The architects of MTV get more play than Madonna and company in this outrageous yet surprisingly lucid account of the cable channel’s defiant first decade of decadence.
The Material Girl, The Boss and The King of Pop all helped define what MTV was for most viewers during the 1980s. But this oral history, as told by a star-studded cast of recording artists and industry insiders, is really the story of guys like John Lack, Bob Pittman and Les Garland—“the suits” behind the scenes who rolled the big record companies for all they were worth and revolutionized the way the world got its music, at least for a while. Mostly candid reflections—some complimentary, others conflicting—provide a real sense of what MTV was like before Snooki took over. Torrents of cash and cocaine flowed freely in an archaic atmosphere of almost nonstop sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—not to mention the crazy bands and unhinged performers. Beneath all the partying, however, lurked insidious instances of myopic racism, rabid sexism and rampant exploitation. For a time, many black artists could not get their videos played on MTV unless their name was Michael Jackson. Supermodel Cindy Crawford never saw a paycheck the first year she did House of Style. And yet, for most concerned, we’re told it was all a blast. Even the most shabbily treated VJs pine for the halcyon days of MTV media mayhem. Some of the book does feels incongruous—e.g., long sections detail the endless negotiations associated with media empire building, while seminal moments such as Live Aid receive short shrift. Nonetheless, music journalists Marks and Tannenbaum have done a fine job of both celebrating MTV and deconstructing it. Thirty years ago, “video killed the radio star.” The tables, of course, have turned; the media landscape has changed dramatically, and YouTube has supplanted MTV’s relevancy. This book has a rocking good time putting it all in context.
A funky-fresh exposé on the 1980s arbiters of cool.