MTV's 500 Video Countdown

By Cindy Lamb

Being a trend watchdog, or maybe watch cat in my case, I couldn't get over watching MTV this past week as they logged their 500 video countdown. This delightful and quite educational time capsule took us from the first-aired video, the Buggle's "Video Killed the Radio Star" through the minimalist new wave era, big-haired 80's, tattoo metal and the sensitive 90s alternative rock.

As a new medium, the music video has become such a part of launching a band, kids in a garage know they'd better not show up on a label's doorstep with anything less than a CD and a video with the price tag of a Lexus. In the old days, you gave the receptionist a demo tape, a photograph and a fresh wad of gum for her trouble and hoped to God that she didn't use it as a coaster before it got to the A&R department.

As for the fans, yes, like Woodstock generation coming of age (and jobs, offspring, mortgages), MTV has kids buying Tommy Hillfiger products with their own money who weren't born when Don Henley still had long hair. If you have to look that name up, welcome to your demographic status.

After five days of actual MUSIC VIDEO programming from noon to eight at night, I arrived at the fact that I don't really want my MTV as Dire Straits crooned, "I MISS my MTV." When the damned thing appeared on my television set, I thought it was the best thing since the demise of the 8-track.

Between such financial and creative visionaries at Bob Pittman and Michael Nesmith (yes, the Monkee in the hat), the portrayal of songs in a short subject venue exploded the scene. Slowly adding in rock-complimentary features such as Liquid Television, 120 Minutes, Unplugged and Buzz Bin were welcomed with open eyes and ears. They even gave the directors credits alongside the artist and label after a few long years.

That much sought-after fresh look for your garden variety rock video is always a challenge. Consider the years of T&A, breaking glass, blue fog and dwarfs we've endured thus far. And don't forget the "orange" phase of the post "Smells Like Teen Spirit" look of Nirvana. Video trends such "bathrooms" "focus switching" and "milk" have been abundant. Live's "Freaks" is the only homogenized hint I'll divulge. Keep an eye peeled for new "other white fluid." Personally I miss that raw, "I let my dog hold the camera" appeal of early R.E.M. to the glossy portrait of "Losing My Religion," and the trail of alternative rag-a-muffins to follow, but, hey, change is good.

As a journalist, I was lucky to attend the first and then three more MTV Awards extravaganzas, only once sitting in the audience. Backstage with the beautiful horrors of publicity, star-fits and finger food were my speed. It was simply a four-hour-long car crash and I refused to leave the intersection. Rock and roll should always maintain that energy. No one really plans a head-on, do they?

Then when big business set in and all the suits had their way, retail swept our bohemian kingdom like a wave of green bile. Long gone was the stammering Martha Quinn feeding us bits and bytes of curious artist info and interviews. We have to deal with agents pushing the silk-wrapped turd actors into coveted VJ slots, repeating monotone scripts like "hot" and "baby" until we're convinced they must know what they're talking about. Unusually enough, the spontaneous, raw appeal of Kennedy, albeit a hot yet fresh breath of air, was a stroke of hiring genius. Informed and intimidating, this stone cool woman worked for me and a lot of other people.

But if you were weaned on MTV in the last handful of years, you know it's a generation of marketed cattle whose hides are branded with the Nike logo. We drink Pepsi, we gargle Skittles, we have 2% body fat and will live forever.

We have to search for special times to see fresh, groundbreaking videos hidden within a concrete jungle of high-dollar gangster rap. If the message isn't clear that they're trying to promote anti-violence, then someone should censor the twisted gang hand signals instead of their clothing logo.

We must deal with Jenny McCarthy's cleavage in our face whether we breast feed or not. With shows such as Singled Out, Beavis & Butthead and Love Line, it seems that MTV would quench it's thirst for testosterone and provide another channel. JIZ-TV or something. Make room for the "M" in MTV.

As I began, the last bold week of uninterrupted music videos should not have been a special. It should be the way it is.

Cindy Lamb writes Front & Center for Louisville Music News.