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Home » Culture and Criticism

The MTV Video Music Awards Diaries

Submitted by on March 11, 1996 – 9:19 PM3 Comments

Close your eyes.Inhale fully…okay, now exhale.Continue to breathe deeply and evenly as you form a picture in your mind of a giant carpeted junior high homeroom where everyone has a cell phone.Welcome to the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall.

My adventure began a few nights ago when El Rabo’s father passed along two tickets to the VMA — along with passes to the after-party in Bryant Park — which Sumner Redstone had apparently passed along to El Rabo Grande.(El Rabo Grande has mad connections.)I cleared my schedule immediately, which sounds dramatic but which only consisted of canceling an introductory karate lesson, but anyhow, I plunged headlong into my closet in search of something to wear, a chic and short and tight and fetching outfit but not a trying-too-hard outfit, and I eagerly anticipated the large wheel of cheese that the VMA promised to roll out onto the stage at Radio City.

I had not, however, anticipated that El Rabo would leave the tickets in my apartment.He dashed back to the apartment; I nervously circled the venue for half an hour.A cop tried to hit on me.By some miracle, we found each other again and dashed inside, and while we waited for the first commercial break so that we could take our seats, Timothy Hutton breezed by, bound for the bar.Moments later, MTV movie guy Chris Connolly strode past.El Rabo watched Cindy Crawford and Pat Smear on the monitors as they announced Best Group Video, and I watched Timothy Hutton.Then we went to our seats, and I strolled by Timothy Hutton verrrrry slowly in my chic and short and tight and fetching outfit, and considered telling him how many times I had sat through the hideously bad Turk 182 just to look at his lovely face, but I didn’t.Sting launched into his tribute to The Notorious B.I.G.The fun had just started.

I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of the telecast since, if you cared, you would have watched it yourself.No Doubt won Best Group Video, which should give you a rough idea of how relevant these awards are, i.e. not very.We got to our seats and El Rabo realized that he had left the bag with my video camera in it outside by the bar, and he dashed out to the lobby.Meanwhile, I got in a fight with some snotrag who thought that his press pass meant he could steal my seat, and I lost the fight, and I stood in the back until I could back up my arguments with a large and hostile usher.The back doubled as Cell Phone Central, and men and women stalked back and forth with their phones clamped onto their ears.”Speak up,” one woman complained, “I can’t hear you over Martha Stewart.”Martha Stewart presented Best Dance Video, and if you psychology buffs out there ever need an example of cognitive dissonance, look no further.

The Spice Girls won this award, and dedicated it to Princess Diana.Apparently, Princess Di had “girl power.”Of all the things I would want people to say about me after I die, the “girl power” endorsement from the Spice Girls probably wouldn’t make the list, but it would definitely finish higher than a song dedicated to me by Jewel, which followed.(I have to admit, Jewel has a good voice.)Then Madonna marched onstage and delivered a sanctimonious and teary-voiced lecture on the perils of fame, chastising us for “our insatiable need to chase after gossip and scandal.”This, from a woman who has built her career not on any discernible talent but on her ability to provoke gossip and scandal, who in fact has relied heavily on gossip and scandal to keep herself in the spotlight.I do not deny that Diana died tragically and pointlessly — as did Biggie Smalls, another recipient of multiple dedications by the performers and presenters — and I do not deny that the press may have played a role in Diana’s demise.But when Madonna of all people scolds us for following the movements of celebrities, and she uses an MTV event as her soapbox, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

After Madonna introduced a Prodigy performance (allegedly live but, according to my impeccable source, actually taped two weeks ago), we headed back out to the lobby in search of some much-needed alcohol.There, a heavenly sight met my eyes, even more heavenly than Timothy Hutton, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, America’s favorite tall drink of water — Craig Kilborn.I had long coveted Craig Kilborn, and even El Rabo thought he was the bomb, and somehow I got elected to do the talking and I marched over to Craig Kilborn and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Kilborn?I just wanted to tell you that I love the show, I watch it faithfully, and now I can tell all of my friends that I touched you.”Fortunately I stopped myself before the babbling got any more blatant, but El Rabo jumped right in and continued babbling for me.Mr. Kilborn, polite but bored once he realized I had an escort, asked us where we hailed from.I can’t believe we actually admitted to Craig Kilborn that we hail from New Jersey.Oh, well.Kilby’s date started giving us the evil eye, so we excused ourselves.

I went up to the bathroom.Women talked on their cell phones while taking a whiz.I went back down and watched Beck.The Best Rap Video went to Notorious B.I.G. (I guess they couldn’t really give that one to Princess Diana).A woman in a pink dress that looked like the Energizer Bunny outfit rushed up the aisle crying.The Spice Girls lip-synched and mugged their way through a song.Another commercial.Lisa Marie Presley.By this point in the evening, I had lost track of which presenters went with which awards, who won what awards, which nominees performed at what time — I was too busy milling around the lobby with an overpriced Dixie cup of rancid white wine, trying not to get caught smoking.I bumped into Maxwell at least seven different times.I went back to my seat because I wanted to see Marilyn Manson.Marilyn Manson probably toned down his act considerably for the VMA, but it still made me laugh out loud, for three reasons: 1) the guy has more or less ripped off Kiss; 2) the sea of record exec heads that bobbed happily through a Wallflowers song remained absolutely motionless, except for the occasional horrified flinch, during the MM song; and 3) Marilyn Manson has better thighs than any of the Spice Girls.Towards the end of the MM performance, a flowery-dress-clad Coolio lurched past my seat.

At last, the show ended.We joined the throng heading out, and Tony Bennett passed within a foot of us.I surveyed the crowd as we inched along.I have never seen so many natural blondes in one place, or for that matter so many beautiful women.Perfect makeup, perfect bodies.Howard Stern’s hairdresser rushed past; the Dandy Warhols’ lead singer lounged past.Self-important men with walkie-talkies told us to keep moving.A guy from the Wu Tang Clan posed for pictures on the sidewalk.We strolled over to Bryant Park.

MTV may not show any damn videos anymore, but they can throw a party.Free booze, free food — good food, too — women in bathing suits and bustles, a ska band, little lemon squares and tea sandwiches and pasta salad and crab cakes and John Norris stuffing his face between interviews.We ran into a friend of El Rabo’s.We ran after Weird Al Yankovic.Shaking Weird Al’s hand and touching Weird Al’s fuzzy animal print shirt may not seem like a highlight to you, but I have most of the dialogue from UHF memorized and I will treasure that moment always, especially since Weird Al (whom I addressed as “Mr. Al” — someone shoot me) seemed to appreciate my diehard fandom.Craig Kilborn, on the other hand, probably thinks that we’re stalking him, since we stood staring at him for five minutes at one point and then later on we chased him down by the entrance and asked him to do an interview for our public-access show, a golden opportunity which he refused.While Grandmaster Flash mixed in the background, Kilby waved his cigar at us and said, “No, sorry, I don’t do that,” and hurried off, no doubt to continue macking on every bimbette in sight.Not to worry — we did catch him on video, except you can’t really tell it’s Creggers since that last bourbon-and-ginger-ale somewhat impaired El Rabo’s ability to focus the camera.

All in all, I enjoyed myself.I particularly enjoyed looking at other people, who looked at each other and tried to decide if they knew those other people, or should know those other people, or should call those other people on their cell phones.I always enjoy Chris Rock, and like me and El Rabo he didn’t take any of it too seriously.And I enjoyed going home and not having to deal with any of the ass-kissing and social-climbing, and not having to have perfect hair and makeup and deal with annoying A&R geeks.One evening of self-referential aggrandizement will do nicely, thank you.




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