I’ve been having a personal struggle with music lately. For my entire life, it was my passion. But lately I feel blasé about music to the point that I fear it’s actually driving me a little insane. Whether I chalk it up to getting older or the fact that music just doesn’t seem so special anymore or the fact that I’m just burned out on it, the answers are maddeningly unsatisfying.
Ruminating on 120 Minutes over the past week got me thinking back to a time when I thought music was special. 120 Minutes was special because it made you, the viewer, feel special. MTV was grudgingly, so it seemed, giving over two whole hours of valuable air time to what was to become “alternative” music. It was brilliant in that it captured the eyes and ears of the people who normally tuned out MTV. This was before the indie label explosion, so the fact that they played mostly major label college rock is pretty forgivable. What mattered most was that it wasn’t Top 40. It was the first level underground. If you were on an elevator, 120 Minutes would be on B1.
What made it seem special was the feeling of watching MTV at a time when you knew everyone who normally watched MTV had tuned out. To them, this was when MTV played that weird shit. For those of us who were into the weird shit, it was the two hours a week your parents left the house.
If it wasn’t for 120 Minutes, I might not have discovered Robyn Hitchcock until much later. For this alone, I owe them a debt of serious gratitude. My favorite episodes of 120 Minutes were the ones where Robyn was the Guest VJ. In the clip above, from 1992, it’s not one of his actual Guest VJ spots, but he makes Dave Kendall look like a twat, which is not very difficult.
I never liked Dave Kendall. I guess at the time, MTV thought British accents were exotic or edgy. Anyway, Robyn’s ramblings never failed to hold me in rapt attention. He was beguiling– nonsensical, whimsical, amusing and, most importantly, seemed to be having one over on MTV itself. Robyn Hitchcock as guest VJ was an event. It was brave TV and it makes me long for a day when TV was brave. I can’t imagine a single station giving Robyn two hours to talk and sing nowadays. And the world is worse off for it.
I wanted to post the video for “Raymond Chandler Evening” because they actually used to play the video quite often. But alas, it is not on the youtubes. So this will have to suffice:
The fact that Robyn is still making music and touring is one thing that gives me hope these days when my outlook on music has turned so bleak. The above updating of “Chinese Bones” from his 1988 album Globe of Frogs manages to both take me back and give me hope the future’s not so grim.