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Monday, March 13, 2017

"Is This Live?" - A Book Review

When my family first got hooked up to cable television in the late 1980s, my entire family was excited about it.  Prior to that time, we were stuck with the same basic twelve channels that had watched for years - and at least two of those channels were French language and the local public access station.

With basic cable, our options expanded from twelve channels to almost fifty - and on that note, can you actually recall a time in which having fifty channels was considered a lot?  And certainly everyone in my family had their favourite channels.  I was seven when we first got cable installed, so naturally I gravitated towards YTV.  My parents were into CMT.  A&E was also very popular at my household.  And, I am fairly positive that we all watched the Home Shopping Network to make fun of it.

(You see, back in those days, they used this weird filming technique which would skip every fourth film frame so it looked like the hosts were in consistent stop motion animation.  It was funny as hell, and we were all trying to figure out whether it was intentional or whether they had faulty video equipment.)

Of course, by the time I became a teenager, my viewing focus shifted solely towards MuchMusic - which one would consider to be similar (but not a cookie cutter version) of MTV.  Back in those days, the music video channel (lovingly dubbed "The Nation's Music Station" for several years) played music videos all day long and all night long.  Occasionally the station would take breaks to air episodes of "Pop-Up Video", "Beavis and Butt-Head", and certain music video award shows, but for the most part you could count on being able to see your favourite music videos whenever you wanted.

(And if you couldn't see them, you could request them with Much On Demand - or R.S.V.P. if you're really old enough to remember.)

Of course these days, MuchMusic still plays music videos, but not nearly as much as they used to.  I suppose free video sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, and DailyMotion have kind of taken over the way we download and watch media these days.  But oh, how once upon a time it was a network that really had its share of charm and joy - not to mention a little bit of controversy along the way.

That's why when I spotted a book about the early days of MuchMusic at a bookstore in a nearby town, I just had to purchase it.

The book is called "Is This Live?", and while it is a collaborative effort from past personalities of the music channel, the book was mostly put together by former MuchMusic VJ Christopher Ward.  And I'll tell you, if you are a music fan and ever wanted to learn more about the Canadian music scene of the 1980s and 1990s, this is definitely a must read. 

Inside the book is 328 pages (and yes, that does include the index at the back of the book) of personal stories, eyewitness accounts, fun bits of trivia, and never before heard tales of interviews that went wrong (and some that went right).  And, as I mentioned, there are personal accounts from many of the former VJ's that used to work there.  Some I can name right off the top of my head are Erica Ehm, Denise Donlon, Steve Anthony, Michael Williams, Rick Campanelli, Tony "Master T" Young, Laurie Brown, Natalie Richard, Ziggy Lorenc, Ed the Sock (yes, Ed the Sock) and J.D. Roberts, among others.

J.D. Roberts, of course, being John Roberts - currently the chief White House correspondent for FOX News.  And to think it was he and Ward who launched the music video station on August 31, 1984! 

Of course, the book itself isn't just about the VJ's and their stories.  There is a lot of references to popular artists back in the day and some of their favourite MuchMusic moments, behind the scenes interviews about some of the videos that they filmed, and some other hidden secrets.  These artists include but are not limited to Gowan, Platinum Blonde, Sass Jordan, Blue Rodeo, The Spoons, Parachute Club, Glass Tiger, Corey Hart, Bryan Adams, Colin James, The Northern Pikes, Sloan, Barenaked Ladies, and Maestro Fresh Wes.  And, that's merely scratching the surface.  

Of course, all of the artists I listed above are Canadian...but that's not to say that they didn't reveal any secrets about international artists (keeping in mind that I'm Canadian and to me America is international).  There are some interesting tidbits about Duran Duran, Madonna, Robert Palmer, and even some Paul McCartney and George Harrison!  Trust me, the interviews alone are worth reading. 

I think my favourite part of the whole book was finding out how some Much traditions originated.  Now without spoiling too much about the book in general, I'll leave you with some interesting things you can expect to read in this book.

You can read about some of the VJ's favourite interviews of all time.  HINT:  One of them involves The Temptations!

You can also read about some of the VJ's least favourite interviews.  Let's just say that a certain band that wore a lot of face paint didn't make the greatest of impressions.

You'll learn about how long standing MuchMusic traditions kicked off - these include the worst of video countdown called "Fromage" as well as the annual Christmas Tree toss from the roof of the Much building (which I don't even know if they do anymore, it's been a while since I have watched it).

You will also learn more about some Much programming including the "Electric Circus", "Outlaws and Heroes", and "The Power Hour".

Trust me.  If you're Canadian (and even if you're not), and you loved watching MuchMusic (or are just a music fan in general), get this book.  I loved reading every page!

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