Thanks to all for coming over and sharing your MTV memories earlier this week. Our SciBling editor and cat-herder, Katherine, came across with a very vivid list of great memories and Orac was able to bitch about being ever so slightly older than me. Then, Karmen surprised me by intimating that cable TV actually existed in Colorado in 1981, at least at her Grandma’s house.
I said I was going to tell you some of my general recollections of MTV, but I have very specific memories of this very week 25 years ago thanks to my personal archivist, number one fan, and all-around keeper of my life story, PharmSis:
This week 25 years ago found me playing a final, two-night stand in a rock band headed by my high school history teacher, my guidance counselor, and three other friends (including my first real girlfriend).
The Beatles, Springsteen, Blondie, and The Kinks pretty much says it all.
I ran the following picture by PharmPreSchooler to be sure that it wasn’t recognizable as me today. She did not know this was a picture of her Daddy:
Yup, that’s the Pharmboy at age 17. From the key in which I appear to be playing, I can tell you with 99.9% certainty that I am playing and singing, “Just What I Needed,” by The Cars.
And what vehicle would have been suitable for a budding Pharmboy to carry his gear:
A 1973 Dodge Dart Sport, Dodge’s version of Plymouth’s legendary Duster. Purchased for $850, it served me through almost all of college and my pharma internship until Mom and Dad bought me my ‘Vette for graduation (a Chevy Chevette Scooter, the economy version of the Chevette – with no A/C, of course, to wisely go off to graduate school in the American South.)
The summer of 1981 was a heady one, indeed. I was about to be the first in my family to embark on a bachelor’s degree program. I recall a musical friend and pizza delivery dude who helped me buy my first electric guitar castigating me for going to college by saying, “So, I guess this mean you’re not going to take your music seriously.” I believe I responded by saying, “No, I’m going to take my life seriously.” (This paragraph standing as the justification for posting this on ScienceBlogs.).
I spent the entire summer celebrating the joy of life between playing bars and dances in Bergen County, NJ, trips to my buddy Joe’s aunt’s house at the Jersey Shore (now an advertising exec), the Sumner Ave parking lot at Seaside Heights with Tommy (now a premier mechanical engineer), and working as a prep cook in a local pizza place. My Mom and Dad had given up on expecting me home at any certain time in the evening/morning and I had begun to taste real independence for the first time in my life. I hope that I am as trusting and confident in the judgment and maturity of my daughter when her time comes.
An incredible and now-historic inaugural stand by Bruce Springsteen in the newly-finished Meadowlands Arena (named after then-recently-departed NJ governor, Brendan Byrne) served as the benediction for the next part of my life.
This ticket stub from the 19th row floor of the Byrne Arena is the only documentation I didn’t have to scam from PharmSis. I recognized its timeless significance and stored it in my personal archives. (BTW, Denise, did I take you to this concert? I think so. If I did, I hope I was a gentleman.)
I recall being a tad hungover the day of the launch of MTV and our lead singer, Eric (whereabouts unknown; update: Eric is a schoolteacher in Vancouver, BC), staying at my house overnight because it had been unwise to drive him home. I distinctly remember five videos: “I Got You” by Split Enz, “Let My Love Open the Door” by a then-solo Pete Townshend, and the holy trinity of “Gloria,” “I Will Follow,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2, the latter of which was recorded from a concert at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre on a not-so-unusual blustery June night that I had thought mistakenly was being filmed at some Druid worshipping ground in the UK.
But what I remember most about MTV came from grad school in the late 1980s. Tommy and my brother, John, a Merck chemical engineer, took to visiting me regularly in grad school and treated me like royalty since they had real jobs and I, well, was in grad school. Their generosity and camaraderie was instrumental in helping me through grad school, emotionally and financially. John’s constant urging to “live your life like it was your own video” brings back very clear memories of Dire Straits’, “Money for Nothing” with Sting, and countless hours examining the purpose of life in oyster bars across North Florida. I can remember only one of the liver transplants, and even that one was foggy.
Most vivid about MTV was their Sunday evening shows, the revolving broadcast of twelve episodes of the British college comedy series, “The Young Ones,” followed by “120 Minutes,” probably the last real contribution of MTV to improving the musical literacy of us American lemmings. Sundays then consisted of going into lab in the afternoon to start some plasmid preps, pour some gels, and plan experiments for the week, followed by $1.00 Bloody Marys at the Purple Porpoise Oyster Pub and the rush to get home for two-and-a-half hours of MTV, sitting with papers that need to be read for various classes and journal clubs. My appreciation for the British new wave, ska, and reggae is linked directly to 120 Minutes.
Somewhere along the line, MTV stopped playing videos and I was no longer part of their target demographic. My SciBling, Prof Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles, has his own survey on when readers think MTV jumped the shark.
Still, I am amazed to have been present at a time when bands changed their thinking on how to write songs, often thinking what the video would look like before focusing on the integrity of the sound.
But, then again, popular music has always been a truly multisensual experience, at least since the folk, blues, jazz, and be-bop of the first half of the 1900s. It’s really only the media of expression that has changed along with technology. We just watched a lot of Jaime Foxx playing Ray Charles in “Ray” while on vacation; I am reminded that even before music videos, music was always about a look (Elvis (both), the Beatles, Bowie)…an attitude (Jagger, Lou Reed, Bowie again)…the sight, sound, and feel of a classic guitar, whether it be B.B. King’s Lucille, Springsteen’s bastardized Fender Esquire Telecaster, or the last guitar bought by one’s dearly-departed Dad…the smell and feel of your girlfriend or boyfriend…
…and a bass riff pounding through your chest.
(Hat tip: PharmSis, Sue B., Eric, Carl, Andy, Louie G., Tommy, J.G., Jonah-man, Schneider, O’D, Griff, Bob, Rueben, Don Roger)