Sing a Song of Seeing

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That is a prime instance, not only of star power, but of video energy. No one can resist its gravitational pull, and there seems to be less and less reason even to try. It might help to know the numbers—63% of MTV's audience, for example, is under 25—but statistics often tell less about a phenomenon than simple observation. Check out one of the year's biggest hit movies: Flashdance has the shameless energy of a prototypical rock video. Look at how the kids are dressing: off the shoulder, like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, on the razzle, like Michael Jackson in Beat It, or like Boy George in extremis. Students at Holy Rosary Academy in San Bernardino, Calif., are by no means atypical. They learn the latest by watching groups on videos doing dances like the Centipede and Popping.

Electra Records made only 15 videos last year; this year it has made 43. The few video holdouts, like Bruce Springsteen, remain exceptions who are becoming increasingly isolated. Almost every major rocker has made a video and sent it into the pipeline: MTV, local and network rock programs and clubs. You can dance as you watch in New York and San Francisco, as well as at the Schaumburg Snuggery. At Flip-It in Bayside, N.Y., customers get a haircut with a jolt of video rock. At the Panic House in West Hollywood, Calif., patrons can eat to videos, which seems appropriate for an establishment that bills itself as "a Franco-Japanese restaurant of the future." Up the coast, groovies of all ages can "rock and bowl" at Park Bowl, hard by San Francisco's Golden Gate, where a 9-ft. by 12-ft. screen hangs above the 22 lanes. "The normal league bowlers don't think much of this," confesses Manager Gilbert Klein.

At its core, rock video is the kind of cultural shotgun wedding that delights the heart of any aging McLuhanist: rock, radio, movies, music, video, new technologies and new marketing tilting the popular culture onto an angle so it can, if so ordained, slip off onto a whole new course. "The musician in me really resents having to interpret my music into something visual," says Billy Joel. "But the thing that outweighs all of that is that video is a form of communication. Why not use every means of communication available?" Joel has communicated extremely well—his videos are among the genre's most elaborate and effective—but his new commitment to the form, as well as his excellence at it, shows the flak of a born survivor. It is not necessary to be a pioneer, as David Bowie was when he started making videos back in the early '70s. It is only necessary to know that at the moment, and likely for the future, hearing a song will be fine, but only seeing will be believing.

So . . . roll the tapes.


Hands up, class: Who remembers Scopitone? No one? Well, it's a tough question. Scopitone jukeboxes were European imports, vintage early to mid-'60s, which played, for a deposit of 25¢, a faded, grainy color picture of, say, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini with some Neapolitan pop star mouthing the lyrics. It was difficult to determine in what language the lyrics were being mouthed; the sound track was often English, but the lip calisthenics were unmistakably Mediterranean.

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