable young son was watching.


MTV's 120 Minutes logo. (Special image)

— The day I figured out that the block my dad had put on MTV didn’t come from the cable company but rather him reprogramming the little black boxes that converted the feed for our crummy old-school TVs.

— The night my buddy Kenny slept over and after a few hours of Nintendo, Funyums and Mountain Dew, we were up late enough to catch “Headbanger’s Ball” and saw for the first time Metallica’s "One," video featuring footage from the classic war movie “Johnny Got His Gun.” My taste in music was forever altered that night, and from that moment on Poison was simply a cruel joke.


Madonna strikes a pose. (Special photo)

— The day, near the end of MTV actually playing any music at all, that I caught an MTV News brief with an intro featuring Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine tripping and falling onstage during one of his typical slam, pogo, freak-out dances. As it turns out, that clip came from the second night of the joint RATM/Wu-Tang Clan tour held in Atlanta’s then-Lakewood Amphitheatre. As soon as I saw the clip, I recognized it from having seen it live just a few days before.

— Watching the 1992, and still one of the best ever, MTV Video Awards ceremonies, which featured the Black Crowes playing "Remedy," with Chris Robinson wearing a super cool pair of leather, pot leaf-emblazoned bellbottoms. The night also featured performances from Pearl Jam, Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Guns N Roses. Can you say, “Holy rock show, Batman?” The highlight of this year’s show: duets by Nicki Minaj and Usher, Nicki Minaj, Jessie J and some chick from Nickelodeon and a duet of Rita Ora and the truly God-awful Iggy Azalea. But I digress.

Watch Nirvana perform "Lithium" at the 1992 MTV VMAs

Watch the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform "Give It Away" at the 1992 MTV VMAs

Watch Pearl Jam perform "Jeremy" at the 1992 MTV VMAs

Watch Eric Clapton perform "Tears in Heaven" at the 1992 MTV VMAs

Watch Guns N Roses and Elton John perform "November Rain" at the 1992 MTV VMAs

Watch U2 perform "Even Better Than the Real Thing" at the 1992 MTV VMAs

— Pearl Jam’s “Unplugged” show from 1992 when what was then one of the hottest and most important rock bands on the planet put their immense chops and politically motivated mindset on full display in front of a live audience. The image of Eddie Vedder scrawling “Pro Choice” on his arm in black marker backed by the still powerful acoustic fury of Gossard, McCready, Ament and Abbruzzese tearing through “Porch” is one of those all-time rock moments.

Watch Pearl Jam's complete Unplugged performance

— When all the actual shows, aside from the music-related “Week in Rock,” on MTV were actually centered around blocks of music videos, interviews and information about the artists in the videos. Cases in point: the aforementioned “Dial MTV,” “Headbanger’s Ball,” “Yo! MTV Raps” and “120 Minutes.” Even the network’s one game show, “Remote Control,” was centered around music videos.


MTV's Headbanger's Ball logo. (Special image)

— Smiling quietly to myself every time the channel’s brief “MTV News” segments would begin, secure in the knowledge that only a special “few” knew that the opening music snippet was the bass intro to Megadeth’s “Peace Sells.”

Watch Megadeth's "Peace Sells"

— Madonna’s um … “talent.” Let’s face it, the music business can trot out countless no-talent imitators like Britney Spears or Demi Lovato, but none will ever reach the success of the Queen of Pop. Why? Because she and MTV were like peanut butter and jelly — made for each other. In fact, I’m convinced the rise and fall of MTV almost perfectly mirrors Madge’s meteoric rise to superstardom and her slow decline into irrelevance. For those of us boys lucky enough to remember every new Madonna world premier video from "Borderline" to "Music" nothing can compare to seeing music videos’ No. 1 sex kitten do her thing in full color for close to 20 years. The list is truly immense: "Lucky Star," "Like A Virgin," "Holiday," "Get Into the Groove," "Material Girl," "Dress You Up," "Papa Don't Preach," "Cherish," "True Blue," "Open Your Heart," "Like A Prayer," "La Isla Bonita," "Vogue," "Express Yourself," "Justify My Love," "Erotica," "Bad Girl," "Human Nature," "Fever," "Secret," "Take a Bow," "Frozen," "Ray of Light," and every frame of every single one is forever emblazoned on my brain.

— In addition to that slew of Madonna video images, I also remember keenly the first time I saw these iconic music videos: Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," Peter Gabriel’s "Sledgehammer," Genesis’ "Land of Confusion," Dire Straits’ "Money For Nothing," Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Motley Crue’s "Girls, Girls, Girls," Prince’s "When Doves Cry," Godley and Crème’s "Cry," Chris Isaac’s "Wicked Game," Nine Inch Nails’ "Closer," the Beastie Boys’ "Sabotage," Depeche Mode’s "Enjoy the Silence," Pearl Jam’s "Jeremy," Eminem’s "My Name Is," Guns N Roses’ "November Rain," the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ "Give It Away," U2’s "With Or Without You," Aerosmith’s "Janie's Got A Gun," and countless others.


MTV's Yo! MTV Raps logo. (Special image)

I know that in many ways having YouTube and other Internet sites available these days at the touch of a button might be easier and put more control in viewers’ hands, but part of MTVs charm was having to sit through the latest Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam or Debbie Gibson video so you wouldn’t miss Van Halen’s "Hot For Teacher," Patience is one of those virtues that helps define us, and sadly, I worry about today’s youth. Instant gratification and no knowledge of a thing called a VeeJay seems like a sad combination to me. As I’m sure it might be for Martha Quinn and Adam Hunter as well. To paraphrase Sting’s intro to one of the best songs from the height of Music Television: “I miss my MTV.”