MTV recently celebrated its sixth anniversary. At same time, with only a fraction of the hoopla, SNUB TV a music-video outlet of a very different kind--debuted on the USA cable network. And even though SNUB is only a half-hour long and airs only every two weeks on USA's weekend "Night Flight" show, it's more interesting right now than 24 hours of any MTV day.
Sure, the independent, small-label and no-label videos and interviews SNUB shows have been uneven. Some of its featured acts are as dull and/or self-indulgent as any of the manufactured rock groups MTV seems so fond of, and SNUB's deadpan host Brenda Kelly isn't all that much better than MTV's veejays.
But here's the point: Most of the bands that appear on SNUB--good, bad or indifferent--can't be seen anywhere else on American TV. Not even on MTV's weekly "120 Minutes," which emphasizes whatever new and not-so-new groups U.S. record companies are pushing that week. SNUB puts its emphasis on exactly the sort of videos MTV refuses to run--cheaply made ones, against-the-grain ones, live performances, and acts who are more interested in artistic and social expression than getting a contract with Geffen Records.
Two of this week's Sound & Vision entries are from a recent SNUB that showcased American acts released in Britain by Blast First. This UK label is a precious anomaly--it specializes in making and distributing live-performance videos of provocative U.S. bands.
One other video, by L.A.'s Mojo Nixon, was seen on another "Night Flight" feature, while the Opal clip comes from a compilation sent to us by Torrance punk/etc. label SST. The rest are some of the more interesting (for very various reasons) things going on in the generally uninteresting video-as-usual world of MTV, "Friday Night Videos," et al.
The videos are rated on a scale of 0 to 100.
"Happy Nightmare Baby." Opal. Director: Kevin Kerslake. Kerslake has been busy lately--also directing clips for other SST acts like the Divine Horsemen as well as Guadalcanal Diary's new one for Elektra. In "Nightmare," his sorta-neo-psychedelic style gives way to a more focused approach. Maybe focused isn't the right word, since the entire clip consists of blurry images of people riding and walking about in the L.A. night, and abstract shots of such things as center-divider lines zooming by. If it didn't fit the music, the film might seem too nebulous, but it's perfect for Opal's misty, downbeat art. The latest project by gifted L.A. musicians Kendra Smith and David Roback, Opal has released a moody LP that's among the best local albums of 1987. 88
"Elvis Is Everywhere." Mojo Nixon & Skip Roper. Director: Bill Henderson. "There's a little bit of Elvis in everyone," claims this local duo, "except in one person--the Anti-Elvis . . . Michael J. Fox!" That's just a sample of the irreverent, goofy humor in this song, released by local label Enigma. "Elvis" has some hilarious lines, and even though the El Cheapo video doesn't really make many of them funnier, the low-rent visual gags have a charm of their own. 85
"Hey." B.H. Surfers. Directors: a Chicago high school video class. Taken from the Surfers' 80-minute video/interview collection "Blind Eye Sees All"--available for $24 from the group's American label, Touch 'n' Go ((312) 463-4446)--this was one of the most impressive live-performance clips on the SNUB show--entrancing, irritating, weird, exciting, all shot with one video camera. A perfect antidote to the lip-synced, too-much-money slickness of most MTV clips--but for the adventurous only. (Even the Surfers' real name is too "adventurous" for some; B.H. is our abbreviation.) 82
"Just Like Heaven." The Cure. Director: Tim Pope. This latest three-minute Cure/Pope collaboration is not their best, but it's still pretty good. More than in his previous work with the English group, Pope seems to be out to convey the basic imagery of Robert Smith's lyrics--shoreline cliff as metaphor, dream vs. reality, etc. Even in such a relatively simple setting, Pope makes this world glow with an inner luminescence. Very lovely, like the song--one of the sweetest bon-bons (well, semi-sweet, anyway) from my favorite album of the year, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me." 80
"Sister." Sonic Youth. Director: Peter Fowler. Also from SNUB's Blast First showcase. As with the B.H. Surfers' live clip, the approach here is straightforward and crude. A little too crude in terms of the sound--you can't hear the vocalists very well. Even with these limitations, there's more electricity in this hold-the-sugar serving, shot during a London gig earlier this year, than in almost any super-produced MTV promo. The group exudes a lot of intensity in a room, and it's tangible here. Blast First is performing a worthy service by capturing these underground groups' performances on videotape. Now if they can make sure to get the sound right. . . . 72