VJ:The Unplugged Adventures of America’s First Wave by Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, and Alan Hunter(4 out of 5)
The 1980’s were a wonderful decade. Not counting the decade of excess and political topsy-turvy(Cold War, Berlin Wall, Gorbachev and Reagan anyone?), definitely for the long-term effects on pop culture. Ten years from now, those 90’s latchkey kids will have their turn in the nostalgia bucket. Until then, let the 80’s children of the battlefield(All Hail Queen Pat Benatar) feast and reign in the Thunderdome.
This book is a perfect illustration of something so unique and wonderfully singular that changed the landscape of music on so many fronts. Many bands who wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in hell of breaking the US got the chance to shine and attract rabid fangirls with the newest form of pop culture adoration- the music video(two artists who exulted and broke on MTV with that video strong card ended up obsessing me still- Duran Duran and the gone-too-soon INXS). The idea that radio actually played music in those days- not on a repetitious loop of crap like that(hello B9-sucks and Kiss my ass-FM), but new songs, popular songs, and that countdowns still meant something(Casey Kasem, while creepy to me for the hair and the fact that he was married to the much younger, nubile Jean), would have had to lead down a path to open up to some wonderful, alien minefield. And it did- it was MTV and its launch in August of 1981 that changed everything. When you go and read parts of this book, what the first 20 videos played were, you get a great idea of how ground-breaking and what a variety of videos that were played and exposed to millions who had no idea.(If i had cable then, I likely would have discovered Joan Armtrading sooner). Along with the launch of this 24-hour-a-day music video channel was the introduction of visual jockeys- or video jockeys(either one could apply here). This is the story of their rise to fame, the highs, the lows, the bullshit that began the eventual downfall, not only of the individual VJ’s as they were let go, but the disintegration of the channel that once set records and teen hearts aflutter. The only voice missing is JJ Jackson, who passed away some years ago, but his memory is fully honored by the remaining four. Add to the story of the meteoric rise to fame for MTV in the early years some great vignettes of superstars who were down to earth, some who tried to take over the world(hello Madonna!), and some great stories of interviews that were downright confrontational(David Bowie, and to a much lesser but more artistically real extent, Mr. Joe Jackson) and you have one really great book.
The only complaints I have is that more of the actual stars of the MTV decade weren’t contacted and quoted in the book. After David Lee Roth’s persona is so widely detailed and questioned, I would love to read his take on the VJ’s. Not to mention John Mellencamp’s supposed infatuation with Nina Blackwood(I don’t think I’ll ever think of John Waite in the same light again after her disclosure of their affair of the heart). I would also like to say straight out that Martha Quinn was not my favorite VJ, and a lot of her synopsis’ drive me nuts. I’m not sure if it’s the naivete or the goofiness of a lot of her replies to crazy shit that happened, but she definitely belonged playing Mrs. Bobby Brady in that Brady Bunch movie. And I always was more fascinated by Mark Goodman’s hair than him overall. This book left me feeling like he was a bit of a prick. Nina was my favorite VJ, and I liked JJ, odd wardrobe choices or not. I didn’t know quite what to make of Alan Hunter, but he was quirky, and I like quirky. All in all, a great read for those of us still stuck in that magical decade.