Monday, August 27, 2007

Subterranean of 120 Minutes

At 1.30 in the morning, a weird juxtaposition of ideas has taken place. Two channels away from each other, two experiments of music programming and television progression were taking places. On MTV2, the alternative/indie show Subterranean was on the air. For those who are unfamiliar, this show is hosted by a guy named Jim Shearer. I'm not sure who this guy was, but the reason I stopped watching this show (hey, it was nice to see videos that I was actually into. And, the show also became considerably worse as the station's idea changed.) was because this guy said his favorite album was a No Doubt record. I know, music snob. But, hear me out, his taste had obviously changed and the guests were becoming more and more mainstream. This is on a show that had some fairly underground folks on it. You'll have to forgive my shakiness with generating names. I was watching hours of MTV without a notepad, what do you expect of me? I can barely explain dramas from MTV. I definitely can't explain a television show made up of music videos and useless banter from a creepy looking VJ. But, the show was changing into the pile of crap that it is now.

Subterranean shows a lot of indie rock that has been making news in the presses and on the blogs. Bands like The Shins, The Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, etc. You know the scene. This is a drastic change from a show that exposed me to a small band from Baltimore called The Oranges Band. I never heard of these guys anywhere else but on Subterranean. I saw their albums when I got to college, but I didn't read or see a single write-up about these guys again. I'm not trying to sound like this sort of thing really matters, but I'm trying to give you scope of the fact that this was the type of show that Subterranean used to be. It was thoroughly embedded with giving lesser-known bands a space on television to play their music videos and get some valuable airtime on that commercial bastard of MTV.

But, as MTV became more involved in the broadcasting of MTV2, this forum disappeared and made fans of the real, uncut indie sound more nostalgic for the gem of programming that aired in the 1980s and 1990s: 120 Minutes. This was the real place to go for bands that were on the underground and doing really huge things. I was sold on the awesomeness of this show on two different occasions. For some reason, my mom thought it was a good idea that I have a television in my room. I can't explain it, but as long as I can remember, I've had a television in my room with cable. With such an opportunity at hand, you do what any other regular person would do: watch some television until you get tired.

Sundays would roll around and I was usually awake at midnight, the starting hour of 120 Minutes. One weekend, I caught an episode of the show. Matt Pinfield was standing around awkwardly as he usually did. He was talking about a band that was coming out of England called Portishead. You may snicker now, but this was back in 1994 when we are all still mourning Kurt Cobain. So, this is some fairly advanced madness. More importantly, trip-hop hadn't even blown up in England at that point in time. So, this is some really high-end advanced madness. I remember sitting in my dark room, looking down at my tv (like all cool american boys, I had a bunk bed at that age.) at the video for sour times. I thought it was the coolest video ever.

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It's still a pretty cool video now, but such a display of subdued tones and a creepy song at midnight is a fairly special experience to have. That's why I remember that night. The second night was a bit later.

I copped a VCR from somewhere, and I started taping instead of watching it live. I could then actually sleep at night while not missing anything. Also, think of the pleasure of fast forwarding through a video that sucks to the next one that doesn't suck. It's a feeling better than going to the bathroom at a restaurant and coming back to your food already being on the table. So satisfying. Anyway, when I was watching one of these back, I saw the Butthole Surfers. In the time before the moderate success of Pepper on the alt-rock charts, Butthole Surfers did a set of songs on the show. It was one of the most nuts things that I had seen in a long time. Additionally, I didn't know about Gibbytronics at that point in time either, so my mind was being blown on another level by this dude sitting here with a crazy electronics kit modulating his voice. After this display, I was convinced that 120 Minutes is the best show of all time. It had some sketchy time at the end, but the show had already done its damage.

Seeing as both shows were so satisfying to watch, the differences between the two shows had become quite obvious in watching the reincarnation of 120 Minutes on VH1 Classic and the current Subterranean. The current 120 Minutes is still honest to its past. It's not quite the same, but the videos are the videos that are popular from their runs on the original runs of the show. Some of the songs were popular. Others were not. But, the same could not be said of Subterranean. The songs were generic, popular indie rock songs. While this used to be an oxymoron, those times are long past. The indie rocker is just as mainstream as the Fergies of the world. The only difference is the fact that they only get the national tour instead of the international tour. Regardless, they are songs that have been cosigned by, either, the whole scene including blogs and/or establishment sources. There is no danger anymore to the music that was on display in Subterranean. It's mother 120 Minutes would have still been disappointed.

While the fan in me was sad that he might have to watch that totally awesome Red Skies at Night video again, it got me thinking on a larger level about the larger project of MTV. MTV has been thoroughly romanticized by my generation. MTV, as it seemed to us, had a soul or a spirit. While, in hindsight, this perspective is clearly naive on our part as MTV has always intended to sell the most product not portray a spirit. But, the difference is the fact that MTV, while aiming to sell a product, were still willing to experiment in showing lesser-represented music. While it may have been during off-hours, they did make the effort to do so. Their was an authenticity to MTV in its music-programming. There were shows that you could turn on and find music that wasn't in the mainstream. But, that spirit is gone, probably replaced with an episode of Parental Control or Next.

With this as its realtiy and with its fundamental goal never changing, how has MTV lost its status as a cultural tastemaker. The station has always existed to make money, but it also made a lot of the national tastes. I can't think of the last time that anyone has blown up from exposure on MTV for at least five if not six years. The magic strength that it used to have was deleted by its current reality-based scheme.

This is clearly the fault of the station, but I wonder why the audience doesn't operate with it anymore, why the audience no longer buys what MTV is selling. I wonder if the current generation is smarter than I give them credit for. I think that these kids are far more media saavy and aware of their surroundings. I think that a lot of kids still buy into it, but I think that their reasoning will be deeper than it is what's cool. That would make them a hipster, which is also one of the cool marketable looks for kids nowadays. This is a topic that I will have to revisit in due time. Any insights from the readers are greatly appreciated, so leave a comment. It might actually help in clarifying this whole issue.