A relentlessly entertaining oral history patterned after two exemplary models (Live From New York and Please Kill Me), I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story Of The Music Video Revolution traces the channel’s arc from its first broadcast in 1981 to the game-changing 1992 introduction of The Real World, when the network’s shift to “a youth culture-driven personality, as opposed to a music-driven one” became complete. Those are the words of TV producer, executive, and former Pauly Shore assistant Tony DiSanto, one of many people in the book testifying from the perspective of an entranced viewer who became involved with the channel. The interview subjects are former executives, musicians, music-video directors, models, reality stars: anyone drawn, however briefly, into MTV’s world.
The strained-but-informative introduction quotes Time’s first description of the channel (“The main ingredients in MTV’s programming are ‘video records’ or ‘videos’: current recordings illustrated by 3- or 4-minute videotapes”) as a reminder of how foreign the channel initially seemed. “Music videos” as a term didn’t exist yet: ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons describes watching the channel for 12 hours straight after drummer Frank Beard told him “There’s a good concert on TV. Check it out.” The opening chapter deftly strings together many such pithy anecdotes about the first impression the channel made on a wide range of speakers: Richard Marx, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, future MTV VJ Dave Holmes.
So begins nearly 600 pages of chapters exhaustively delving into the channel’s first 11 years. Repeatedly referenced topics include boardroom squabbles over who got credit for which innovation (for the channel itself, and for shows like Yo! MTV Raps and Unplugged), endemic manifestations of racism (in MTV’s initial refusal to air soul music and hip-hop) and sexism (on the air, in the boardroom, and on the Spring Break set) and naturally, lots of stories about big hair, drugs, and eccentric debauchery involving midgets. Discussing Van Halen’s “Pretty Woman” video, director Pete Angelus reports walking in on a dwarf singing into a transvestite’s penis while “pretending it was a microphone and… singing ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones while doing a Mick Jagger impersonation. I thought, This is not going well.”
There are many more stories in a similarly over-the-top vein from interviewees who have no interest in being diplomatic, and no reason to be discreet. I Want My MTV hops from one anecdote to another with little stock verbal filler, blandly gushy tributes to the channel’s influence, or false sentimentality. Dueling accounts of the same events are pointedly juxtaposed, with the balance of sincere celebration, acerbic criticism, and group-conversation score-settling making for an endlessly quotable volume.