I Want My MTV! Part 5
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My wife, Robin Sloane, is getting some great props for her role in some groundbreaking music videos like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (I Want My MTV!, the new book by Craig Marks and Rob Tannebaum, has been timed for MTV’s 30th anniversary, and focuses on the prime music video years of 1981 until ‘92.)
Here’s an excerpt on a career highlight of Robin’s from New York Magazine:
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Seattle punks start a revolt, and snuff hair metal.
Robin Sloane, Geffen Records Exec: Kurt Cobain was the only artist I’ve ever known who had brilliant, fully realized ideas he could express in one sentence. With “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt said, “My idea for the video is a pep rally gone wrong.” He looked at director Sam Bayer’s reel and loved it, so I hired Sam. But there were a lot of problems between Sam and Kurt.
Courtney Love: Kurt hated Sam Bayer. For “Teen Spirit,” Kurt wanted fat cheerleaders, he wanted black kids, he wanted to tell the world how fucked up high school was. But Sam put hot girls in the video. The crazy thing is, it still worked.
Dave Grohl, Band Member: The idea was, the kids take over and burn down the gymnasium, just as Matt Dillon did in Over the Edge, with the rec center. Kurt was a huge fan of that movie. We walked into that whole thing really cautiously, because we didn’t want to misrepresent the band. There were certain things we found to be really funny about videos—tits and ass and pyrotechnics, shit like that—and when we showed up at the shoot, we were like, Wait a minute, those cheerleaders look like strippers.A lot of people we worked with didn’t understand the underground scene or punk rock.
Samuel Bayer: I scouted L.A. strip clubs for the cheerleaders. Kurt didn’t like them. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to put unattractive women in the video. I think Kurt looked at me and saw himself selling out. So anything I did was construed as corporate. But to me, these were nasty girls. They had rug burns on their knees. In my eyes, the whole video was dirty. It’s all yellows and browns. It was the opposite of everything on MTV at the time; every video was blue and backlit with big xenon lights. I was a painter. I was trying to rip on Caravaggio and Goya.
Sloane: All the kids in the bleachers were drunk.
Grohl: We did a couple of takes, and the audience just started destroying the stage. The director’s on a bullhorn screaming, “Stop! Cut!” And that’s when it started to make sense to me: This is like a Nirvana concert.
Bayer: The day of the video shoot was pure pain. Kurt hated being there. Maybe it was his venom coming through, but I’ve been on 200 music-video sets since, and that was the best performance I’ve ever seen.
Amy Finnerty, MTV VP of Programming: Initially, my boss said, “Look, the visuals are great, and they have a catchy name, but beyond that, I don’t really know what this is gonna do.” I said, “I understand why we’re playing Paula Abdul and Whitesnake. But if there isn’t a place for this, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Love: The first time Kurt and I slept together was at a Days Inn in Chicago. We were having our first postcoital moment, and we’re watching MTV and the video came on. I pulled away from him, because it was his video, his moment, he was the king of the fucking world, and he put his arm around me and pulled me closer. Which was symbolic, like, “I’m letting you into my life.” That really endeared him to me. The next time I saw the video with him was at the Omni Northstar Hotel in Minneapolis. I’d flown there to fuck Billy Corgan, who still had lots of hair. I didn’t even know Nirvana were playing that night. Kurt and I wound up at the Northstar, and our daughter, Frances, was basically made that night. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was on MTV every five fucking minutes.
Bayer: That video gave me a career. Everyone wanted to do a Nirvana-type video: Ozzy Osbourne, Johnny Lydon, the Ramones.
Kip Winger, Hair-Metal Singer: I watched “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and I thought, All right, we’re finished.
Kevin Kerslake, Director: “Teen Spirit” crossed the Rubicon. Nirvana became the mold for success, the way Poison had been four years before. There are many ironies within the history of MTV, and that is one of them: The revolutionary fights the dictator, and ultimately becomes the dictator. It’s just swapping chairs.
Adapted from I Want My MTV, by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum (October 27; Dutton, a member of Penguin Group [USA] Inc.). Copyright © 2011 by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum.
On August 1, 2011, Bob Pittman, the original programming boss, visionary, and indeed, soul of MTV (and one of my mentors), generously threw the party of reunion parties for MTV’s 30th Anniversary at his compound in Mexico. (Yes, it was John Lack's idea for WASEC to launch a 24 hour music channel, but it Bob who completely realized its execution.) I had couldn’t make it, but a couple dozen of our original colleagues showed up (including my long time creative partner, Alan Goodman) made the trek to Bob’s town, location of the tequila company he owns, for 48 hours of memories of rock’n’roll, media revolution, and debauchery.
Bob put together this reunion booklet (that’s my oldest friend, Frank Olinsky, one of the MTV logo designers, on the front cover), and to my delight, not only did it have a lot of my great friends, but a picture of my wife-to-be (we didn’t meet until 11 years later), Robin Sloane, who put on a party at her employer, Epic Records, for the first Gold Record (yes, it was Adam Ant) spawned by an MTV video.
In the immortal words of John Lack: Ladies and Gentlemen…rock and roll! The people here are the ones who remember what the first hour really looked like after those words, vs. the doctored tape we quickly put together. I can still feel the panic all these years later, and I’m sure you can too. That said, it was 30 years ago — and some of you are older now, so your memories may not be that good. (Sykes and Garland, I’m looking at you.)
30 years ago, we launched something that did what very few have ever done — we created the most powerful cable network in history, and a brand that’s become a familiar part of popular culture around the world. We didn’t set out to do that, of course, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you connect with a group of people who share a belief and a vision in the strength and promise of an idea. Our historical legacy was this shared creative vision, one that set the course for the wildly inventive MTV brand and set the culture for its decade of success.
There aren’t many people who can honestly say they had a profound impact on everything from the music industry to popular culture, embedded with a slogan — “I Want My MTV!”— into the public consciousness, created a cultural and media icon, changed graphic design and video production and reinvented the idea of what television could be.
Indeed, we even changed ad sales and marketing — we broke every rule of that time and usher in a whole new way for advertisers to use television. We’d love to claim that yeah, that’s exactly how we planned it! But all we knew was that we were part of a unique culture, working with people we loved, and combining our fresh approach to entertainment with a dedication to our mission. That combination enabled MTV to push the boundaries of what television could be, and reinvented youth culture while we were at it. We had no respect for experience and most of us had never done the jobs we were given. And remember how often we said, only half-jokingly, no one over thirty has any good ideas? Ahhh, the confidence of youth!
What an incredible moment in time. And even today, with so much time having passed and so many more work experiences under our collective belt, I can honestly say that our team and what we accomplished was (and still is) amazing. We are bound together forever as “the MTV family.”
Although we’ll definitely have a lot of fun this weekend —driven at least in part with what I promise you is the smoothest tequila in the world— I hope we’ll also take a minute to reflect on the memory of a few who were essential to our success. Steve Ross, the CEO of Warner Communications, believed in us every minute from the moment we first showed him the idea. For me personally, he guided an important part of my career, at MTV and after, that I can only repay him by showing that same kind of attention to others on the front side of their career curve. David Horowitz, Co-COO of WCI and then CEO of MTV Networks was our rabbi. Patiently listening, counseling and supporting us all along the way, he seemed to know everything — except how to push the correct button on his phone to pick up calls! And finally, there JJ. One of the 5 faces of MTV to the world — how many people connected to MTV thru him? And how many people in the music industry instantly respected us because of his strong and long background in the business? I know we’ll raise a glass —or two, or three— this weekend to all of these men, critical parts of our MTV family, whom we think of often and miss sincerely.
I’m also delight that my “MTV soul mates,” the two other former CEO’s of MTV Networks still hanging around, are here with us this weekend. Tom and Judy took the original idea we built and brought it to heights none of us could have imagined. Finally, I have to thanks John Lack, my first boss at WASEC and the man who found me in radio, fought his boss to get me to the company, and consistently support me with faith and confidence. Without him, I might still be in radio. Hmmm, wait a minute…
Thanks for joining us in Mexico to celebrate MTV’s 30th — and to celebrate all of you. You are the team that made it all happen, and I am forever grateful and honored to have been part of it. It certainly changed my life — and I suspect yours as well.
Enjoy the weekend — and please promise me that, for 48 hours, you’ll listen to nothing but Stray Cats, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Tina Turner, Howard Jones, ABC, Thompson Twins, Specials, Madness, Pretenders and all those other artists burned into our memories!
To everyone who, in the spirit of our 30th reunion celebration, has contributed to this book. Many thanks to Leslie Leventman, who volunteered her time and talent to work on this project as a labor of love. And a special thanks to my lifelong business partner, Mayo Stunty, who I met at MTV.
Editor-in-Chief/Class Historia: Leslie Leventman Art Direction/Design: Darlene Cordero; MTV Class of 1993-1998 Editorial/Photo Coordinator: Jackie Tigue Production Resources: Leslye Schaefer, Leigh Valesquez Contributor: Wendy Goldberg Administrative Assistant: Laurie Scollar0 comments Tagged: MTV 30th, MTV, MTVposts,.
In honor of MTV’s 30th, an animation frame from MTV’s 1st birthday.
Produced for MTV by Alan Goodman0 comments Tagged: MTV, MTV 30th, MTVposts, animation, logo, MTV 1st,.
It’s MTV’s 30th birthday, so I’ll be reblogging some pertinent posts from around the internets. This one’s from Rolling Stone magazine (an early detractor, I should add; they were scared MTV would usurp their postion in the music business firmament):
MTV Turns 30
Original VJ Mark Goodman recalls network’s first days: “I think we only had 300 videos”
By ANDY GREENE
JULY 28, 2011 4:05 PM ET
For original MTV VJ Mark Goodman, the news that music network is celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend is hard to fathom. “It’s freaking weird,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve lived like three lifetimes since then. It’s just so long ago, and yet it also seems like yesterday. It’s a weird number – and it’s hard to believe that we’re still talking about this 30 years down the road.”
MTV launched on August 1st, 1981 at 12:01 a.m. The first images broadcast were the launch of the Apollo 11, followed by a video for the Buggles song “Video Killed The Radio Star.” The network has gone through countless permutations since then, but this weekend VH1 Classic will commemorate MTV’s founding with a three-day marathon of footage from the 1980s, including a re-broadcast of the network’s first hour, starting Saturday at 6 a.m.
Photo by MTV, 1981, left to right: J.J.Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter0 comments Tagged: MTV, MTV 30th, MTVposts, Vjs,.
It’s MTV’s 30th birthday, so I’ll be reblogging some pertinent posts from around the internets.
This one is from my friend, producer David Levin's unpublished introduction to the 20th birthday MTV book (in fact, David and I actually met for the first time when he was putting this book and the companion special together 11 years ago). I’d never read it before, maybe you haven’t either:
"You’ll never look at TV the same way again."
When VJ Mark Goodman first said those words, in the very first segment in the very first minute on the very first day of MTV, no one knew that it wasn’t just hype. That ultimately, television would, indeed, change forever.
If you’re under the age of 25, it is probably hard to imagine a world without MTV. That big blocky M with the graffiti TV added almost as an afterthought is known internationally - once voted among the top ten logos ever - along with the CBS eye, the swastika, the Star of David and the Cross.
But until MTV launched on August 1st, 1981, just a handful of people knew what it was - and even THEY didn’t quite agree on what it should be - or even what it should be called. That small group spent the next few years creating and recreating a television channel unlike anything that had come before: 24 hours a day - unheard of! - devoted to (of all things) rock music - more like a radio station than a TV station.
Music. Television. MTV.
Absurd. And yet it worked.
Younger viewers embraced the fledgling network. They quickly caught on to the fast-paced cutting, the sexy visuals, the vivid colors, the hard-thumping early 80’s techno music. And why not? This was a generation that had grown up on the fast-paced cutting, vivid colors and rocking music of Sesame Street.
MTV was the next logical step.
For all of the revolutionary television and music video techniques that emerged and were credited to MTV in the early 80’s, they had their roots in films like HELP!, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and television shows like the MONKEES, PARTRIDGE FAMILY and yes, Sesame Street. Is it really that great a leap of logic to get from Big Bird to Jesse Camp?
In turn, the MTV “look” during the 80’s influenced movies, commercials, television and design.
For the young professionals who worked at MTV back then, those were heady days. A time to learn their craft, stretch creative muscles and try doing television in a way no one had imagined. Without the sky-high budgets of most network television at the time, producers, directors and the hundred of people who put the shows together learned to fend for themselves, using creativity and ingenuity to solve problems rather than money.
Many of the people who toiled behind the scenes at MTV in the early days have gone on to even greater success: as producers, feature film directors, network executives - even as stars of music, film and television.
But even for those who did not go on to fame, pretty much ANYone who has worked at MTV for even a week has a tale to tell: a celebrity encounter, a trip to an exotic location gone wrong, an on-air mishap that became legendary in the retelling. Some of those stories were shared with friends and family and insiders at MTV. Few were told outside the MTV offices.
Until recently.0 comments Tagged: MTV 20th, MTV 30th, MTV, MTVposts,.
John Lack was the first Chief Operating Officer of MTV Networks, and one of our great storytellers. In this interview for BBC’s Witness (“history as told by the people who were there”) John shares his memory of the MTV launch, 30 years later.0 comments Tagged: BBC, interview, MTV, MTVposts, MTV 30th, radio,.