Meanwhile, my search for music continued unabated. I would buy blank videotapes and record each Sunday’s episode of 120 Minutes. Well, not right away…I was still watching and taping Night Flight as well, so I’d often toggle between the two, especially if the latter was showing some kind of cult film.
I was also checking out a lot of the new releases that the music magazines were suggesting. I started picking up a new (and sadly shortlived) magazine called OM: Only Music, a monthly set up by Spin magazine to feature just the tunes. Their reviews were gems, focusing mostly on hard rock, punk and metal, with the college rock thrown in. This was where I found out about The Minutemen, The The’s multiplatform release Infected, and the quirky danceability of New Order. Over the course of the next few months, from late 1986 into 1987, I went out of my way to find as much of this stuff as I could, whether it as in a record store at the mall, a bargain bin in some department store, a flea market or a garage sale, or at an indie store like Al Bum’s.
I’d often share these new purchases with Chris, as both he and I seemed to gravitate towards the same styles of music. We were both big on REM as well as bands like New Order and the Cure. Gleefully and willingly, we both worked hard against the Home Taping Is Killing Music campaign, dubbing each other’s collections whenever one bought a new title and the other had blank tapes available. I’d be the one buying most of the new releases, though I’d just as easily be the one forgoing homework time to copy three or four albums from other people.
By the autumn of 1987, my collection had grown exponentially, and my social life had changed dramatically. I’d moved on from my old circle of friends by this time and spent nearly all of my school time with the new gang. This was for a good reason, too — this was their senior year, and I’d be damned if I was going to pass up hanging with them as much as I could. This would be the best school year ever.
One of the things that had started in the early part of the year and had become an extremely important mainstay was MTV’s Sunday late-night line up, and it had evolved in an interesting way. The flagship show, 120 Minutes, had been the idea of Dave Kendall, a well-regarded journalist from the UK and had originally worked in tandem with its predecessor, the monthly IRS Records Presents: The Cutting Edge. The shows leading up to it, however, seemed to evolve from the recent stand-up comedy boom of the mid-80s. Both MTV and VH-1 had ‘comedy hour’ shows (as did numerous radio stations) that were showcases for well-known comedians and newcomers alike. Since they were always a ratings boom, MTV chose to bring in some alternative comedy from across the pond to fit into the late night schedule. The Young Ones and The Comic Strip were two series from the alternative comedy genre from the UK (spearheaded by one Alexei Sayle, who was also connected to both these shows).
At the same time, and in a completely different context, early evening comedy came in the form of reruns of The Monkees, the classic music and comedy show from the late 60s. The Monkees themselves had recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of their show in early 1986, and that spring MTV provided a day-long marathon of episodes entitled Pleasant Valley Sunday. For this MTV Generation, most of us remembered watching these episodes on the local independent stations some years back (4pm on WLVI 56 for me!). The renaissance was so huge that The Monkees became a mainstay on MTV, and nearly the entire band reunited for a tour and new songs.
Following up on the comedy, MTV brought in another indie TV station mainstay from our youth: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Soon, Python became part of the late night Sunday line-up, starting with Python at 11pm, The Young Ones or The Comic Strip at 11:30pm and 120 Minutes kicking off at midnight.
These three hours were manna from heaven for a lot of teenagers and college students, especially those (like me) who were in dire need of the alternative. Many videotapes were used to the point of wearing out during this time. I’d pretty much given up on Night Flight at this point and swore allegiance to the almighty Sunday lineup.
120 Minutes had found a stable host in the softspoken and slightly weird form of one Kevin Seal. Seal’s delivery was not quite smarmy, but not cloying either. He spoke like he was fully aware of how corny and simplistic his script was. He chatted up songs and bands with a slight wink or nod when he found their names funny or peculiar. His overall performance was as if he wasn’t even trying to be all that professional. Not that it stopped us from loving how inherently strange he was in relation to the other more commercially likeable veejays. Downtown Julie Brown was that party girl you loved hanging out with. Caroline Heldman was the cute college girl you had Literature class with. Adam Curry was the metalhead you hung out with at the bridge. Kevin Seal was…that guy in history class that knew a frighteningly vast amount of information, didn’t say much, but surprised the hell out of everyone when he did.
Plus, he was the perfect foil for Dave Kendall, who was more about the mystique and the attitude that came with the alternative rock genre; Kendall was not only extremely knowledgeable about the scene, but immersed himself in it and wrote about it via Spin and other music magazines. Kendall often came off as insufferable, sneering at pathetic and obviously derivative attempts at punk, delivering all-too-hip asides when spouting trivia, and sometimes shoehorned the Question Authority mindset into his own scripts. On the other hand, it was hard not to appreciate his willingness to be the genre’s mouthpiece for the show. He was the one you’d trust the most with accurate alternative rock news.
On a personal note, I could feel that this school year was going to be a special one, a unique one that I’d be cherishing for years to come. I had the new friends, I had the soundtrack, and I had one hell of a better and healthier positive outlook on life than the last few years. I may have still been the goofy-looking dork with the braces (which I’d had since eighth grade), the spiky 80’s hairdo, and the acne and everything else…but I didn’t care about that anymore. I knew who I was now, and what I wanted to do with my life and that’s all that mattered.
One major thing that happened was that I’d bought a bass guitar for Christmas. It was a white Arbor Stiletto with no headstock — the tuning pegs were down at the end of the body — and it was my baby for a good couple of months before I released it upon the world. I bought it at a tiny local music store that one of my sister’s classmates had opened up just across from Town Hall downtown, a steal at fifty bucks*. I taught myself how to play by taking what I knew on guitar (which really wasn’t much) and expanding on it by playing along with songs from my growing collection. Led Zeppelin’s first album, Wire’s “Ahead”, The Cure’s Pornography, anything where I could pick out what was being played. I gravitated towards bassists like The Cure’s Simon Gallup (repetitive but high on the fret board and unexpectedly creative), New Order’s Peter Hook (bass as lead guitar) and, a short time later, Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde (dual tones and harmony). This would soon lead to my first band, but that’s a little further down the road.
For now, I let myself have some fun.
* – In all honesty, there really wasn’t all that much to choose from in the cheap amount I was looking for. I twas either that one, or a black one with the body in the shape of a machine gun, which even then I found too embarrassing to pick up. Also, to this day I have never taken guitar or bass lessons. I’ve always been self-taught on both instruments.