40 years ago, MTV emerged and changed my life. I was an eccentric rising eighth grader about to switch schools again. Over the summer, I’d lounged at the local swim club, hung out with friends, and watched Raiders of the Lost Ark about a million times on hot sticky afternoons. I also discovered that guys could actually be fun and that impressing them was something I probably wanted to do, especially when a friend and I were asked to join two older guys on an excursion to Great Adventure!
But, something happened that changed my trajectory. Instead of becoming a typical boy crazy young teen, MTV sent me on an entirely different path instead. For weeks prior to the launch of MTV on August 1, 1981, the local cable company in my area promoted the new channel endlessly. Of course, I wanted to watch, although at the time I was obsessing over orchestral music (fueled by all of those fantastic John Williams soundtracks)–the rock music of my childhood momentarily forgotten.
MTV ensured that I would never turn my back on rock again. MTV also turned me into the opinionated, non-conforming, hair-dying, black clothes-wearing woman that I am today. From the first time I watched MTV, I was hooked, and the videos that really captured my interest were the beautiful little mini films of artists like David Bowie, Ultravox, and Duran Duran. From that point on, I became obsessed with what is now commonly known as new wave. I read every music magazine and book I could find that discussed the new wave scene and learned that it was linked to the revolutionary punk rock scene of late 1970s England.
I learned about all of the various subgenres spawned by the energy of the punk movement like ska, new romanticism, goth, cowpunk, hardcore, electronica, and industrial. I devoted myself to bands, hung posters on my bedroom walls, bought as much vinyl as I could, scrounged thrift shops and punk shops like Philly’s Skinz and Zipperhead for clothes and accessories, and dedicated myself to what was quickly becoming a lifestyle.
I was ridiculed by random losers in the mall, punched in the face by some asshole on South Street who told me “Punk sucks,” and reprimanded by the dean of discipline at my Catholic high school because I dared to dye my hair a lovely shade of burgundy. My first boyfriend’s very Catholic parents hated me, and my father was embarrassed to be seen with me in public. My lime-green and black spattered pants were just a bridge too far for him, apparently. But, nothing deterred me from pursuing my love affair with the wider punk/new wave/alternative scene.
That love affair is ongoing. It has endured through relationships, career changes, parenting, and the loss of loved ones. It has been the one enduring constant in my life and for that I am eternally grateful. So, thanks, MTV, for changing my life.