Ten years ago this month I made my maiden voyage to New York City. My friend and I boarded a Greyhound bus in Pittsburgh, and some nine-and-a-half hours later–around midnight–found ourselves in the heart of Times Square. We then loitered around for the next four hours, waiting to receive word on when and where we should line up.
Line up for what? Only the most talked about contest in the land: MTV’s Wanna Be A VJ Too. Just a year earlier, Jesse Camp–an indecipherable, six-foot-five, out-of-his-mind flower child–won the inaugural contest, giving him a yearlong gig as an MTV VJ. Even his runner-up, Dave Holmes, was awarded a job.
Our mantra was: If Jesse can win, anyone can. The (supposedly) homeless hippie gave us all hope.
I missed out on the contest a year before, because one of my co-workers from McDonald’s bailed on me (and I wasn’t ready to take on The Big Apple by myself). In 1999, however, I was ready to stare down New York City and come back home with the job of my dreams.
After waiting in line for ten hours in a winter-like drizzle (with only a light jacket to keep me warm–which it didn’t) I made it into the hallowed halls of MTV’s Times Square Studio. With countless others, I was herded in front of a camera and delivered my VJ spiel. I guess I did alright, because the producer sent me to another station–this one less crowded, with more serious-looking people sitting behind the camera. I was asked a handful of questions (Who’s your favorite band? What kind of music do you like? Why should we pick you?), gave my answers–which apparently didn’t impress these people, because they barely looked up at me–and was out the door quicker than you could say John Sencio.
(above: I took a nine-and-a-half hour bus ride, waited in line for ten hours, took another nine-and-a-halk hour bus ride, and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.)
After grabbing my first slice of NYC pizza, my friend and I were back on the Greyhound bus and traveled nine-and-a-half hours in the opposite direction. I never heard back from MTV, and a few days later I watched on television as Thalia (who I remember kept calling herself “momma”) was crowned the winner of MTV’s Wanna Be A VJ Too (sigh).
Ten years later, the world has changed. Though we still herd thousands of common folks in and out of casting calls–not so much for a job anymore, but for a new genre of television (“reality”), 2009 doesn’t have much in common with 1999. I’m not even sure if an MTV VJ job currently exists, let alone video promotion positions at record labels–the people who used to give videos to MTV so a VJ could actually have something to introduce. Music is sold differently, bought (ha-ha-ha) differently, made differently, listened to differently, and distributed differently than it was at the turn of the millennium.
If I could have a conversation with myself back then, here’s how I think it might sound:
1999 Jim: Whoa, you look just like me–except a little bit older.
2009 Jim: That’s cause I am you–10 years from now–you idiot!
1999 Jim: Why am I an idiot?
2009 Jim: Cause you’ve been standing in the middle of Times Square for over ten hours, just wearin’ that thin-ass jacket. It’s freezin’! (hands 1999 Jim a winter jacket.) Here, wear this.
1999 Jim: Thanks, you’re a lifesaver.
2009 Jim: No worries. Hey, why don’t you get out of this long line and just go home?
1999 Jim: No way man, I’ve been waiting here since midnight.
2009 Jim: You don’t think I know that? Jim–um–you’re not going to win this contest.
1999 Jim: I’m not going to be a VJ?!
2009 Jim: I didn’t say that.
1999 Jim: Well I thought you said I didn’t win–
2009 Jim: Just give it a couple years and it will all make sense.
1999 Jim: Hey, do I ever get to meet the Beastie Boys.
2009 Jim: (points to MTV studio window) Yep. Not only that, but you’ll also get to host a live show with them, right up there, on the day they release To The 5 Boroughs.
1999 Jim: Awesome! When do they release that album?
2009 Jim: In 2004–it was the follow up to Hello Nasty.
1999 Jim: Shit, I’ve got to wait another five years for a new Beastie Boys’ album?
2009 Jim: (shakes 1999 Jim) Would you shut up! How many people get a chance to talk to their future self and all you can do is ask stupid questions about the Beastie Boys?
1999 Jim: Well if 2019 Jim visited you, wouldn’t you be doing the same thing?
2009 Jim: (pauses) Yeah, I guess so. (looks down at 1999 Jim’s hands and disappointedly shakes his head) You and your damn cassette Walkman.
1999 Jim: I don’t like the shape of the Discman, and besides, they always skip. In the future, have they invented those mini-CD’s yet?
2009 Jim: No need for ’em, people listen to music on their iPods now.
1999 Jim: Their i-what?
2009 Jim: iPods. Basically, you take song files from your computer and download them onto your iPod.
1999 Jim: How long does that take?
2009 Jim: A couple minutes.
1999 Jim: How many songs does it fit?
2009 Jim: Thousands.
1999 Jim: Huh?! What!? Did you say thousands?!
2009 Jim: Yeah, and you know those big CD books you take on road trips with you?
1999 Jim: Yeah.
2009 Jim: You won’t need those anymore either.
1999 Jim: How big are these iPod things?
2009 Jim: (holds up his hand) They have some that are the size of my thumb.
1999 Jim: Holy shit!
2009 Jim: They even have some with a TV screen, so you can watch movies and music videos on ’em.
1999 Jim: Speaking of music videos, what bands are big now?
2009 Jim: Metallica, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones.
1999 Jim: No, no, no–not now, but in 2009?
2009 Jim: I know. That’s who I was talking about.
1999 Jim: What about bands that I don’t know about now?
2009 Jim: Let’s just say that the guitar-shaped swimming pool era of rock-and-roll is dead.
1999 Jim: How come?
2009 Jim: Cause the music industry is tanking?
1999 Jim: Why?
2009 Jim: Well, for starters, people quit buying CD’s? Why buy a CD, upload it to your computer, and download it on your iPod, when you can just cut out the middle man and buy (or illegally download) the songs and toss ’em on your iPod? CD’s took up too much space anyway.
1999 Jim: Why would you need CD stores then?
2009 Jim: You don’t. (points across street to Virgin Megastore) You see that over there? That goes bye-bye in the future too.
1999 Jim: Well, what about record labels?
2009 Jim: They’re not doing well either.
1999 Jim: (points up to MTV Studio) How ’bout these guys?
2009 Jim: If you thought they didn’t play a lot of music videos now, just wait ten years. I don’t even think they shoot in this studio anymore.
1999 Jim: Well, how do bands survive then?
2009 Jim: People still pay to see live music, and it doesn’t matter how advanced technology gets, you can’t download a t-shirt. But, I know a bunch of bands that have to return to their day jobs once their tour is over.
1999 Jim: Should I forget about working in music and get a job in the financial industry then?
2009 Jim: No.
1999 Jim: Let me guess, that’s tanking too?
2009 Jim: You’re a quick learner. Hey, I gotta go–have to get back to my day job now.
1999 Jim: What do you do?
2009 Jim: I’m a blogger.
1999 Jim: A what?!