Book Review: The MTV VJs Dish on the Early Days of MTV

Originally published October 2013

I’m wearing it like a badge of honor—the 80s was my defining decade.

I grew up in the 80s, and MTV was at the center of it all. From its inception in 1981 when I was in middle school, straight through my high school graduation in 1987, the original MTV VJs were a fixture in my day-to-day existence. When I Want My MTV came out in late 2011, I devoured it and mentioned to a friend how much I loved it—only to discover she worked there in the early days and knew the original VJs were also working on a book.

WHAT ?!?! A girl can never get too much 80s gossip. And then the friend one-upped the anticipation factor with “I can connect you with Alan Hunter if you’d like to talk to him.” Um, YES. Please. After all, Martha Quinn was the girl every girl wanted to be, Nina Blackwood was the girl every girl secretly wished they could be, J.J. Jackson was the guy we all wanted to be our big brother, Mark Goodman was the guy we all wanted to lose our virginity to and Alan? Alan was the one we wanted to be our boyfriend. Because he was cute and funny and cute and funny and safe to take home to our parents. And y’all know what our parents would have thought if we brought Mark home.

So there I was, waiting in a Starbucks for Alan Hunter. And ladies, he’s still a cutie pie. But moreover, he’s smart. And engaging. And means well. “VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave” isn’t so much salacious gossip as it is a piece of the puzzle that was the 80s—once a decade that was mocked for its superfluous nature and now coming into its nostalgic own.

“I wanted it to be a time capsule,” says Hunter. “We started getting getting inquiries about movies of the week, and with the 30th anniversary approaching, I had started to develop a screenplay. I’m kind of the ringleader of the four of us.” (J.J. Jackson passed away in 2004.) After prodding from higher-ups to write a book first, he finally was able to nail down the original VJs, snagged a great writer in Gavin Edwards and procured a publisher (Simon and Schuster).

Of the differences between this book and “I Want My MTV,” Hunter says, “Ours is just more a personal point of view. We had a different strategy altogether. We’re not a competitor and not a companion …we didn’t want to be cheesy, we didn’t want to tell a tale …. we wanted to tell a story that was contextual.”

And that it is—those who lived through the 80s will likely find the most to appreciate in the book, as the MTV VJs share how they first were hired (some were chosen for their gravitas, while others had that je ne sais quoi), the joy in having actual money to spend on rent and clothes, the surreal factor at going from being essentially anonymous to doing blow with some of the biggest bands in the biz, and witnessing a cultural evolution firsthand. Because really, until there was MTV, it was just the music that mattered. And now it’s so much more.

“Before MTV, {bands} would do their live gigs and after the show, they could enjoy anonymity. After MTV, they were mobbed everywhere. The image became very important and people were watching nothing else,” says Hunter.

And if you want to skip straight to the end to see if they’re all still close, the answer is yes. In fact, I mentioned to Alan I was relieved he and Goodman are such good friends, given the first part of the book includes Goodman recalling his music snobbery and indignance with lesser prepared VJs. The triumph, the tragedy and the five-figure haircuts—it’s all there, and it’s delicious. It’s also a wonderful, insightful peek into the decade that defined me and so many of my friends. Bangles, big hair and fishnet stockings forever, my friends!

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