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.


  1. I remember being so incredibly happy when cable TV finally came to our sleepy little backwoods town, because that meant I could finally have my MTV. Being able to see my favorite acts, lip-syncing or what have you, was huge.

    Then Alan Hunter did an in-store appearance at the record store I worked at… it was bedlam. It was then I realized that they were really onto something… at least until they started removing the M from MTV…


  2. I wonder about the interdependencies of the source / delivery of the media and the programming / focus of MTV – maybe it was just another step in the journey – we used to head off to Peaches Records for music that defined our musical focus – then we changed from LP to CD, but it was still brick and mortor. MTV arrived in this period – MTV was music because we had a limited data flow of the stuff – then digital hit –

    Mucis was ubiquidous – MTV could no longer survive on a 1 item menu – it had to grap as many inputs as it could – shifting its focus from ‘music’ to ‘youth’. I don’t personally like much if any of the shows they have put out – but I do remember 2 things about MTV – 1. I think I was the most attached when U2 put out Joshua Tree – I tried over and over again to win tickets to AZ to go to the show (didn’t happen) – 2. Way back – even before vidoe killed the radio star – Music Videos were a 1/2 hour long show – I could swear they used the MTV moniker (I could be wrong) – but I remember, either 4th or 5th grade – hanging out at Lori Thomas’ house watching the 1/2 hour show that consisted of 3 songs – how we hung onto the vision, the song, the media – it was limited – our interest was not.

    Well – that’s what I have to say about it.



    1. Of course – in the 5th grade I also remember thinking that Smokey and the Bandit was pretty much the pinnacle everything – movies, lifestyle, approach to life, and cool ass car! (“I’m goin’ to need a fast car, faster than that”) – so the value of my opinion may be a bit compromised.


    2. There is no way MTV could exist now as it did then. MTV was the only source (of any consequence) for music programming in the 80s and there’s far too much competition from other sources now. (Although I do remember some late-night stuff on USA that was pretty good; I’m also old enough to remember the King Biscuit Flower Hour…)


    3. Umm, Kewyson?

      Though I can’t speak to the 5th grade, I know for a fact that “the value of (your) opinion” has been “a bit compromised” since about 1980.

      It’s one of your more endearing qualities, frankly…


  3. Until he heard Nirvana cover Leadbelly, my husband had nothing but disdain for Kurt Cobain and company. That song tempered his dismissal of them, although he still makes fun of me for extolling the wonders of “Nevermind”.


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