This wonderful piece of punk-pop, apparently recorded "in a frigging hole in the ground, Chicago" according to its liner notes was about 3 years old when Peel played it on this show. I adore it for a number of reasons: the compellingly direct vocal performance from Jeanette Alfred and the virtuoso playing of Russ Forster, particularly that funky-punky duologue between guitar and bass going into the last 30 seconds of the track. In our Instagram-anyone-can-be-famous-if-they-know-how-to-court-the-right-social-media-crowd world, I felt huge nostalgia for songs that focus their ire on starfuckers who would do anything to get through that gilded gate and into that gilded world. The rarefied, super cool world that MTV once beamed into homes and lives. Those impossibly glamorous and hip young things who didn't feel awkward walking around holding a stick microphone the size of a railway sleeper through the late 80s and early 90s while they talked to movers and shakers across what was either an ongoing snapshot of youth culture or a symbol of the McDonaldsisation of it, despite the best efforts of Beavis and Butthead. Either way, it felt like something that mattered back then. Now, the only access I have to music TV channels is when I go to my local barbers or the odd pub, and none of them are tuned to MTV, instead choosing The Box and other low calibre variations. But what does it matter? As Noel Gallagher remarked during his hilarious video commentary of Oasis' Whatever, "Who fucking watches videos (on TV) these days?" I mean we could all do it through YouTube now, couldn't we? Yes, but the point is, it was harder in those days. You did have to have something about you to get onto MTV. It seemed as though you had made it, regardless of whether you were a performer in a band, a solo artist or just one of the entourage. How far would you go to get on it?
Jeanette Alfred was convinced that the price some people were willing to pay was too high. She told me recently:
"MTV Girl came about when MTV was so popular and all the girls on these (channels) looked the same to me. I wrote a lot of fuck you type of songs though I was not a fuck you type of person. That is why, when Bikini Kill wanted me to sing on an album with them, I thought that singing was really not what I saw in my future. I asked Michael (Cornelius, her husband at the time) to help me make it a song and we kind of put that song together. Everything has to do with the time back then like the line, "Dancing with Bruce" that would be Bruce Springsteen and "raped by Dee" would be Dee Sneider of Twisted Sister. Some videos must have alluded to that."
Jeanette went through quite a journey to get to recording MTV Girl after arriving in the US from her native Germany:
"I moved to the US (Arizona) in January of 1981 and was bored out of my mind. I wanted to return back to Germany but didn't have money. After a couple of years, I meet some punk-rockers and ended up marrying the bass player (Michael Cornelius AKA Michael Cx) from JFA (Jody Foster's Army). Our house was the band house. Every band and skaters who came to Phoenix to play, stayed at our place. I didn't know any of those people but remember the band names (Feeders, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Flag, Tony Alva, etc). There is a group on FB that still keeps up with the scene from back then.
I was surrounded by music and Michael, my then husband, had a zine. I wanted to do all those things too. I put out a zine in half English and German and helped design JFA's album cover. When I didn't get credit for it, I was kind of mad and said, "Forget you all, I can do my own music." So I started writing."
After her marriage to Cornelius broke up, Jeanette moved to Chicago and continued her musical adventures under the eye of a big favourite of John Peel's:
"I started recording with Russ Forster of Sponge. Our producer was Steve Albini. Steve is kind of a big shot in the Punk music business here in Chicago. I spoke to Russ last year to get all the tracks off of the remaining spools but we never made a definite plan. I will talk to him some more about it."
Jeanette currently manages a world music outfit called Kreyol Roots led by her husband. I'd love to hear a world music take on MTV Girl, a track which retains its relevance, even though its original targets are now more simultaneously widespread and local than ever.
Video courtesy of John Peel.
My deepest thanks to Jeanette Alfred.
Photo credit - Renata Golden
Kreyol Roots website