April 6, 2008

A night on YouTube

Friday night, I spent a pleasant evening with my friend Sherry, whom you might know as the BQT's sometime doorgal (and stalwart member of sometime ass-kicking team Adam Smith's Invisible Hand Job). We revived one of our favorite activities: firing up the ol' Infrawebs, cruising over to YouTube, and taking turns cueing up dimly remembered music videos from our past (in Sherry's case, usually clips she recalled from the heyday of 120 Minutes). You know, just like the olden days…

I started by selecting a mutual favorite: "Buffalo" by Stump. Watch closely:

This video is awesome. I remember it from childhood, being fascinated by its weirdness, but the weirdness holds up. And besides the fact that it's funny and freaky, I'm finally realizing just how great a song this is. These guys clearly knew how to play (a friend of Sherry's once commented that the band seems to have jazz training). I watch it again and again and thank YouTube for the supreme blessing.

Sherry then took us here. You know this…

Def Leppard isn't really my thing (though I consider "Photograph" to be one of the greatest songs ever), but I've often said that they were geniuses. The happened upon the perfect hybrid of heavy metal and glam: rocking enough so that your typical mainstream metalhead would include it in his collection, but flashy and colorful enough to attract regular folks, including tons of women. These guys must've gotten ridiculous amounts of tail.

Anyway, Sherry told me that back in the day, she was in love with the redhead guitarist, Steve Clark, the one guy who looks completely uninterested and stoned in this video. Oh, those young girls and their bad boys… (As you might know, Clark died less than ten years later from drugs/alcohol/etc.) But recently, now that Sherry is a grown woman with taste and proper intelligence, she's recognized the then-hotness of the frontman, Joe Elliott—you know, the guy working his ass off. Hooray for maturity.

Because old videos would be nothing without the cheese, I then dialed up what might be the worst video I've ever seen. Be prepared:

This is just abominable. I mean, who the hell were these idiots? Apparently, this was the 41st video ever played on MTV—I mean, I know MTV was desperate for material in the early days (I think nine tenths of its first month was entirely given over to REO Speedwagon concert footage), but come on.

What I find most interesting, though, is how these guys were clearly uncomfortable with the (understandably) novel concept of making a music video. They couldn't seem to handle being videotaped—look how they're compulsively screwing around (completely at odds with the tone of the song), doing that "I'm being excessively silly to cover up the fact I'm totally uncomfortable" routine. (The drummer's my favorite, trying to figure out what to do with his sticks sans kit—Sherry's theory is that they couldn't get a permit to set it up in the street.) Nowadays, any band hoping to make it—hell, any entertainer of any kind—better get used to performing for the camera, but it's an interesting window into the early '80s to see how hard it was for so many musicians of the era.

Finally, Sherry played another of our mutual favorites. You might know it, you might love it:

This video changed my life when I first saw it, on a Dr. Demento MTV special when I was 12. I'd never heard of They Might Be Giants, but I loved it instantly, and they remain one of my favorite bands. And it's a testament to their talent (and our good taste) that these guys still have a career today, even if they got only minimal notice at the time. Critics dismissed them as novelty idiots; this video didn't even fucking show up on MTV's Top 100 Videos of the '80s show in late '89, but Richard Marx had three big entries.

The coolest thing about this video, again, is how weird it is. What TMBG managed to do, in my opinion, was appropriate a lot of the ideas behind "weird" rock & roll (think Zappa/Beefheart kind of stuff) and find room for them within the easily digestible pop-song format. True, Devo had done some of that, but TMBG was just a couple steps more cuddly and less confrontational, without dumbing it down. Hence, 12-year-old dorks like me got on the bus, and here we are two decades later: TMBG plays the theme song to The Daily Show and is interviewed on NPR every two hours, and Richard Marx is working at a Chick-Fil-A in Dayton, Ohio. Justice is served.