In 1981, they were our first tour guides into the flashy new world of music video. In some cases they were our first crushes. They were an amalgam of archetypes that grew to be our buddies: the all-American class clown, the girl next door, the vampy rocker chick, the hunky brooder, and the smooth-talking, old-school hipster. And they got a generation of kids chanting, “I want my MTV.”
In “VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave,” out now, the music channel’s original “video jockeys” Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn, with help from writer Gavin Edwards, provide an oral history of what it was like in the early years of video killing the radio star. Years in the works, the book chronicles everything from doing cocaine with David Lee Roth, to Live Aid, to bickering and bonding with one another. It’s a fascinating, often funny read. (Sadly, their fifth cohort, and former WBCN disc jockey, J.J. Jackson, passed away in 2004, but his big spirit is peppered throughout the book with excerpts from other sources and within his fellow VJs’ remembrances. “VJ” is dedicated to him.)
All four are keeping the flame alive, serving as hosts on an ’80s flashback channel on Sirius XM satellite radio. (Goodman does double duty, hosting a shift on the contemporary channel The Spectrum as well.) We spoke to Goodman and Quinn, who clearly still enjoy each other’s company, on the phone from New York.
Q. I was surprised by how little you guys were featured in the 2011 MTV oral history “I Want My MTV.” Were you? Or was it because you were already working on this?
QUINN: Partially that, but also you hit the nail on the head. What you thought that book was going to be, it wasn’t, which is exactly one of the reasons we wrote [this book]. Because every book about MTV has been more along the lines of “I Want My MTV,” a broader scope of the executives and the artists. We were a spice [in the dish] definitely, but this one we chose to focus on our story and our perspective because it hadn’t really been done before.
Q. You all opened up a lot here, especially you, Mark, talking about your infidelities and some of the more arrogant behavior you exhibited in the early days. Was there ever a point between when you finished writing and it went to print that you got nervous about how personal it was?
GOODMAN: Yes. Like today, I feel that way. [Laughs.] I was pretty, brutally revealing. I’ve been panicked really since I read the first galley.
Q. Why did you feel you needed to get so personal?
GOODMAN: We each have different reasons for wanting to do the book. Part of my reason was that I wanted to say I’m sorry. I feel like I did some things back then that I needed to be able to let go of. They were things that had stuck with me for a lot of years. And oddly enough I’m sitting here talking with you, with Martha, and in addition to my wife, which was a huge thing, there was stuff that happened with me and Martha that I didn’t know about until this book that she told me about. We had that one session where you and I were talking, Martha, you remember, when Gavin was interviewing us and I was, like, crying?
Q. This was when you got angry at her for getting the interview with Bob Dylan and you were less than charitable in letting her know?
GOODMAN: I was a [expletive]. It’s the truth. So that was part of my reason for doing the book. The other part I think is similar to what the others might say, which is that we’re proud of what we did there and we think our perspective on the ’80s and the MTV experience is a fun read.
Q. I was curious if part of your inspiration was to clarify that you didn’t sleep with all the rock stars that crossed your path, because the book mentions viewers wondering about that and it seems to be a running thread for Martha and Nina through the book.
GOODMAN: But Martha seemed to want to. [Laughs.]
QUINN: I’m actually horrified that it seems to me that the running thread is — like I wanted to circle the amount of times that I said “And I had a crush on. . . ” [Goodman is laughing uproariously in the background.] They gave an advance copy of the book to Rick Springfield, who lives in my neighborhood. And I thought, “Oh that’s so cool you got it to Rick Springfield” and then it hit me that he was going to read “I wanted to be Mrs. Rick Springfield” and I was so mortified. I don’t very often see him but I’m going to have a very red face when I do.
Q. You also wanted to be Mrs. David Lee Roth.
QUINN: I believe I also wanted to be Mrs. Michael Jackson.
Q. And Prince.
QUINN: [Laughs.] You know, I was a young girl and I was around all these cool guys and I was barely out of the age of doodling “Mrs. Rick Springfield” in my notebook. [Goodman laughs more.]
Q. I would imagine it was hard to talk about J.J. while working on the book, but perhaps pleasant in a way too, to reminisce?
GOODMAN: We all miss him a lot. For me he was there with me whenever we were talking about this stuff.
Q. When you look back now, what are you proudest of during your time at MTV?
GOODMAN: I’m proud of the work that we did at MTV. I’m proud of the interviews I did there and what I did at Live Aid. I’m happy that I got the shot. I’m proud of the book.
QUINN: I’m proud of the fact that in 2013 we’re probably closer now than we were then because we’ve gone through so many life experiences together. To me, that is the biggest gift that MTV gave to me, not only that I could live in music but to continue to be friends with the people that I thought were the coolest people on the planet.