Stranded In Stereo: My Formative Years: Special Edition

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Formative Years: Special Edition

The following is an essay written after reacting to this week's episode of what was once known as The Alternaitve on VH1 Classic ...

Back in the mid 1990’s during what is best known as My Formative Years, it was the enthusiasm of a man named Matt Pinfield whose short stature and bald head bursted with knowledge and pure fandom equivalent to my 12, 13, and 14 year old self. Every Sunday night for two hours, 120 Minutes introduced me to some bands that are synonymous with my name. Bands like Eels, The Dandy Warhols, Yo La Tengo, Stabbing Westward, bands I never would’ve known they were around without this show. Long before they were anybody, I caught the video for a song called “The Frug” by a very unknown west coast collective named Rilo Kiley. When I met them on their first national tour in August 2001 opening for Nada Surf, Jenny Lewis and Pierre de Reeder got the biggest kick knowing that my 17-year old self recognized them from a music video. They were more awestruck than I was.

Last summer, I got to relive my youth from a decade ago through VH1 Classic’s The Alternative. While they showed videos of my youth I would’ve caught those late Sunday nights when I couldn’t sleep (“Parklife,” “Black Metallic,” “Los Angeles,”) the one or two hour program at odd times also introduced me to the quirkiness of Pete Shelley’s “Homosapien.” The Human League spinoff that was Heaven 17’s “Temptation.” Big Audio Dynamite’s “C’Mon Every Beatbox” (I never knew they had multiple albums!) The Jam’s “Start!” It was just song after song that I was soaking in, educating myself more and more on the period known as post-punk that would eventually segue in to new pop with the advent of some MTV channel. I was going nuts trying to find out info on some of these songs and artists, obsessing shall we say, while my girlfriend was not nearly amused in the least (she did have, but I don’t know if she’d admit it, a love for “Homosapien.”)

In April, The Alternative went back to its inspiration and became a two-hour block all the time, and rechristened the show VH1 Classic 120 Minutes. Though I have caught repeats of videos I saw last summer, and clips for Catherine Wheel’s “I Want To Touch You,” and Sonic Youth’s “100%” (which I remember seeing in the wee hours of the morning way back in 1992 when I would’ve been 8. Yes I shit you not,) there were also some videos that certainly did not belong.

This weekend’s playlist, the beginning hours of Monday, June 18th, started off with the U2 staple “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” WHAT. THE. HELL. I wasn’t around and aware of U2’s impact when they released their seminal album The Joshua Tree in 1987, but they were definitely one of the staples of MTV’s heyday from the beginning. I’m pretty certain when 120 Minutes was still in its infancy in 1987, they weren’t showing clips for this or “With Or Without You,” which were more than likely in MTV’s regular rotation throughout the days and nights. This then went in to their usual submission from The Smiths or Morrissey (this time around, it was “This Charming Man.” Don’t get me started if you know what’s good for you.) The first set was then closed with what I find the most problematic: No Doubt’s 1996 tale of heartbreak, “Don’t Speak.” Excuse me, but I think of the L.A.M.B creator and her Orange County boys as a more contemporary act than a classic one that is sharing blocks of time with The Mighty Lemon Drops and IRS era R.E.M. I don’t know if that submission was worse, or the inclusion of “Fire Woman” by The Cult. I think you’d see that on Metal Mania, but then again that ended the other night with “Panama” so who knows.

Why are they ruining my memories and chances of discovering something new? Why are they trying to feed other threads in to an already beautifully woven quilt? Another song that I’m certain was in heavy rotation and not on 120 Minutes in 1985 was that of the breakthrough single “What You Need.” I won’t lie: I love me some INXS. Two of my favorite cassettes growing up were their seminal 1987 album, Kick, and 1994’s The Greatest Hits. (This alone is worth owning for the exclusive track “Welcome To The Party (These Are The Times.)”) Why can’t they just stick to mission statement of that show and just stick to the correct classics, and not others? I’ll give them that INXS and U2 are classic, but No Doubt? The Mighty Mighty Bosstones? Not quite classic yet. At any rate, the show will do what it did for me a decade ago and keep me up til all hours of the morning to educate and introduce for now.

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