Thursday, October 09, 2008
Video Killed The Radio Star-Part 1*
In my mind and in my car,
we can't rewind we've gone to far
*The first in a soon-to-never-be-completed series examining the impact of 10 different music videos on TCF's early childhood
So my last entry on this site was posting a video by a band. What a quaint idea. Clearly I'm showing my age.
Videos are the vestigial organs of pop culture these days. As has been widely reported, MTV doesn't even bother showing them anymore, and now Vh1 has morphed into E! with music celebrities. A few random video "breakthroughs" have gained popularity on the Internet (like the one with guys on treadmills), but these videos nowadays are just lumped in with the zillions of other parodies, old commercials, embarrassing home videos, and other viral web stuff that dominates the Internet. The scale of pop media is so much smaller and the scope so much bigger than it was back in the good ole days. And by the good ole days, I am, of course, referring to the 80's.
In 1982 my parents got cable. Some of my earliest memories from my childhood are of sitting on our couch and holding a large plastic box with a bunch of white buttons on the left side. Not electronic, touch-sensitive buttons, oh no. These buttons required at least ten pounds of pressure to lock into place, and only one button on each row or column could be in the "down" position at a time. It wasn't so much channel surfing back then as channel pounding. The box connected directly to the TV via a thick six-foot cable. It could have been the cable box for all I know, and not even a remote. I watched a lot of television.
When I got bored of watching TV alone, I would ask and receive permission from my mom to head over to our back yard neighbors' house and watch with them. The Silers had three sons: Eric, who was six years older than me (my brother's age), Alex, who was a year older, and Woogie, who was a year younger (Woogie's real name was Brian, no one had any idea why he was called Woogie). The Silers were really into Pro Wrestling (WWF), He-Man, football, and destroying things. Their dad owned a camper he kept in the driveway. I think they had a sister too, but tellingly, I have absolutely no recollection of her. My older brother and I spent a lot of time over there.
When you watched TV in 1983 outside of Saturday morning, you pretty much only watched MTV. We'd take the occasional break to play their Intellivision (an incredibly underrated early video game system), but the videos were the main event. MTV's music library in that period was roughly 50 videos, and if you watched for long enough, you could memorize the exact order the videos were played in. We did this. The five of us also developed a "game" that consisted of us adopting the identities of the people in the videos for the course of the video. Eric and my brother (the elder statesmen) always got to choose which person in the video they were first. Eric usually picked the lead singer, and my brother always followed with the lead guitarist. Then, Alex, Woogie, and I would fight over the table scraps of bassist, drummer, or the other random characters in the video. A lot of times Eric would veto our selections and make one of us be the saxophone player that inevitably showed up halfway through the song. Then we would all make fun of whoever had the lamest character, which was usually the saxophone player. It was great fun.
An unexpected consequence of all the time I spent with the Silers watching MTV was that a relatively small number of music videos ended up playing a disproportionally large role in the forming of my psyche. In my relatively sheltered, suburban upbringing, MTV was the window showing me (what I thought were) some viable options for my adult life in the larger world. The great/awful thing about this is that almost all of the videos from the early 80's have cynical or superficial or terrifying overtones. In retrospect, these videos help explain a lot about the failure of many of my high school and college relationships. I'm still unraveling the mysteries of their influence over me.
The first video I'd like to examine is Hall & Oates "Maneater":
The lessons are pretty straightforward here. Women are dangerous, possibly pumas. Stick close to your boys (in this case, John Oates and G.E. Smith from the Saturday Night Live Band). Dramatically stare at the camera every now and then. Make sure your hair is correct. And the girl that shows up at the end may be a huge disappointment.
In 1983, I was, of course, forced to assume the identity of the sax player in the video. Which is why, this Halloween, I'm dressing up as Darryl Hall. Finally, I get to be the lead singer.