Book Talk: I WANT MY MTV, by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks

I WANT MY MTV via indiebounddotorg

Penguin Plume (2012), trade paper (ISBN 0452298563 / 9780452298569)
Nonfiction: pop culture (oral history), 592 pages
Source: Purchased ebook (iBooks ISBN 9781101562415)
Reason for reading: Personal

The popular music of my lifetime is divided, in my mind, between “before MTV” and “after MTV.” I first saw Music Television in the fall of 1982–my boyfriend’s family had cable–and was fascinated by the channel and the new music it showcased. I lost track of it for a few years–the boyfriend became a husband, we became parents, and we didn’t have cable–and when I caught back up with it again, we had both changed. MTV came to define the 1980s…but in reading about its first decade in the oral history I Want My MTV, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that its 1980s weren’t exactly my 1980s.



The 1980s are sometimes dismissed as an era when style trumped substance, and MTV and its influence are a big part of why it has that reputation. In its early years, MTV was radio with an enormous potential reach, and as the book notes, it reached audiences that hadn’t had the chance to be exposed to cutting-edge popular culture–many smaller, more isolated markets had cable television well before the big coastal cities did. (MTV was produced in New York City, but it actually wasn’t available for New Yorkers to watch it for a while.) But the “television” part of Music Television was what made the difference–the channel’s reach was amplified by the visual images that accompanied the music, and presented us with style and attitude that soon seeped into the mainstream.



I Want My MTV delivers on the style and attitude. I thought it resembled the channel’s early, all-music-video years in the way it kept me reading, eager to see what would come along next–but it also mimicked the exhaustion that would set in after watching MTV for hours, seeing some videos half a dozen times while the ones you were waiting to see never turned up at all. The book includes quotes from hundreds of people who were involved with MTV during its first decade in both its business and creative operations, and result is rarely dull, but it’s often scattered and not particularly insightful. It’s not at all difficult to imagine a multi-part TV documentary based on this–the talking-head clips are already here, and there’s certainly plenty of suitable video footage to edit in among them.



I might watch that documentary, to be honest, and I’d probably find it more satisfying than the book. I really did hope for more substance from I Want My MTV, and maybe that was my mistake. Maybe those years I lost touch with MTV are part of it too; I missed much of the channel’s transition from “modern rock” to “hair metal,” so I was less interested in the behind-the-scenes dirt on many of the videos discussed in the book. Don’t get me wrong–it was fun to read all the insider stories here, but I find that I don’t really need to hear as many tales of excess and decadence as I Want My MTV offers. I think MTV’s influence on late-20th-century popular culture is undeniable, but I think I’d like to read a history of it that’s a little more analytical and a little less personal.

Rating: 3.25 of 5

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
It was a pretty radical idea-a channel for teenagers, showing nothing but music videos. It was such a radical idea that almost no one thought it would actually succeed, much less become a force in the worlds of music, television, film, fashion, sports, and even politics. But it did work. MTV became more than anyone had ever imagined. 

I Want My MTV tells the story of the first decade of MTV, the golden era when MTV’s programming was all videos, all the time, and kids watched religiously to see their favorite bands, learn about new music, and have something to talk about at parties. From its start in 1981 with a small cache of videos by mostly unknown British new wave acts to the launch of the reality-television craze with The Real World in 1992, MTV grew into a tastemaker, a career maker, and a mammoth business.

Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a testament to the channel that changed popular culture forever.
From the Introduction:
“Hardly anyone thought it would succeed.

“Upon hearing of the plan to launch a TV channel that would show music videos around the clock, businessmen of wealth and experience–wealthy men who ran record companies and partied with rock stars, and visionary men who made fortunes by anticipating the explosion of cable TV–scoffed and snickered. Who would watch this channel? Even if it proved popular, who would advertise there? Why would FM or Anheuser-Busch want to reach this channel’s audience, consisting mostly of fourteen- to twenty-four-year-olds? Where’s the money in that?

“Prior to the launch of this channel on August 1, 1981, only a few dozen people believed it would succeed, and all of them worked at the channel. The start-up staff was a coterie of misfits, inexperienced and determined, and included two one-eyed executives who were later hailed as visionaries. Which is not to say everyone who worked at the channel believed it would succeed. ‘It sounded like an asinine idea,’ Bob Pittman (one of the one-eyed executives) admitted five years after the launch, when the channel was the centerpiece of a $525-million bidding war. It’s easy to imagine this as the theme of one of the network’s early advertising campaigns, which were usually brash and self-mocking: ‘MTV: It sounds like an asinine idea.’”



Shop Indie Bookstores

Affiliate Marketing Links

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,420 other subscribers

(E)Book Talk: THE AGE OF MIRACLES, by Karen Thompson Walker

(E)Book Talk: THE AGE OF MIRACLES, by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles Karen Thompson Walker (Facebook) (Twitter) Random House (2012), Hardcover (ISBN 0812992970 / 9780812992977) Fiction, 288 pages Source: Purchased e-book (eISBN 9780679644385) Reason for reading: Personal Opening lines: “We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. “We did not sense, at first, the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin. “We were distracted, back then, by weather and war. We had no […]

Book Talk: THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED, by Alan Sepinwall

Book Talk: THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED, by Alan Sepinwall

The Revolution Was Televised: The Crooks, Cops, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever Alan Sepinwall (Blog) (Twitter) Self-published by What’s Alan Watching? (November 2012), trade paper (ISBN 0615718299 / 9780615718293) Nonfiction: essays/pop culture, 306 pages Source: Purchased ebook (Smashwords: ISBN 9781301879960) Reason for reading: Personal; recommended by Linda Holmes of Pop Culture Happy Hour Excerpt from an Excerpt (previously published on Grantland.com): “The story of Lost makes no sense. And by that I […]

Book Talk: *Dare Me*, by Megan Abbott

Book Talk: *Dare Me*, by Megan Abbott

Dare Me: A Novel Megan Abbott (Twitter) (Facebook–author page) (Facebook fan page for Dare Me) Reagan Arthur Books (August 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 0316097772 / 9780316097772) Fiction, 304 pages Source: Purchased e-book (iBooks edition: ISBN 9780316203234) Reason for reading: Personal Opening lines: “‘Something happened, Addy. I think you better come.’ “The air is heavy, misted, fine. It’s coming on two AM and I’m high up on the ridge, thumb jammed against the silver button: 27-G. “‘Hurry, […]

Book Talk: *This Life Is In Your Hands*, by Melissa Coleman

Book Talk: *This Life Is In Your Hands*, by Melissa Coleman

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone Melissa Coleman (Facebook) Harper Perennial (2012), trade paperback (ISBN 0061958336 / 9780061958335) Nonfiction/memoir, 352 pages Source: purchased e-book (ISBN 9780062807355) Reason for reading: personal (recommended by Kim) Opening lines (from the Prologue): “We must have asked our neighbor Helen to read our hands that day. Her own hands were the color of onion skins, darkened with liver spots, and ever in […]

Sunday Salon: Opening the Book on 2012!

Sunday Salon: Opening the Book on 2012!

Happy New Year, y’all! If that Mayan calendar is to be believed, we’ve got 355 days left before it all goes away, so I suppose we’d better get to it, hadn’t we? Whatever “it” is… I guess that opens up a big question: “If you knew you had only one year left to read, what books would you want to make sure you didn’t miss?” Personally, I don’t know which specific titles would be on […]