Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – I Want My M’s And TV

“I Want My MTV – The Uncensored Story Of The Music Video Revolution” – Craig Marks And Rob Tannenbaum

It’s an interesting read. I used to think that oral history books (where one person recalls an incident and another immediately comments on it) where an easy way to author a book. The more I read them the more I appreciate them. It takes a lot of work to ask the right people the right questions and then formulate them in to a book.  It also always helps when you know the people involved. In “Treat Me Like Dirt – An Oral History Of Punk In Toronto And Beyond” by Liz Worth it was interesting to read what my friends had to say about the local scene that I very much witnessed.

I was happy to receive “I Want My MTV” as a birthday gift from my son. I knew some of the people involved from the beginning and never heard the whole story. Two of the people who figure prominently in the early history of MTV are John Sykes and Gale Sparrow; they were both there at the beginning. I met the two of them when they were local promotion reps for the CBS Records family in Buffalo. I had gone down with the CBS Records Canada crew to see a show by REO Speedwagon and Cheap Trick and review it for The New Music Magazine. The New Music was a CHUM funded monthly rock magazine and was published before the existence of the CITY-TV television show. More on that in a minute. John Sykes and I would one day end up working at Chrysalis Records together.

MTV hit the airwaves on August 1, 1981 as The Buggles proclaimed “Video Killed The Radio Star’. I think they were right. When it first went on the air stateside it didn’t have much of an impact as it wasn’t picked up by many cable companies. In a few years the impact would be enormous and the music industry would be changed forever.

A lot of the book deals with the VJ’s and although they were stars in America they were not known in Canada as the network was not aired here. Some of the later personalities would cross over to the mainstream including Jon Stewart, Pauly Shore, Colin Quinn and a few others. However, the biggest stars it produced were the early directors who cut their teeth on videos and moved to future films. David Fincher went from Rick Springfield and Paula Abdul to “Fight Club” and “The Social Network” and Spike Jonze moved from Weezer and Sonic Youth to “Being John Malkovich” and “Where The Wild Things Are”. Of course bands with good directors became stars even if their songs were not worthy. Suddenly MTV was dictating what radio would play.

There are some fantastic videos but the thing that videos did was give a visual image to every damn song. For years we made our own mental images and every song brought back its own memories. Now, when I think of certain songs all I can see is bad acting and a half a million dollars down the drain. Of course I would rather see bad videos 24/7, which is what MTV and MuchMusic once played, than the plethora of teen based “reality” shows such as Jersey Shore which dominate their stations today. Videos are now on YouTube and frankly I can rarely be bothered,

MuchMusic seemed different to me. I am sure that is a matter of perspective as I watched it debut and spent a lot of time on Queen Street East (original site) and its current home on Queen West. Led by the brilliant John Martin it was an interesting group. New Music Magazine writer J.D. Roberts and songwriter Christopher Ward anchored the original team. Perhaps someone will write that book one day. I know that Bob Segarini spent a lot of time in that building and has many a story.

Andrew Matheson

I first heard Andrew Matheson back in the late seventies. We distributed his solo debut album “Monterey Shoes” back in the Quality Records days. Although we thought there were a few sure fire hits with “True Romance” and “My Girls” we received little airplay and sales were not great. I do remember riding The Models tour bus through Saskatchewan and being on wing man duty. While the band slept I stayed up and rode shotgun keeping the driver (one of the band members) awake as we crossed the prairies. We toured in a 1948 Western Flyer bus, it wasn’t pretty but it was an adventure. Along with lighting the driver’s smokes I would race up and down the radio dials looking for something decent to listen to. I know it was very early in the morning but I almost jumped off the bus when “True Romance” came on the radio just outside of Weyburn. It is hard to explain what it meant when one of your artists songs came on the radio back then. You promised them the world and totally believed in them and hoped that others would. When it didn’t happen, and you tried your best, you could live with it. Reverting back to the MuchMusic piece VJ Erica Ehm was on the second Models album cover if I am not mistaken.

I didn’t hear from Andrew for years. When I moved over to A&R at MCA in the early nineties Andrew and I touched base again. He had a slew of new material and I signed him to the label. We recorded “Night Of The Bastard Moon with Casino Steele in Oslo, Norway. It was an adventure. Casino and Andrew had been band mates in the influential band The Hollywood Brats who were the British answer to the New York Dolls. Once again another brilliant album (especially lyrically) but no real takers.

Andrew and I went our separate ways for many a year until he moved to my neighborhood. We now see each other quite frequently and managed to toss a few back last week, Andrew has just finished his long awaited book on the history of The Hollywood Brats and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Rumour has it there will be a new re-issue of the classic Brats material which has been a bitch to find for years. Looking forward to some interesting listening and reading in the near future.

Mike Levine

Good news from my old friend Mike Levine from Triumph as the band is set to release the CD and DVD “Live At Sweden Rock Festival”. This is the entire reunion show the band preformed in 2008 at the mammoth Swedish festival. Many of us thought this would never happen as Mike, Rik Emmett and Gil Moore had not performed together for twenty years. After being inducted in to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame the three finally broke bread and decided to play a couple of shows. Lucky for us we have the entire show on this package which will be released on Tuesday August 28th.

The three piece power trio and I go a long way back. I remember them setting off the fire alarms at my high school with their pyro show and their lighting rigs used to amaze me at the old Ontario Place Forum. We ended up on the same team at MCA Records and we have always stayed in touch. Once again I am helping them spread the word on this new release so if you are a fan I can assure you won’t be disappointed.

Congrats to my boys in the band M.T.L. for a killer show in Quebec City last weekend in conjunction with Coca-Cola. Today they are playing St. Jean Sur Richelieu just north of Montreal with Simple Plan. This is the annual “balloon festival” where crowds have been known to reach in excess of 50,000 people. It was at this festival about 14 years ago that The Backstreet Boys became superstars in Canada. Good luck lads.

If you are downtown Toronto this weekend don’t forget to drop by The Shanghai Cowgirl to have a peek at the Joe Strummer portrait and the new menu. The deck awaits you at 538 Queen Street West.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – I Want My M’s And TV”

  1. Good memories and thanks for the tip on the MTV book. And get that laptop humming again my friend.

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