From The Daily Beast:
Those five faces guided America through the rock and roll of the ’80s, when Duran Duran, Bruce Springsteen, Twisted Sister, Kajagoogoo, and everything in between ruled the airwaves. The video jockeys, as they were called, became celebrities on par with the rock stars they interviewed—and occasionally dated or partied with. Mark says he found out years later that they were cast as types: “J.J. was the benign black guy, Nina was the video vamp, Alan was the jock, and Martha was the girl next door that every executive wanted to fuck.”
In their new memoir, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, Nina, Mark, Alan and Martha (J.J. passed away in 2004) tell stories from their six years as young America’s cultural guides, ranging from the good to the bad to the David Lee Roth. Anecdotes include the time Alan did coke in a trailer with the aforementioned Van Halen frontman, and Mark listened to Roth’s bandmates tell misogynistic stories about making girls do headstands on toilets. We hear about a jealous Marianne Faithfull spilling her wine on Nina because she was getting Joe Cocker’s attention. And the VJs’ crappy salaries and signs of blatant discrimination are also divulged: in their first year on the job, Alan made $27,000 and Martha made $26,000, though they were equally inexperienced. When discussing the way MTV had exclusive control over the VJs’ income—no endorsement deals or side gigs allowed—the words “indentured servitude” get thrown around.
I know you guys didn’t get to choose which videos you played, but why do you think there was such a delay before videos from black artists like Michael Jackson got aired on MTV?
Nina: It wasn’t so much a black and white issue, it was more about genre and rock and roll. There haven’t historically been that many black artists that were played on radio rock channels, and consequently there weren’t that many that fit in the so-called rock genre at the beginning of MTV. I never saw it as racist.
Alan: We also had Gary U.S. Bonds and—
Nina: Joan Armatrading.
Alan: And Garland Jeffreys. We had black artists.
Mark: The people who were writing the channel—Bob Pittman as the head of it all—they were radio and record-label people. In 1981, there was still A&R radio, and that was rock radio. Rock radio didn’t play Michael Jackson and wouldn’t have played Michael Jackson even with Eddie Van Halen on guitar. But I also say in the book that J.J., who was Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll, pointed out that we were playing, let’s say, Culture Club. Well what’s the difference between that and some R&B act except they were white? He pointed out that it’s the same music and yet one we play and one we don’t. That said, the reason we started playing it is not because the music was getting more popular but because the record labels were leaning on us and they owned our programming. They were leaning on us, and they were saying, “Look, we want these artists played on your channel.”
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