Pursued Down Memory Lane by VH1 Classics

Everything’s better at the beach, including cable.

John and I recently took a terrific vacation, in which we established a routine early on: get up around 7 or 8, stagger into our bathing suits, spray on enough sunscreen (not quite enough in my case) to make us slick as sharkskin, and hit the beach. Come back around noon, eat something, sleep, shower, and go into town in search of seafood. Then come back and either return to the beach to walk in the surf or plant our asses on the couch and find something good on TV, which was surprisingly easy. John doesn’t have cable and therefore loves everything cable-related; I have lousy cable provided by a company I loathe and therefore fell in love at once with the company that’s hooked up at the beach, mostly on the strength of MTV2 and VH1 Classics.

I have regular VH1 at home and it blows goats. VH1 used to be kind of fun, the anti-MTV, playing artists past their 30th birthdays and hitting clear out of the park with a couple of shows, “Pop-Up Video” (from which Billy Joel may never recover) and “Songwriters” or whatever it was that had icons like Bruce Springsteen and James Taylor and Melissa Etheridge playing acoustic versions of their songs. Then it started rolling down, since we’re talking music here, the highway to hell. It’s now almost entirely reality-show based — if that’s not hell, all it’s missing is George W. Bush. There’s Hulk Hogan, no more interesting than I ever suspected he was, and some lameass in a velvet top hat who claims to teach the biggest losers on cable how to pick up women. If you’re Steven Tyler or Tom Petty, you could wear shit like that and still hit on women, but my guess is this guy’s going bald in his mid-twenties and hiding it with eyeliner, a wardrobe manager of questionable ability, and discreet hookers. There was also some hideously deformed hellspawn of a sitcom called “I Hate My 30s,” possibly the only show on television that I could come to hate as much as Dr. Phil. I hope whoever developed it gets a painful rash, preferably on his or her face.

I haven’t watched VH1 in months, since they quit playing Corinne Bailey Rae and replaced her with this year’s crop of college dropout talent, and didn’t have any intention of watching it at the beach, so when I heard Duran Duran in the next room I figured John had found an ad for K-Tel Records’ Songs of the Eighties! and said, “What’re you watching?” When he answered “VH1,” I thought, I know guys will lie about everything but this is going a little too far. Then I walked in and saw that he was right, and by the way, I also saw that while I still like Duran Duran, the video for “Rio” has not held up well over time.

We sat transfixed, both remembering what it used to be like to turn on a music channel and actually watch videos, the way God intended music channels to be. We were held in place by the assault of early video technology, which has also failed to dodge the cringe reflex many of us feel when we think about the more toxic trappings of the eighties: spiral perms, Ronald Reagan, and Alf. Lots of bands tried to be artsy, like Duran Duran, and while it’s no longer artsy you can at least remember why you liked the video — cute bass player, in their case. Or they’re performance videos, which rarely go over well with subsequent generations. Styx did entirely too much jumping around; it may have been the humiliating concert video for “Too Much Time On My Hands” (which has disappeared, to nobody’s regret, from almost all memory), in which the two guitarists pogoed down the stage together, that did them in. I can’t imagine filming that and sobering up to remember filming that. (To be fair, most bands married to their decade of success won’t look good performing in the following decade. Pearl Jam, for instance, is already having the same problem.) John had never actually laid eyes on REO Speedwagon before and was shocked at their beer-bellied slob of a guitarist and their hook-nosed marionette of a singer. I saw REO in concert as a teenager (I was one mixed-up kid) and assured him that this video was the best any of those guys ever looked.

A few bands, and videos, held up surprisingly well, though. I was one of the thousands that bought ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” on 45-rpm, and when the video came on, sandwiched between the Scorpions and Heart, I was relieved that not only was the song still not quite like anything else you’d hear on the radio, the video was neither incoherent nor overblown. Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” wasn’t nearly as awful as you’d expect, except for the clothes. (Did we really wear this shit? Was it the drugs? Was it something Reagan put in the water? What the hell was wrong that made us all dress like that?)

Metal took the hardest hit, as it should have. In the case of metal, not only were the videos creaky and laughable, the clothes were worse than the shoulder-padded, fedora-and-tie-on-women, parachute-panted pop fashion. Fringe! Glitter! Enough eyeliner to outfit a whole stable of hookers! Mullets, dear God, mullets on guys who were never going to look good anyway but put on the fake leather and epaulets as if they were about to impersonate female impersonators. Motley Crue, you should never, ever watch VH1 Classics — you’d all kill yourselves. (On second thought, Motley Crue, have you ever watched VH1 Classics?) And Bon Jovi — dear lord, who ever told that guy he could sing or even pass as cute, let alone sexy? He never really had the grace to go away, either. The Scorpions — there’s a band that tragically missed the seventies, when no one could see that your receding hairline was actually your best feature. I’d also forgotten that several eighties hair-metal bands were rumored to actually all be the same band. That rumor still looked true.

Then one night we hit solid gold, switching on the set to find a five-hour marathon show featuring “The 100 All-Time Greatest One-Hit Wonders!” (Exclamation point included free of charge.) William Shatner was the host, adding to the unreality of it all, although after we were bombarded with roughly six thousand commercials featuring Hulk Hogan and Velvet Hat Wussyboy, Shatner started coming across with the gravitas of Colin Powell. To our mutual surprise we sat there as if transfixed and watched all five hours of the show, interrupted only by a pizza delivery and my insistence that John change the channel when one of the one-hit wonders was “I’ve Never Been to Me,” the absolute worst song ever recorded by anyone on any planet. Hey, even though I grew up in the ’80s, there are limits to what I can listen to.

That show was a lot of fun, mostly because it had five decades of one-hit wonders to play with, everybody from ? and the Mysterians to Sir Mix-a-Lot (God, I miss him) to Des’ree. There were a lot of “I had that record!” interjections, a few “it’s about what?!”s to drug/masturbation/whatever songs, and after a while, bets on what songs would show up as the top 20 approached, discussion of songs that should’ve made it but didn’t. How the hell did “96 Tears” rate so high but Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” never appeared? Why was “Spirit in the Sky” back in the sixties somewhere but Minnie Riperton’s caterwauling “Lovin’ You” (as featured on South Park) in the thirties? Who the hell decided “Baby Got Back” wasn’t worthy of the top 10? (For anyone curious, “Macarena” was number one.)

In other words, VH1 Classics got us right where it wanted us. Butts on the sofa, eyes on the TV, the same place MTV found us 20 years ago, and the original VH1, may it rest in peace, 10 years ago. It was like having our own little time warp in the middle of vacation, where the music yanked us back to our teens and the Rolling Stones back to their forties (in the “Mixed Emotions” video, from 1989, they look amazingly young — go figure). Just as the beach was several steps up from staying at home, that time-warp of a cable channel was a little vacation in itself, the likes of which my sad-assed cable provider will never offer. I’ll probably never get my own ocean, either.

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13 Responses to “Pursued Down Memory Lane by VH1 Classics”

  1. I don’t find Bon Jovi attractive in the least bit either. He looks like a wax museum statue.

    Since I’ve been without cable for a year plus now I have forgotten completely what those channels were like. I guess I don’t miss them. I get off on youtube these days.

    I’m so glad that you are here!

  2. I’m glad to be here! Know what I’ve noticed so far? — Far fewer crazy people.

  3. Gee, I don’t think I have ever watched a music video, not since Thriller that is.

    This was a fun read.

  4. It sounds like you two had a great time at the beach. Music, waves, sleeping in. What more could anyone want? 🙂

  5. Wanda Rizzuto Says:

    Did I ever tell you that I was a metal head? A serious one, at that. One day I’ll tell you about my encounters with Motley Crue. Or not.

    I also love VH1 Classic, but I don’t get it with my cable package and if I suggest it to Mr. Rizzuto I’ll probably end up on my ass at the bottom of the stairs again.

  6. I’m trying to picture you as a metal head — I think I’m gonna need photos for that…

    I was a geek. I was into seventies songwriters while everyone else oohed and aahed over Bon Jovi and Madonna. I did love Prince, though.

  7. eclecticheretic Says:

    Prince, definitely.

    Well now I’ve gone and signed up so I could sign on and leave the following gem: I am still scarred by Duran Duran’s Rio. I believe it was one of the three videos that MTV started out with. I can still picture that godforsaken sailboat. *shudder*
    ~Ivy

  8. Re: Crazy People

    Trust me they’ll show up. You just have more editorial power. I just threw a grand hissy fit and took down my blog for a week.

    I’m so glad that you are here though. It feels more like home to me.

  9. thelittlefluffycat Says:

    *coughs gently* I’m here too now. 😀

  10. shadodottir Says:

    Ms Rizzuto was right: all the cool kids *are* here. It’s good to know you’ll still be writing where I can read it. 🙂

  11. It’s even better to see how many of us non-crazies ARE here! Thanks, y’all.

  12. EH — the most vivid (literally) image that stays with me from the “Rio” video is that bright pink drink in the cocktail glass. I don’t know what it was, but even at twelve years old I wanted to try it.

  13. Cd5168…

    Cd5168…

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