June 01, 2002

Video Killed "Video"

The Buggles' association with the dawn of MTV and symbolism of all things '80s (in fact, the song came out in '79) have ruined "Video Killed the Radio Star" as an actual song for so many people -- it's such a signifier, a memory trigger, and such a cultural staple that it's rare for listeners to reach through the retro detritus and identify "Video" as the evocative, contemplative masterpiece of conceptual art-pop that it is.

The song bursts open with some of rock music's best individual lyrics: "Lying awake intent at tuning in on you," "in my mind and in my car," "pictures came and broke your heart." By turns, poetic and resonantly familiar. And the music -- light and frolicsome like a Fred Astaire dance escapade, all the grandeur and beatitude of Jeff Lynne's most fantastic outings, classical movements that weave in and out delicately and without bombast. (Fuck Dennis DeYoung, this is what Paradise Theater should have sounded like.) Female singers. This is golden.

The infamous "Video" video is what's responsible for making the song seem so aloof and throwaway. Bug-eye glasses and synthesizers. A jesting nod towards the image-obsessive new-wavers, an ironic parody of the would-be ironists -- but the parody was too good, and "Video" just became another Flock of Fun Boy 100 video. Personally, the video doesn't do much for me. It's not that striking or innovative. The song's where the money's at -- never mind putting the blame on VCR, "Video"'s themes are universally applicable, recognizable to anyone who's longed to hold on to a little piece of the idealisms and chimeras of the past, even for those who think talkies killed the silent stars (and the song wisps along with those haunting golden-age vocals, only new wave inasmuch as they KIIIIIINNNNDA sounded like a subdued Mark Mothersbaugh).

I can't stand to see this song shoved underneath that large, elliptical umbrella known as "'80s" (I have no problem attributing musical trends to time periods, but if I hear one more shit-for-brains secretarial-pool coffee-slurper respond to the "What type of music do you like" question with "'80s," I swear I'm gonna pour hot lava through her eardrums -- IT'S NOT A FUCKING GENRE, OK???). But it's doomed to spend eternity on playlists at sorority parties and suburban twentysomething weddings where people drunk on white-wine spritzers actually say things like "Remember the '80s??" As if I'd forget.