My Uncle Fred Fitchen is the historian of our family, and every once in a while he sends over a gem.
Joseph was the German Seibert pioneer who traveled over to the United States in the 19th Century and set up in Sullivan County in upstate New York. And, not for nothing, my oldest son is his namesake.0 comments Tagged: Seibert, Fitchen, Fred Fitchen, Joseph Seibert,.
Believe it or not, I had a feeling it would take decades before the work we did for MTV was explained. Sue Apfelbaum does a really nice job in the New York City 2013 edition of Red Bull Music Academy’s Daily Note (download only, sorry.) Personally, I’m looking forward to other entries in Sue’s research.
LOGOS: The origins of iconic images from NYC’s musical history explained.
MTV, the first 24-hour music-video network, launched on August 1, 1981, revolutionizing both music and television. The brand image that emerged with brave new visual world was a radical as what it represented. Well before Google Doodles and GIFs, founding MTV creative director Fred Seibert flouted “good” logo-design standards when he lobbied for Manhattan Design's block-lettered M and spray-painted T-V —and it's concept of mutability— helping establish the channel's personality as young, rebellious, and unpredictable.
Despite pressure to work with big-name designers, Seibert favored the unknown firm—it was cofounded by his childhood friend Frank Olinsky. Seibert and Olinsky grew up together in Huntington, Long Island, and Seibert credits Olinsky with turning him onto muisc and the revelation that cartoons are made by people. “My father was an animator and commercial artist, and he taught me how to use the tools of the trade,” says Olinsky.
Manhattan Design had a tiny shop in the back of a t’ai chi studio above Bigelow Pharmacy in Greenwich Village; it was there…0 comments Tagged: MTV logo, 1981, Manhattan Design, branding, graphic design, logo, MTVposts,.
A lot of my friends made fun of me when I went into the cartoon business running the world famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon company, I suppose it didn’t really seem of great significance to them. But I’d been in love with Huckleberry Hound and The Flintstones most of my life and I knew there was a great opportunity to share them with the world.
When I first arrived in the middle of 1992, I immediately started collecting licensed merchandise and ephemera from the studio’s history. Mostly, it was pretty disappointing because there hadn’t been a disciplined approach to the quality of the licenses and the artwork that fueled it.
(Small countries the world over issue unusual stamps with contemporary pop cultural figures for American suckers (like me!) who love seeing their favorites printed on anything unexpected.)
Eventually, we were lucky enough to bring in Creative Director Russell Hicks, who was able to wrestle the creative side of licensing into a beautiful experience. The Turner licensing crew was another story for another time.0 comments Tagged: Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera, licensed products, randomHB,.
Huntington, New York? R.L. Simpson Junior High School? Raise your hands.
Digging through some boxes in my parents’ basement, I unearthed this Polaroid photo album I had (for some reason) compiled of most of my 7th grade teachers.
I went to Simpson from 1963 through 1965, a time when ‘junior high’ was 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. A time when we went from JFK’s assassination to Vietnam protests in front of the White House. From The Beatles coming to America to Bob Dylan releasing Highway 61 Revisited. I feel like we all knew they were incredible moments in history, but then again, what does “history” actually mean to a 12 year old.
My only indelible memories that year were from one class, 7th grade English, but they were doozies.
Miss Welsby was an exchange teacher from England, exotic for post war suburbanites. She had us pen pal with her UK students, who all wondered if we know about The Beatles? But really, a British pop band? Who cared?!
On November 22 we were sitting in Miss Welsby’s class when all of sudden the school wide PA crackled and something like a radio broadcast came on in mid-stream, a first for a system that was only used in homeroom. We listened along in horror as we heard the real time details in the aftermath of the President Kennedy assassination. Innocence torn asunder, I suppose.
This remembrance isn’t to short shrift Mr. Carcano (science), Mr. Godduhn (social studies), Miss Maertins (French), Mr. Randall (art), Miss Leslye (libarary), or Mr. Boyd (music and homeroom). A lot happened in those classes, lots of it life enhancing. But, for me at least, none as life altering as an English class that was the seedling of a life I’d lead.0 comments Tagged: Huntington, Halesite,.
Andrew Cyrille tonite. (Anytime tonight, he says. And a cool “what’s happenin’” to you.) 12:40AM
In 1974, percussion master Andrew Cyrille was living in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. I was living with my great friend, roommate, and patron Nick Moy (that’s Nick’s handwritten note to me above) on 113th Street in Morningside Heights in Manhattan. Contradictory to his sometimes stern demeanor, Andrew was one of the friendliest, warmest men you’d want to meet, as I found out as we became acquainted when I recorded his bandleader Cecil Taylor several times over the year.
A budding music producer and engineer, I somehow persuaded Andrew to allow me to take a shot at recording his debut LP, a series of duets with another avant-garde great, Milford Graves. Dialog of the Drums (you can hear it here) would be a percussion only record, a music combination I was eager to hear and even more eager to capture on tape.
The only problem was I had no access to appropriate studio space.
Once, I dragged the equipment over to Milford’s basement in Queens, where he day jobbed as a homeopathic pharmacist. Most absurdly, I suggested that Andrew record a piercing solo on an African drum in our 2nd floor apartment at 11 o’clock at night. I was naive, I guess Nick was too, but I really can’t understand how we didn’t get evicted.
My recordings were adequate, I think, but Andrew and Milford were unhappy with the performances. Ultimately, they released a live recording from Columbia University.*
A couple of years later I recruited Andrew for an early tour of the Carla Bley big band I was road managing. Soon after I head to a life in commercial radio and television and Andrew and I completely lost touch.
* I did the majority of Columbia’s WKCR recordings during this period, but even though I’m the credited engineer in a few discographies, I ultimately had nothing to do with the released album. I wish I did, it’s really good.
I Want My MTV! Part 4
The “I Want My MTV!” story wouldn’t be complete without a look at Dire Straits' music video “Money for Nothing.” Mark Knopfler originally wrote the song after seeing a store wall of television sets tuned to MTV. During recording Sting dropped into the recording session and added the melody of his “Don’t Stand So Close to Me" with the then unbiquitous "I Want My MTV!" and forever pushed our battle cry out of advertising history and into the cultural slipstream (the film went on to be honored as the 1986 VMA Video of the Year). If there was ever a more effective branding accident I don’t know what it is.
I never asked Dale Pon about his reaction to this unusual turn of events. If he responds to my email about it I’ll fill you in.
…:::Update from Dale Pon:
Absolutely amazing! I was very happy.
Twitchy that the campaign was familiar, there were those ready to quit “I Want My MTV!” They hadn’t heard that change is good, but not for its own sake.
The Sting singing won them over; “I Want My MTV!” was new again – maybe there in 1985, we were still striking a “responsive chord.” Some say, it still resounds.0 comments Tagged: Dale Pon, IWMM, MTV, MTV posts, advertising, branding, lkj,.
I Want My MTV! Part 5
0 comments Tagged: MTV, MTV 30th, MTVposts, IWMM,.
My wife, Robin Sloane, is getting some great props for her role in some groundbreaking music videos like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (I Want My MTV!, the new book by Craig Marks and Rob Tannebaum, has been timed for MTV’s 30th anniversary, and focuses on the prime music video years of 1981 until ‘92.)
Here’s an excerpt on a career highlight of Robin’s from New York Magazine:
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Seattle punks start a revolt, and snuff hair metal.
Robin Sloane, Geffen Records Exec: Kurt Cobain was the only artist I’ve ever known who had brilliant, fully realized ideas he could express in one sentence. With “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt said, “My idea for the video is a pep rally gone wrong.” He looked at director Sam Bayer’s reel and loved it, so I hired Sam. But there were a lot of problems between Sam and Kurt.
Courtney Love: Kurt hated Sam Bayer. For “Teen Spirit,” Kurt wanted fat cheerleaders, he wanted black kids, he wanted to tell the world how fucked up high school was. But Sam put hot girls in the video. The crazy thing is, it still worked.
Dave Grohl, Band Member: The idea was, the kids take over and burn down the gymnasium, just as Matt Dillon did in Over the Edge, with the rec center. Kurt was a huge fan of that movie. We walked into that whole thing really cautiously, because we didn’t want to misrepresent the band. There were certain things we found to be really funny about videos—tits and ass and pyrotechnics, shit like that—and when we showed up at the shoot, we were like, Wait a minute, those cheerleaders look like strippers.A lot of people we worked with didn’t understand the underground scene or punk rock.
Samuel Bayer: I scouted L.A. strip clubs for the cheerleaders. Kurt didn’t like them. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to put unattractive women in the video. I think Kurt looked at me and saw himself selling out. So anything I did was construed as corporate. But to me, these were nasty girls. They had rug burns on their knees. In my eyes, the whole video was dirty. It’s all yellows and browns. It was the opposite of everything on MTV at the time; every video was blue and backlit with big xenon lights. I was a painter. I was trying to rip on Caravaggio and Goya.
Sloane: All the kids in the bleachers were drunk.
Grohl: We did a couple of takes, and the audience just started destroying the stage. The director’s on a bullhorn screaming, “Stop! Cut!” And that’s when it started to make sense to me: This is like a Nirvana concert.
Bayer: The day of the video shoot was pure pain. Kurt hated being there. Maybe it was his venom coming through, but I’ve been on 200 music-video sets since, and that was the best performance I’ve ever seen.
Amy Finnerty, MTV VP of Programming: Initially, my boss said, “Look, the visuals are great, and they have a catchy name, but beyond that, I don’t really know what this is gonna do.” I said, “I understand why we’re playing Paula Abdul and Whitesnake. But if there isn’t a place for this, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Love: The first time Kurt and I slept together was at a Days Inn in Chicago. We were having our first postcoital moment, and we’re watching MTV and the video came on. I pulled away from him, because it was his video, his moment, he was the king of the fucking world, and he put his arm around me and pulled me closer. Which was symbolic, like, “I’m letting you into my life.” That really endeared him to me. The next time I saw the video with him was at the Omni Northstar Hotel in Minneapolis. I’d flown there to fuck Billy Corgan, who still had lots of hair. I didn’t even know Nirvana were playing that night. Kurt and I wound up at the Northstar, and our daughter, Frances, was basically made that night. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was on MTV every five fucking minutes.
Bayer: That video gave me a career. Everyone wanted to do a Nirvana-type video: Ozzy Osbourne, Johnny Lydon, the Ramones.
Kip Winger, Hair-Metal Singer: I watched “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and I thought, All right, we’re finished.
Kevin Kerslake, Director: “Teen Spirit” crossed the Rubicon. Nirvana became the mold for success, the way Poison had been four years before. There are many ironies within the history of MTV, and that is one of them: The revolutionary fights the dictator, and ultimately becomes the dictator. It’s just swapping chairs.
Adapted from I Want My MTV, by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum (October 27; Dutton, a member of Penguin Group [USA] Inc.). Copyright © 2011 by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum.
On August 1, 2011, Bob Pittman, the original programming boss, visionary, and indeed, soul of MTV (and one of my mentors), generously threw the party of reunion parties for MTV’s 30th Anniversary at his compound in Mexico. (Yes, it was John Lack's idea for WASEC to launch a 24 hour music channel, but it Bob who completely realized its execution.) I had couldn’t make it, but a couple dozen of our original colleagues showed up (including my long time creative partner, Alan Goodman) made the trek to Bob’s town, location of the tequila company he owns, for 48 hours of memories of rock’n’roll, media revolution, and debauchery.
Bob put together this reunion booklet (that’s my oldest friend, Frank Olinsky, one of the MTV logo designers, on the front cover), and to my delight, not only did it have a lot of my great friends, but a picture of my wife-to-be (we didn’t meet until 11 years later), Robin Sloane, who put on a party at her employer, Epic Records, for the first Gold Record (yes, it was Adam Ant) spawned by an MTV video.
In the immortal words of John Lack: Ladies and Gentlemen…rock and roll! The people here are the ones who remember what the first hour really looked like after those words, vs. the doctored tape we quickly put together. I can still feel the panic all these years later, and I’m sure you can too. That said, it was 30 years ago — and some of you are older now, so your memories may not be that good. (Sykes and Garland, I’m looking at you.)
30 years ago, we launched something that did what very few have ever done — we created the most powerful cable network in history, and a brand that’s become a familiar part of popular culture around the world. We didn’t set out to do that, of course, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you connect with a group of people who share a belief and a vision in the strength and promise of an idea. Our historical legacy was this shared creative vision, one that set the course for the wildly inventive MTV brand and set the culture for its decade of success.
There aren’t many people who can honestly say they had a profound impact on everything from the music industry to popular culture, embedded with a slogan — “I Want My MTV!”— into the public consciousness, created a cultural and media icon, changed graphic design and video production and reinvented the idea of what television could be.
Indeed, we even changed ad sales and marketing — we broke every rule of that time and usher in a whole new way for advertisers to use television. We’d love to claim that yeah, that’s exactly how we planned it! But all we knew was that we were part of a unique culture, working with people we loved, and combining our fresh approach to entertainment with a dedication to our mission. That combination enabled MTV to push the boundaries of what television could be, and reinvented youth culture while we were at it. We had no respect for experience and most of us had never done the jobs we were given. And remember how often we said, only half-jokingly, no one over thirty has any good ideas? Ahhh, the confidence of youth!
What an incredible moment in time. And even today, with so much time having passed and so many more work experiences under our collective belt, I can honestly say that our team and what we accomplished was (and still is) amazing. We are bound together forever as “the MTV family.”
Although we’ll definitely have a lot of fun this weekend —driven at least in part with what I promise you is the smoothest tequila in the world— I hope we’ll also take a minute to reflect on the memory of a few who were essential to our success. Steve Ross, the CEO of Warner Communications, believed in us every minute from the moment we first showed him the idea. For me personally, he guided an important part of my career, at MTV and after, that I can only repay him by showing that same kind of attention to others on the front side of their career curve. David Horowitz, Co-COO of WCI and then CEO of MTV Networks was our rabbi. Patiently listening, counseling and supporting us all along the way, he seemed to know everything — except how to push the correct button on his phone to pick up calls! And finally, there JJ. One of the 5 faces of MTV to the world — how many people connected to MTV thru him? And how many people in the music industry instantly respected us because of his strong and long background in the business? I know we’ll raise a glass —or two, or three— this weekend to all of these men, critical parts of our MTV family, whom we think of often and miss sincerely.
I’m also delight that my “MTV soul mates,” the two other former CEO’s of MTV Networks still hanging around, are here with us this weekend. Tom and Judy took the original idea we built and brought it to heights none of us could have imagined. Finally, I have to thanks John Lack, my first boss at WASEC and the man who found me in radio, fought his boss to get me to the company, and consistently support me with faith and confidence. Without him, I might still be in radio. Hmmm, wait a minute…
Thanks for joining us in Mexico to celebrate MTV’s 30th — and to celebrate all of you. You are the team that made it all happen, and I am forever grateful and honored to have been part of it. It certainly changed my life — and I suspect yours as well.
Enjoy the weekend — and please promise me that, for 48 hours, you’ll listen to nothing but Stray Cats, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Tina Turner, Howard Jones, ABC, Thompson Twins, Specials, Madness, Pretenders and all those other artists burned into our memories!
To everyone who, in the spirit of our 30th reunion celebration, has contributed to this book. Many thanks to Leslie Leventman, who volunteered her time and talent to work on this project as a labor of love. And a special thanks to my lifelong business partner, Mayo Stunty, who I met at MTV.
Editor-in-Chief/Class Historia: Leslie Leventman Art Direction/Design: Darlene Cordero; MTV Class of 1993-1998 Editorial/Photo Coordinator: Jackie Tigue Production Resources: Leslye Schaefer, Leigh Valesquez Contributor: Wendy Goldberg Administrative Assistant: Laurie Scollar0 comments Tagged: MTV 30th, MTV, MTVposts,.
In honor of MTV’s 30th, an animation frame from MTV’s 1st birthday.
Produced for MTV by Alan Goodman0 comments Tagged: MTV, MTV 30th, MTVposts, animation, logo, MTV 1st,.