I told myself I would come home and write up a boxing story. After all, it is a good four days after the fights and if I keep putting it off I’ll probably start losing press passes and I love me some press passes. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of checking Facebook. If I can offer any little bit of advice to anyone trying to write – don’t check Facebook before you start writing. It’ll distract the hell out of you.
Case in point, my sister and her friend start posting pictures of Bieber and Pete Wentz like they’re 14-year-old fan girls (note - they are not 14). For some reason that leads me to looking up music they were actually listening to when they were teenagers. That led me to the Concrete Blonde song “Joey”. For some reason I remember my sister having a cassingle of that song.
*History lesson for those under 25 reading this. Cassingles were the next step from the 45 vinyl records our parents listened to Elvis on and the precursor to the iTunes download you kids have for your LMAFO and Gotye songs.
It was a cassette tape that had a song on one side, usually a top-40 hit, and a B-side song on the other that the cool kids said that they bought it for. They were usually 3 or 4 bucks in the store and kept you from having to invest in the whole album because, back then, there wasn’t a Spotify or Youtube where you could check out an entire record before buying it. You either took the plunge and hope enough songs were good to justify the purchase (for me it was three songs) or hoped one of your friends bought it and let you make a copy of it. Two-tape cassette decks FOR LIFE, BITCHES! Here endeth the lesson.*
Anyway, I posted “Joey” to Facebook and then allowed myself to get sucked into the time-waste that is Youtube. Y’all know what I’m talking about. You start watching one video, then another, and another. Then you remember that one other song and you look it up and start another stream. Before you know it an hour has gone by and you’re watching Kenny Rogers sing “The Gambler” on TheMuppets – puppets drinking and smoking….good luck getting that on a kid’s show these days.
One thing I noticed while I was tumbling down the video rabbit hole is that music video’s kicked ass back in the mid-1990’s. I’m not here to debate if music is better today or not, that argument has been going on since Beethoven banged out notes on his toy piano and it isn’t ever going to be solved.
However, I have no doubt in my mind that the music video heyday ran from about 1990 to 1997 and produced some of the most iconic short films ever. I know it’s a flawed rating system, but look at the MTV Video Music Award list and how it’s devolved over the last 20 years. Van Halen’s “Right Now” took the prize in 1992 over some strong competition (look “Under the Bridge” is a stupid song, but don’t tell me you don’t picture Anthony Kiedis running in slow motion every time you hear the song).
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Let’s run down some of the highlights (I’m lazy and mostly took the MTV video of the year, sue me it’s late):
1990 – “Nothing Compares 2 U” – set the bench mark for close up shot of the artist singing the song. Simple, yet effective.
1991- “Wicked Games” – Black & White. Supermodel rolling around on the beach. Why did it take someone 10 years to come up with that one?
1992 – An awesome year with “Right Now,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Tennesee,” “Good Vibrations,” “Black and White,” “November Rain”
1993 – “Jeremy” – remember the uproar over a video that insinuated a kid shooting his classmates? Would this even be a blip on the radar today?
1994 – “Cryin” – Steven Tyler’s epic run of whoring out Alicia Silverstone and his own daughter
1995- “Buddy Holly” – Weezer brings back the Fonz and the rest of the gang.
1996 – “Tonight, Tonight” – The Pumpkins bring artistic angst to the forefront
1997 – “Virtual Insanity” – yeah Jamiroquai doesn’t exactly stand the test of time, but the video was fantastic.
I’m supposed to believe that “Firework” is on the same level? Not to sound like “The Miz,” but really? REALLY? Katie Perry shooting fireworks out of her tits is as good as the apathetic high-schoolers in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? No thank you. I’ll take Jeremy gunning down his classmates over some kid overwhelming muggers with magic tricks any day of the week. And “Bittersweet Symphony” is the Bret Hart all of walking-down-the-street-singing videos. The best there is, the best was and the best there ever will be.
“November Rain” came out in 1992 and didn’t even make the final four for MTV, and that was the great “Hold crap did you see that video” of my childhood. We spent hours…ok lots of minutes…dissecting that song. Who was Axl’s new wife looking at when she got in the car? Was it Axl or his wife walking to the gun shop? Why did that guy dive into the wedding cake like he was getting gunned down by the mob? It’s only rain chief! Why was there a mirror in the casket? Was there a mirror in the casket? And of course the big reveal – So that’s what Slash looks like!
The video, like the song, was overly grand and melodramatic and full of images that now are funny to watch – Slash walking down the aisle of a downtown church and ending up outside of a church in the middle of the desert, the kid dressed like Oliver Twist at the reception, Axl wearing a bow tie at the funeral, etc. But it was still awesome. While it took itself too serious, it made the song better.
You had so many bands making iconic videos (including the masters Tom Petty and Michael Jackson) that even after two decades you remember what they look like even if, like me, you didn’t have cable when they were released.
I’m sure the death of MTV, and to a lesser extent VH1, as anactual music playing channel is the leading cause of the degradation of noteworthy music videos, but there has to be more to it. Did the genre outgrow itself? Were there so many good videos being put out that they became counterproductive?
Most likely they just became too damn expensive. The ends didn’t justify the means. After all, they were initially just another way to promote the song and the band in the pre-internet- everyone- is- connected age. Record companies could afford to make a few videos because it was a good way to reach their target audience that was planted in front of the TV for 4-5 hours a day.
Now it’s cheaper to just throw a song up on the internet and hope it goes viral. Does anyone know what the “official video” of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” looks like? Is there even one or are there just 400 different versions of sports teams lip-syncing it? If a song goes viral, why waste time putting a lot of effort into making a solid video – just get it on iTunes as fast as possible and watch the folks plunk down their money a $1.29 at a time.
Or, maybe my perception isn’t reality, maybe I’m just not as aware of music as I used to be. The video-sharing sites that abound on the internet should be an awesome platform for the re-birth of the music video genre. People have access to it in greater numbers than anything MTV could have hoped for in their prime. Sure, figuring out how to translate 1,000,000 YouTube views into actual money isn’t easy, but isn’t that why these music execs went to college?
Let’s not forget about the artistic talent that cut their teeth by first making music videos. Metacritic has a list of 22 directors whogot started directing videos. There are some decent names on there like David Fincher and Spike Jonez. Sure Michael Bay is on the list, but where would the summer blockbuster be without his explosions? He had to learn that somewhere (and that someplace was apparently Meatloaf video’s). Maybe it’s not worth it for the next generation of Hollywood directors to spend weeks working with temperamental music folk for a four-minute video that will only exist on the internet.
Heck maybe those temperamental musicians aren’t willing to risk putting out a really creative video. It might hurt their image if the public doesn’t like what they put out. Lady Gaga made her name taking calculated risks so it’s probably no surprise that she’s had some of the more memorable videos over the last few years. Of course, she’s had Madonna’s career to use as a template, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a risk.
I’m not even sure why I’ve devoted this much time to the topic. After all, it’s not like I don’t have the ability to watch the awesome video’s of my youth whenever I want (as long as I have an internet connection). Maybe it’s because it seems like another creative outlet that seems to be slipping into mediocrity. Movies are nothing but remakes or sequels. Music isn’t released unless it’s been auto-tuned and overproduced to the point everything sounds like it’s comingfrom Twiki. Writing is devolving into poop jokes and acronyms. LOL YOLO!
Or maybe it’s because the music video was the one thing in music that was created and prospered during my youth (well that and rap music). My parents’ generation had had rock music and music superstars (and drugs, lots and lots of drugs) so while we might argue over whose music was better there was at least a relatable point of reference. They couldn’t do that with true music videos. They had promotional videos but it was mostly recorded live performances.
We had the birth of the music video (The Buggles for lack of a better starting point) and watched it grow into a surly teenager (the aforementioned “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and now 30 years later it seems to be settling into an undistinguished middle age.
Jesus, this turned into an old-man rant. I feel kind of bad about that. Heck, I haven’t even started drinking yet. It’s starting to feel like the first step on the journey that leads to me sitting on a front stoop somewhere yelling at kids to be quiet and asking The Duchess what time Matlock comes on. Because I tend to be a hopeful person I think that there will be a resurgence in the art form, hopefully it won’t be too far away.