There was a time when MTV was cool. I mean really cool, like a long, long, long time ago in another galaxy far, far, away cool. Back when the only thing you saw and listened to on MTV were videos. And if the videos programmed for any particular hour or block of time came up short, well there were some artsy video fillers to fill that block of time until the next hour when the process started all over again.
That was MTV in January 1982—at least the MTV we watched in Goose’s basement in LaSalle, Illinois when MTV was still not available in the Midwest, but by monkeying around with the rabbit ears on the top of some old B&W Zenith TV that Goose and his brother had in the basement and switching to VHF and ever-so-carefully adjusting the knob like some safecracker trying to get in a safe, we could, when the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right—fine tune that TV and watch MTV in all its primal glory and unadulterated magnificence.
It was Goose who had first come up to me in one of the bars that we frequented in the Illinois Valley—maybe it was Friday’s or Murphy’s, perhaps one of the bars we had not been banned from, we meaning The Libido Boys for causing a bit of a commotion when the boys played their “young, loud, and snotty” kind of rock and roll that more often than not antagonized the few patrons who found themselves trapped in the bar when the music started—and told me about this new TV phenomenon called MTV.
The Libido Boys was the brainchild of one Chris Vasquez who just so happened to be my best friend and included Goose on guitar and bass, Tony Innis on guitar and bass and Ray Joe Biagioni on drums. Although the band was sort of doomed from the beginning—it was hard to go up against heavyweights like The Jerks and Longshot, two bands that ruled the Illinois Valley in the early 80s—they broke the alternative barrier in a way that only someone like Chris and the boys could pull off. It was rather disheartening for the band when on some nights, the only people in attendance were the band’s girlfriends and the drunken patrons at the bar who were obligated to pay the one or two-dollar cover charge because they just so happened to be in the bar when the band started to play.
“Yeah, there are all these cool videos by groups like Devo, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Ultravox, The Clash, Oingo Boingo, The Buggles, Stray Cats, Madness, and XTC,” Goose said, rattling off a list of names of bands that pretty much defined the late 70s and early 80s New Wave scene—and bands that some of us had seen in concert and ones we liked a lot.
“Cool, I’d like to check that out,” I replied. There were some late night music shows that sometimes played videos, but it was nothing like the MTV that Goose was describing to me in that bar that night.
“It doesn’t come in all the time, though,” Goose added. “Sometimes the weather has to be just right.”
Well, I wasn’t too sure what that was supposed to mean but Goose was right: when the weather was just right, which usually meant when there was some storm front or cold front moving in, we were able to watch MTV in his basement. And of course, moving them rabbit ears around and fine tuning that VHF knob.
On one of the nights the weather and atmospheric conditions were just right and the band was not rehearsing at Chris’ house or playing out, not to mention when Goose’s mom, a registered nurse, worked the night shift at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, we all gathered around that ancient Zenith in Goose’s basement and had our MTV.
Goose was also right about the videos, too. It was one video after another by bands that we listened to a lot. There were some early commercials and even a contest—a chance to hang out with Devo in Hawaii.
MTV was definitely cool back then. We avoided becoming addicted to watching hour after hour of MTV because, well the weather and atmospheric conditions did not always coincide with our schedules, so it was hit and miss viewing until late that spring when MTV became available on the area’s cable provider.