An marvelous, if unexpected revolutionary, Nusrat Durrani is one of those guys that makes me completely forget whatever cynicism about the media business I might have accumulated over the years, and remember why I’m constantly excited to be part of the global conversation.
Completely aside from being my colleague at MTV.com, Nusrat is the founding executive at the amazing MTV Iggy, the newest music offering from the former American music channel (no comments, please; read on), an online channel where the ambition is easily as grand as the very interent itself.
Nusrat discovered MTV in his native India after a chance nuclear mind explosion in the form of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” and his life was was never the same. Against all odds, he made his way around the world (via Dubai) and barged his way into MTV.com and never gave up his dream of uniting world music cultures. No matter how firmly MTV kept walking away from music (and for some very compelling reasons) and how many “wiser” heads begged him to abandon ship, Nusrat would not give up on the brand’s worldwide status and his faith that it could mean more to world pop than just about anything else.
My wife, Robin Sloane, is getting some great props in the new book by Craig Marks and Rob Tannebaum, I Want My MTV!, for her role in some groundbreaking music videos like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Here’s an excerpt from New York Magazine:
(Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Filmmagic/Getty Images)
Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991) Seattle punks start a revolt, and snuff hair metal.
Robin Sloane, Geffen Records Exec: Kurt Cobain was the only artist I’ve ever known who had brilliant, fully realized ideas he could express in one sentence. With “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt said, “My idea for the video is a pep rally gone wrong.” He looked at director Sam Bayer’s reel and loved it, so I hired Sam. But there were a lot of problems between Sam and Kurt. Courtney Love: Kurt hated Sam Bayer. For “Teen Spirit,” Kurt wanted fat cheerleaders, he wanted black kids, he wanted to tell the world how fucked up high school was. But Sam put hot girls in the video. The crazy thing is, it still worked. Dave Grohl, Band Member: The idea was, the kids take over and burn down the gymnasium, just as Matt Dillon did in Over the Edge, with the rec center. Kurt was a huge fan of that movie. We walked into that whole thing really cautiously, because we didn’t want to misrepresent the band. There were certain things we found to be really funny about videos—tits and ass and pyrotechnics, shit like that—and when we showed up at the shoot, we were like, Wait a minute, those cheerleaders look like strippers.A lot of people we worked with didn’t understand the underground scene or punk rock. Samuel Bayer: I scouted L.A. strip clubs for the cheerleaders. Kurt didn’t like them. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to put unattractive women in the video. I think Kurt looked at me and saw himself selling out. So anything I did was construed as corporate. But to me, these were nasty girls. They had rug burns on their knees. In my eyes, the whole video was dirty. It’s all yellows and browns. It was the opposite of everything on MTV at the time; every video was blue and backlit with big xenon lights. I was a painter. I was trying to rip on Caravaggio and Goya. Sloane: All the kids in the bleachers were drunk. Grohl: We did a couple of takes, and the audience just started destroying the stage. The director’s on a bullhorn screaming, “Stop! Cut!” And that’s when it started to make sense to me: This is like a Nirvana concert. Bayer: The day of the video shoot was pure pain. Kurt hated being there. Maybe it was his venom coming through, but I’ve been on 200 music-video sets since, and that was the best performance I’ve ever seen. Amy Finnerty, MTV VP of Programming: Initially, my boss said, “Look, the visuals are great, and they have a catchy name, but beyond that, I don’t really know what this is gonna do.” I said, “I understand why we’re playing Paula Abdul and Whitesnake. But if there isn’t a place for this, I don’t know what I’m doing here.” Love: The first time Kurt and I slept together was at a Days Inn in Chicago. We were having our first postcoital moment, and we’re watching MTV and the video came on. I pulled away from him, because it was his video, his moment, he was the king of the fucking world, and he put his arm around me and pulled me closer. Which was symbolic, like, “I’m letting you into my life.” That really endeared him to me. The next time I saw the video with him was at the Omni Northstar Hotel in Minneapolis. I’d flown there to fuck Billy Corgan, who still had lots of hair. I didn’t even know Nirvana were playing that night. Kurt and I wound up at the Northstar, and our daughter, Frances, was basically made that night. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was on MTV every five fucking minutes. Bayer: That video gave me a career. Everyone wanted to do a Nirvana-type video: Ozzy Osbourne, Johnny Lydon, the Ramones. Kip Winger, Hair-Metal Singer: I watched “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and I thought, All right, we’re finished. Kevin Kerslake, Director: “Teen Spirit” crossed the Rubicon. Nirvana became the mold for success, the way Poison had been four years before. There are many ironies within the history of MTV, and that is one of them: The revolutionary fights the dictator, and ultimately becomes the dictator. It’s just swapping chairs.
MTV went on the air, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. And I just got the word that another new media venture I’ve been part of, the Next New Networks channel, Ben Relles’ Barely Political, just reached 1 billion views. And think of all the cartoons in between.
It’s been amazing to be at the epicenter of so much great work over the years.
There are a few seldom noticed heroes in the MTV saga, since most of the attention goes to the front folks, the rock bands and the VJs. So, I’d like to tip my hat to MTV’s original idea guy, John Lack, our first president, Jack Schneider, and our visionary, Bob PIttman. It’s obvious what their MTV roles had to do with my career, but the truth is, I’ve been dining out on things they taught me for all the decades since. There wouldn’t be a Next New Networks without the ideas I learned from them starting on the first day we met. Thank you gentlemen.
MTV’s 30th has prompted a lot of web chatter. My friend Marc Myers took a conversation we had recently and turned it into a sweet piece on the MTV logo on his wonderful JazzWax blog (a lot more detail from me for you detail freaks here). Thanks Marc!
MTV turned music inside out on this date 30 years ago. On August 1, 1981, the 24-hour music channel not only added a powerful visual component to rock but also helped usher in a third pop British Invasion that influenced virtually all forms of music and music videos in the 1980s. By extension, MTV created a new appetite for music sales. Before MTV, rock, pop and soul were radio and record affairs. For a visual look at your favorite artists, you had to turn to album covers and fan magazines. MTV forced stars to become larger than life personalities, dancers and actors.
Music videos for MTV may have killed the radio star but they also sparked an employment boom for video directors, choreographers, cameramen, tape editors, hair and makeup artists, costume designers, and graphic designers. When most people think of MTV in the ’80s, what comes to mind first is the channel’s cartoony logo and endless clever ways in which the letters M, T and V were displayed.
The person largely responsible for the logo was Fred Seibert [pictured in 1981], a creative director then and now a television and film producer who owns Frederator Studios in New York. Thirty years ago Fred had a vision for the network’s brand and inspired artist Frank Olinsky to solve the challenge. Today, on the anniversary of MTV’s start, I asked Fred to recall the story of the logo’s birth, a fabulous tale he told me over lunch recently.