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My Trip Back in Time with Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-04-30


When I was growing up, there were two shows on MTV that I almost never missed (this was back when MTV actually showed videos). Those two shows were Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes, and I’d like to take this week’s article to talk to you a bit about why those programs were so special to me (and, I suspect, a few others of you out there.)

First up is the Headbanger’s Ball. When I was a kid, metal was the first style of music that I embraced as an entire genre. I still remember being a kid, walking around my neighborhood with my brother, listening to Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry on the boom box I got for one year for my birthday. God, we were dorks back then. Anyway, my point is that I was already a die-hard metalhead by the time I discovered the Headbanger’s Ball, around age 13 or so. At this time, Riki Rachtman had not yet taken over as host, and Adam Curry was the one who filled my Saturday nights with sounds and images that made my mother wonder if I spent my evenings torturing cats (for the record, I did not).

Before the Ball, I was mostly held to radio-friendly metal, but I was also familiar with Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, thanks to my cousin Wes, and, of course, Iron Maiden (still my favorite metal act of all time). Everything changed the first time a saw that show. Now, my memory may be a bit hazy on this subject, but I distinctly remember the first video I ever saw on Headbanger’s Ball being the full-length version of “One,” by Metallica . . . and it scared the living bejesus out of me. I remember being haunted by those black-and-white images of the armless, legless, faceless soldier laying in that bed panicking over his condition. Needless to say, I was hooked.
The only time I missed the Headbanger’s Ball after that was when I went to midnight movies to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show (hey, I already told you I was a dork), and because of that I learned about bands like Slayer, Pantera, Morbid Angel, Anthrax, Testament, and about a thousand others. That show became like homework to me, watching and waiting for a new band to be shown so I could go out the next day and spend my lunch money for the next week on music.

I also remember feeling a little cheated when Riki Rachtman took over hosting the Ball. It was like they took the lost fifth member of Motley Crue, took a little of the makeup off of him and made him pretend that he liked “real” metal. I was convinced he was a poser, sent by corporate goons who didn’t know a thing about what metal really was. I didn’t know it at the time, but I suppose I felt patronized by MTV.

Anyway, that was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Headbanger’s Ball. I held on for a couple more years, always on the lookout for the new metal hero, but times were changing, along with my hormone levels (puberty can be problematic at times), and I soon latched on to my next love, which was 120 Minutes.

Back before words like “alternative” and “indie” permeated the mainstream, we had college rock, and with that came Sunday evenings with 120 Minutes. This show did more for me than even Headbanger’s Ball did. Having grown up in a town without a big college, there was, of course, no college radio station. So I turned to 120 Minutes to open me up to other kinds of underground music.

Aside from introducing me to some of my most beloved bands ever, such as Morphine, Bad Religion, The Afghan Whigs and Sunny Day Real Estate, one of the great things about that show was all of the guest hosts they had on. I still remember watching the week and Greg Dulli from The Afghan Whigs hosted, and I thought it was so strange and funny how, no matter what a band’s name was, he always put “the” before it. Seriously, when he introduced a video as being from “The Hole,” I nearly peed my way-too-baggy, torn up jeans. Then there was the time Shannon Hoon from Blind Melon hosted. This was just a few months before his death from an overdose, and, if you were watching 120 Minutes that week, you knew it was coming. I just remember it being almost too sad to watch. He was so screwed up on crack, meth, or whatever upper he was taking at the time, that he could barely talk. That night, they also showed the video for “Galaxie,” from the album Soup, and he was just as bad in that. If you only saw the video, you might suspect that he was just hamming it up for the camera. But, when it ended, and he was writhing around the 120 Minutes set, his eyes so dilated you’d swear they were black, it was pretty easy to tell the guy was in trouble.

Anyway, enough of that sad stuff. If 120 Minutes did one thing for me as a teenager in the 90’s (and I understand that it is a cliche to say this), it showed me that I was not the only wierdo out there who couldn’t get a date to save his soul. Those Sunday nights were populated with the greatest collection of like-minded outcasts and nutballs since Young Frankenstein, and every weekend felt like home to me.

Thanks for reading my trip down memory lane, and I hope I sparked fond memories in some of you out there. With the advent of iTunes, allmusic.com, myspace, pitchfork, and all of the other online sites, finding new music just doesn’t seem as special as it did when I used to sit for hours, watching and waiting for a new band to blow my mind. See you guys next time.

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