Building my own MTV takes me back to my youth

There’s a bit that legendary comedian George Carlin used to do that went something like this: If you don’t like AT&T, build your own.

That’s kind of cynical, of course, but it gets to the frustration we all feel when big corporate behemoths like phone, cable, and utility companies rub us the wrong way. This rang home with me recently, as I didn’t build my own AT&T, but I did build my own MTV.

In case you don’t know, MTV stands for Music Television. This is one of the iconic, original, and groundbreaking cable TV channels.

MTV created the “music video,” the visual equivalent of a song on the radio where you could actually see the performers. This was so cool at the time that “I want my MTV!” became a national catchphrase. It truly was a revelation back in the day, and it’s reverberations are still felt now more than ever, since virtually everyone has digital video — that is, a smartphone — in their pockets all the time.

When MTV first came out, I wanted it bad but couldn’t get it, as my neighborhood in Brooklyn was very late to get wired for cable. I had to visit friends on Long Island to watch MTV, and that’s just what I did. We’d watch it for hours. Some videos were true creative works of art, others not so much, but just to see the faces of the musicians was enough. What an amazing addition to the timeless enjoyment of music.

When I was finally able to get MTV for myself, I used to just put it on and let it play all day. Sometimes I’d watch, but other times I’d cook or clean or pay bills and just listen to it in the background, very much like radio.

Then some corporate “suits” decided that nobody was watching MTV for long enough blocks at a time, so they pulled all the music videos and became more like a regular network. The shows they put on in place of the videos were regrettable and forgettable, for the most part.

The thing is, when MTV played only music videos, my friends and I often had it on all day, never changing the channel at all. So we obviously heard or saw all the commercials. Isn’t that what they want, for you to get their advertising?

I don’t know, it must have worked out in their favor, as the only time they show videos now is in the middle of the night or on an alternate channel. Maybe the suits were right; I don’t know, but I know my friends and I stopped watching it a long time ago.

So the other day I was searching for something on YouTube and just for laughs put in one of my favorite musical artists, and there was the video. One thing led to another and I discovered just about all the old videos are there. So I started saving them, and now I can view them on my TV. Yay. It’s like MTV without the “VJs” (the video equivalent of radio disc jockeys).

The really interesting thing about doing this is, when you search for an artist, they present not only the artist but related ones that you might also enjoy. I’ve discovered several new artists that I didn’t know about since I don’t read the music magazines obsessively these days like I did when I was a teenager. Discovering new artists has been a really great result of this project.

For a little while, I worried if it was legal to save these videos, but then I thought of this: For many of these artists, I bought the vinyl record when it first came out, then I bought it again on tape to play in the car, then I bought it yet again on CD when this much-more-convenient format came out.

I figure, since in many cases I’ve paid for the same music three times, it’s OK to save some videos. And I’m not an iTunes guy either, meaning, when I like an artist, I still buy the physical CD, both to have for myself and some to give as gifts. It’s too bad the artwork is not as enjoyable as it was when vinyl records ruled — the size is just too small to have the same effect.

Even though I now have my own MTV it’s not like the old days, when my buddies and I would watch it in someone’s basement. In my house, I’m allowed to have music play only at a conversational volume.

I have to wait until everyone leaves before I can “crank it up,” as they say. Then it’s just like the old days, except way back then it would have been good old rock ’n’ roll almost exclusively. On “my” MTV, I of course have that, but I also have opera, jazz, even some country and a little rap. It’s an eclectic mix for sure.

Of course, not all my favorite artists came of age in the MTV era. For the earlier artists, it’s interesting what is out there. You might find a clip of them on The Ed Sullivan Show, or perhaps just some pictures of them as the song plays. Whatever it is, it’s just great to know that they’re out there for a new generation of music lovers to discover and enjoy for themselves.

With apologies to George Carlin, building my own AT&T is just too daunting of a task to even consider. Building my own MTV works just fine for me.