My relationship with MTV was always a little different.
Once I got past the initial thrill of just seeing the network, which turns 30 today, I was a little dismissive of MTV. There was some remarkable stuff there, sure, but between the endless stream of Top 40 stuff that I never found all that interesting and the fact that MTV largely ignored the music I was interested in — with the exception of 1987, otherwise known as the Summer of Touch — I generally didn’t find much there for me.
As I think about it now — more than a decade after MTV traded in music for crappy reality programming — I wish I had paid a little more attention. There was more good stuff there than I gave it credit for, and some of my favorite musical moments — and some sort of non-musical ones— were a direct result of watching.
I got to watch portions of the revived Woodstock festival — the fun one, not the ugly one a few years later — and seeing the Nine Inch Nails set — remember the mud flinging? — was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen on television anywhere; also, seeing the Allman Brothers set on that Sunday mornings was priceless.
But this is about video, right? I liked Nirvana, but I didn’t love them until I saw this:
The chilling Leadbelly song was the perfect way to wrap up their Unplugged set.
The 1993 VMAs did two things for me: I got the perfect version of “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Pearl Jam backing Neil Young, but that was preceded by something even better:
I can’t find the clip of my favorite REM appearance on MTV, even though I know it used to be available on YouTube. The band did a live set on the network not long after Bill Berry left the band. Before the launched into “Radio Free Europe,” Stipe urged the audience to shout FUCK throughout the song in hopes that MTV couldn’t use it on air. And then the band roared through a sloppy, garage-y and joyful version of the song. This is similar , especially in that Stipe can’t remember the words, but I have to find that clip again someday:
And yeah, the Summer of Touch:
I still love it. Happy birthday, MTV — turns out you weren’t so bad after all.