Terra Sigillata

While I’m procrastinating on a really important herbal medicine post and this other thing they call a ‘day job,’ I just learned via my bud at the New York Daily News, Michael Huff, that today is the 25th anniversary of the launch of MTV, the pioneering US music program on cable television.

There are few things other than their own work or general research discipline that I find scientists and docs discuss more passionately than music. Hence, I’d ask y’all to share with me your favorite MTV memories.

Pretty much everyone knows that the first video to air on 1 Aug 1981 was “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by The Buggles. But, what I didn’t know until I read Huff’s article was that almost no one saw it, except for subscribers to a single cable company in northern NJ, the very one piped into my childhood home (thanks Mom and Dad for your vision and commitment to my childhood education.).

I’ll reflect later on about my experiences back then and whether I was even old enough at the time to recognize the significance of the event, maybe in the comments or as an addendum to this post. But, I couldn’t let this milestone pass without some recognition.


  1. #1 RPM
    August 1, 2006

    Remote Control. Best. TV gameshow. Ever.

  2. #2 Katherine Sharpe
    August 1, 2006

    When I was a kid, we received MTV at home only intermittently. It was technically one of the “free cable” channels, but for some reason, there were years when we had it, and years when we didn’t. I spent many hours becoming superficially acquainted with VHF/UHF and the obscure knobs and buttons on the nether regions of our TV and VCR, trying to make MTV come in.

    One blissful stretch of MTV-having occurred when I was probably in about 4th grade, and my sister in 1st. It was around the time that my mother first started experimenting with leaving us home alone while she ran short-ish errands. Alison and I were forbidden to watch MTV, so naturally we raced to the set as soon as our mother turned the key in the lock (a process repeated in reverse at the first sign of her re-entering the house), and prostrated ourselves before the MTV gods.

    MTV’s influence was not really as pernicious as my mother feared, I believe, but neither was it as cool-making as I hoped. Mostly, my sister and I just made fun of things. Here’s what was on MTV a lot at the time:

    1. A Don Henley video for a song called “A Face in the Crowd,” or something. It was very earnest and we cracked ourselves up for hours with our imitations of it.

    2. Quite a lot of Tom Petty videos. We liked to make fun of the way he said “Yerrr so bad…”

    3. Peter Gabriel videos, which were cool.

    4. Depeche Mode videos, which ditto.

    5. Paula Abdul videos. The one for “Opposites Attract” where she dances around with that cartoon cat. How cool!?!? I used to want to make music videos, actually. I imagined myself as a music video director, or a “choreographer,” which is how Paula Abdul was described in the pages of the Bop and Tiger Beat magazines I sometimes bought with my allowance at the beach.

    6. Michael Penn video for “No Myth.” I did not make fun of that song, for I secretly loved it. I don’t exactly love it anymore, but it still gets stuck in my head with statistically improbable frequency.

    7. Motley Crue! There was this one song and video that we made fun of the most of all. The band was all, you know, teased hair like a bunch of Troll dolls, skinny legs in tight leather pants, etc. There was a half-naked woman on a bed, and a white tiger that padded softly through the room. It was the tiger that we thought was so funny and stupid. Like, “How could there be a TIGER there?!?! I mean come on! Really! WTF?!?!?” Why that was the one improbable detail among all the improbable details on MTV that we took the most exception with, I will never know. The song was a little bit sexy, and I think that grossed us out. Also, I would like to think that we were displaying incipient good taste.

    8. I also really liked that Ugly Kid Joe song about the father who is a busy executive and misses all the important Little League practices, etc., until his son is all grown up, a man with a family, and then proceeds to blow his father off in the same way. It was so sad! But I loved the frisson of its sadness. Somehow much more acceptable than the Don Henley sadness, for some reason. Eh.

  3. #3 Orac
    August 1, 2006

    Old enough? Heck, it was in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college that MTV debuted. Of course, I didn’t see it until I got to the dorms for my sophomore year, mainly because my parents hadn’t yet gotten cable then, but I remember many hours hanging out in the communal areas and lounges using MTV as background while studying.

  4. #4 RPM
    August 1, 2006

    “I also really liked that Ugly Kid Joe song about the father who is a busy executive and misses all the important Little League practices, etc., until his son is all grown up, a man with a family, and then proceeds to blow his father off in the same way. It was so sad!”

    You mean “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.

  5. #5 Karmen
    August 1, 2006

    My parents wouldn’t pay for cable. (They also used to try to lock the end of the TV so we wouldn’t watch PBS until we were supervised.) But there was always Grandma’s house…

    I remember eating lunch with the girl from up the street, when Micheal Jackson’s Thriller came on. We jumped up, giggling excitedly, and ran into the den to watch it. It was, like, you know, the most awesomest thing *ever*.

  6. #6 katherine sharpe
    August 1, 2006

    “You mean “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.”

    Busted. So what did Ugly Kid Joe do, anyway?

  7. #7 Abel Pharmboy
    August 1, 2006

    Don’t worry, Katherine – I came out of a Bowie concert sometime in the mid 90s and overhead some young folk bitching about how Bowie had the nerve to do Nirvana’s, “The Man Who Sold the World.” If not for the musical tutelage of a thoughful then-college aged orderly in the ER where PharmMom was training to be a nurse in the early-mid 70s, even I would have been too young to remember that Bowie wrote and recorded the song in 1968-69 for an album of the same name – right, Orac?

  8. #8 yls
    August 3, 2006

    When I couldn’t get a date for my prom, I thought about snail-mailing a letter to Alan Hunter and asking him to join me. If reality-TV had been then what it is now, I might have had my 15 minutes of fame not to mention a hunk of a date for my prom. Ironically, as it turned out, another Alan accompanied me to the prom.

  9. #9 RPM
    August 4, 2006

    Ugly Kid Joe covered Chapin.

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