Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Captain Video

Since MTV appeared in the summer of 1981, many have assumed credit for creating the first music video. But such credit carries with it the baggage of blame, and nobody wants that. The most likely precursor to the music video as we know it came during the 30s and 40s in the form of "Soundies"--short performance films by the big stars of the day that played on jukebox-like contraptions that loaded up a film of Fats Waller for ten cents.

The Beatles' "A Hard Days Night" trumped all other jukebox musicals of the day. Richard Lester's experiments with newly developed lenses, intuitive and spontaneous direction and ingenious editing set the tone for the promotional films that would soon follow. Tiring of the road and countless television appearances, the band started to issue mimed performances of their latest singles. Since then, such promo films became more common, especially in Australia and the UK in the late seventies.

The epoch of music videos was ground zero for the battle between style and substance in popular music--a dialectic that has evolved in the medium of popular song since the beginnings of Tin Pan Alley to the present day. The age of MTV forbade true rock and roll realism and ugliness in favor of slick and easily marketable screen stars who may or may not play, write or sing. It proved to be a very effective placebo for hyperactive teens who stared at MTV for hours, and thus an effective means of social control. People in Iowa discovered Thomas Dolby, The Jam, XTC and Talking Heads until the record industry started pouring money into production when Michael Jackson embraced the new medium.

Since then, MTV has become much more about game shows and reality television than music videos. But music videos are still around and still an effective promotional tool for indie artists. Put your vid on You Tube and anyplace else you can think of and you can direct people to your music.

Todd Kennedy Mattson is a filmmaker who just so happened to be a bass player in the Groupers with me and John Holt. He suggested making a video for us and we quickly agreed to a shoot to promote our upcoming single, "Shiner".

Unfortunately, I got a very severe cold just before shooting began. We set up in John's basement, our usual practice space, which has decidedly cellar-like in decor and climate. Over two nights, we sat in an enclosed, humid space with 1000 watt studio lights and mimed "Shiner" nearly thirty times before we were done. Had I known what I was truly in for, I would not have worn a black wool suit jacket. My head felt like it weighed four hundred pounds. It was a tough shoot, but we were all good sports.

So I guess it was an indie band rite of passage. Although I've released discs before, I've never had a professional video shot, so this should be interesting. Interesting, if only to see how well our youthful but experienced visages will be in serve to the promotion of the music. Maybe it's better that they don't see us, but I'm optimistic. If we accomplish nothing else, our mothers might get to see us on television. Hi, mom.


kate r said...

Well, if this one works out as planned, you could shoot the next video in Steve's garage, or maybe Eric or Paul has a spare bedroom..... I think it would be great to set a video in a bakery, and have you jump out of a cake to begin, and then wrap it all up with a pie fight.

lllisa said...