While Fresh At Twenty compared rather unfavorably with Our Noise, the new oral history of Music Television by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, compares wonderfully to Live From New York. While that opening sentence is about as awkwardly worded as anything I’ve ever written, it’s accurate.
Much as Live From New York documented the rise of Saturday Night Live, so does I Want My MTV with the Music Television cable channel. Both are oral histories that document the rise of a youth-oriented bit of programming to cultural phenomenon, speaking with everyone involved.
I Want My MTV is a rather in-depth piece of work. When this was initially offered as a print-on-demand book earlier this year, I’d anticipated a slim volume. This is a tome, at just slightly over 600 pages. Nearly every aspect of the network’s history is covered, and the whole “uncensored” tag is quite accurate. Tales of network executives behaving badly, people gacked to the eyeballs on coke, and sexual misadventures are all par for the course.
Best of all, it’s an engrossing read. The quotes Marks and Tannenbaum were able to get from folks had me reading something aloud from each and every chapter. Early executive Les Garland’s stories are epic, and his unrestrained, completely honest admissions of issues and misbehavior gets the book off to an honest start, which is an air that permeates the entirety of I Want My MTV.
The whole book is cleverly edited in such a way as to distract you from the fact that while certain people are spoken of, they never speak themselves. Much is made of David Fincher and Michael Bay as directors, but neither actually speak. Somehow, though, because every person who dealt with them – up to and including producer Jerry Bruckheimer – speaks on the record, it’s only upon reflection that you notice that neither Fincher nor Bay actually appear in the book.
Other people of note that don’t speak directly with the authors include Madonna and Kurt Loder, as well as U2 and other acts that were broken and promoted by the network, but again: everyone who dealt with them, such as producers, directors, and VJs do speak on the record, and you simply don’t notice.
As the book moves toward its conclusion, the interviews become less lengthy, and the swatches of text generated by early executives and VJs become closer to sound bites – whether or not it’s intentional, the book’s editing begins to mirror the quick cuts that became de rigeur in the era in which the quotes are set.
Honestly, I’ve not enjoyed a book so much in ages. Despite its hefty size and the massive amount of information contained within, I Want My MTV is an engrossing, involving read. This is a book that definitively defines an era through the words of those who were there. It leans a little heavily on nostalgia, and those not familiar with MTV’s golden age might not recognize the importance of the information contained within. YouTube gets mentioned a lot within the book’s pages, and the days of leaving a television set to one station that’d provide a non-stop stream of music and entertainment are long since gone. To get something new, you have to track it down, rather than having it happen to cross your vision. I Want My MTV is a history of something that was, not anything that’s currently extant. Emotional attachment issues of mine aside, you’d do well to grab this.
Although, I’ve got one tiny gripe: no Just Say Julie? What the fuck?