It’s no secret that MuchMusic, like MTV south of the border, is not what it once was. Formerly home to cool VJs and music videos, music videos and more music videos, as I write this, here’s what’s airing on Much: six episodes of Seinfeld followed by eight episodes of The Simpsons. These were two of my favourite shows during Much’s heyday, but they never would have come near its airwaves back then.
Yesterday I noticed #MuchMusicMemories trending on Twitter. It was actually started by Much alum Ed the Sock, who’s trying to start up a new Much-type channel called NewMusicNation. It got me reminiscing about my 10 favourite Much memories, in no particular order.
1. Watching a Van Halen concert scrambled
If you’re under the age of 40, you probably wouldn’t even understand the concept of scrambled TV. In the early days of Much (mid-late ’80s), it was a pay channel, not part of basic cable, and my parents didn’t pay for it. But if you tuned into Much, you could hear the audio perfectly well, but the video would be scrambled: you could see little bits of it in a kind of purple-ish hue, mixed up with weird lines through it. Every once in a while you’d get a few seconds of sort-of clear video. I vividly remember being entranced by this Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen concert from probably around 1987 or ’88, amazed at the energy of the band and the sheer ginormousness of what I could see of the stage.
2. My MuchMusic date book
On the first day of high school, we were each given a little package of items to welcome us to school. One of those was a Much-branded date book. You could write in your appointments and contacts and things like that, but there were also full-colour images of the VJs. The only one I really remember is the Erica Ehm page, because as was the case for so many guys my age, her beauty, humour, energy, empathy and intelligence made her one of my first TV crushes.
Speaking of whom, the first brush with greatness of my young life was the day that Ms Ehm played my request on R.S.V.P., the channel’s request show. The one rule of R.S.V.P. was that you had to send in something creative. So I drew a pencil drawing of Janet Jackson and requested “Let’s Wait Awhile.” I actually missed the original airing. My buddy Steve called me late on a Sunday morning and told me it happened, so I made sure to record the re-airing of the show later that day. It was exhilarating to watch her hold my art and say my name. As an added bonus, they sent me a tie-dyed Much t-shirt because they aired my request.
Spotlight was a show I recall airing at 6:00 pm every day and it was just a half hour dedicated to one artist, where they aired videos from that artist in chronological order (older to newer), mixed with interview footage. Every Saturday, when Starweek magazine would come with The Toronto Star, one of the first things I’d do was check who would be featured in the Spotlights that week. I was most excited when I’d see Juliana Hatfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Extreme, Pearl Jam or The Black Crowes would be featured. I recorded the Juliana Hatfield one and still remember being engrossed as she sat in a diner or something talking about the colourful buffalo on the cover art for her 1995 album Only Everything, recounting how it reminds her of herself, quiet on the outside, but exploding with colour on the inside.
5. Sook-Yin Lee
Over the years, Much did such a great job of choosing VJs. They became like TV friends to us, as viewers. They seemed like real people, rather than TV stars. My favourites included Ehm, Steve Anthony, Bradford Howe, and Angela Dohrmann in her brief stint before she became Donna Chang on Seinfeld. I’m probably missing someone. But I think Sook-Yin Lee was my favourite. I was in my early 20s by the time she came on board, so I was ready for her unique brand of VJing. There was nobody like her. She was an artist. She was fiercely intelligent, with a wonderfully bizarre sense of humour and impeccable taste in music. I’m so happy they allowed her to be herself on the air.
6. The Wedge
Speaking of Sook (I always think of Steve Anthony enthusiastically shouting “Sook!”), she hosted The Wedge, which was probably the most influential Much show on my musical tastes. It was their alternative rock show, but it wasn’t all just grunge. Sook reached outside of radio hits and introduced me to artists I immediately loved, that I’d soon hear on the radio, many of them Canadian, like Metric, Stars, Broken Social Scene and Feist.
7. Weird Al Yankovic’s takeovers
The Much crew invited Weird Al to take over the network for a day in an event called Al Music, which he’d do a few times. I later learned he did this a bunch of times at MTV as well. Part of his schtick was to make goofy comments on popular videos, and I’ll never forget my sister and I laughing uncontrollably when he screamed “Consider this!” during R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.”
8. Intimate & Interactive
These concerts, aired live from the Much “environment,” with bands surrounded by fans, were maybe my favourite thing Much ever did. A VJ would interview the band and field audience questions in between songs. Some of my favourites were The Tea Party, Sloan and Alanis Morissette. But for some reason I vividly remember being entranced by the guitar players for Amanda Marshall, Sarah McLachlan and Sass Jordan (whose guitarist’s name I remember for some reason: Stevie Salas – he had such a fiery tone).
9. Pepsi Power Hour/Power 30
This was the network’s straight-up rock show and probably the only Pepsi-branded thing I’ve ever enjoyed. The show had a number of hosts, but the ones I remember most are the late, great Dan Gallagher and Teresa Roncon, who was my other big Much crush.
10. The Christmas tree toss
For a while there, this was a big part of Christmas-time traditions for young Canadians. It was just what it sounds like: they’d drag the office Christmas tree up to the top of 299 Queen Street West and toss it off the building, sometimes on fire. It was a very David Letterman thing to do, so it was right up my alley.