August 1

1981 — First US broadcast of MTV (Music Television)


Shredd Simmons remembered when he and his bandmates recorded the video for “War Zone.” The director took them to a town outside L.A., where they’d closed off a long straight street in the small downtown area.  It was Sunday, so most of the businesses were closed.  The production crew placed two industrial fans to simulate strong winds, while the production assistant tossed newspapers to simulate a trash-strewn post-apocalyptic chaos.

“Doesn’t look much like the world’s ended.”  Dusty was always the pessimist.  As singer, he insisted he was the face of the band — and thus should have creative control of costume and set designs, album covers, and all aspects of a video shoot.  He never actually contributed any ideas, but felt free to criticize everybody else’s.

“We’ll fix all that in post-production,” the director explained.  He flipped through pages of his clipboard to show parts of the storyboard sequence:  alternating shots of live concert footage, and the location footage we were to work on that day.  “The buildings on either side of the street will be replaced with special effects.  Fire and ruins, and a dark cloud over the sky to match the tone of your song.”

“I love the tank,” Skinns said, pointing to the artist’s sketch of a massive battletank rolling down Main Street, the singer straddling the gun barrel with guitarists flanking on either side above the treads.  The drum kit balanced on the turret, with Skinns pounding away at the beat.

“We, uh, couldn’t get the tank,” the director had said.  “I’ve got an idea that will work just as well.”  He pointed to a parked vehicle that everybody thought belonged to somebody in the camera crew.  It probably did.

So Shredd and the rest of End Times mimed along with a boombox recording of their “War Zone” single, standing in the back of an open-bed pickup truck as it drove up and down the same stretch of road for several hours in hot California sun.

They did the best they could.  Shredd threw shapes and grimaced at the camera, his fingers moving up and down the fretboard in a vague approximation of the solo.  Their singer, Dusty, seemed to fare better than the rest of the group — his long straight hair, at least, blew dramatically in the manufactured wind.

Poor Skinns had to settle for tapping his drumsticks against the rusted roof of the truck, smiling as if he was actually killing the beat on his full-size kit.  It was the fakest smile Shredd had ever seen, and he knew the guy was disappointed.

They were all disappointed when they saw the finished video.  Things had not really been “fixed in post.”  A transparent flame effect had been superimposed over the buildings in a few long shots.  In the close ups of grimacing band members, the same buildings could be seen clear and undamaged in the background.

The industrial fans were visible in a few shots…and the production assistant had a cameo, too, tossing a few newspapers into the empty street.

It was so bad, the band didn’t want the video to air — but they’d already booked a promo spot on MetalHeadz Hour, and their record label convinced them to follow through with it.

They felt like a laughing stock, but hoped the integrity of their music and the intensity of their live shows would make up for it.

Then grunge music came hot out of Seattle, and nobody seemed to care about Metal anymore.

Record sales plummeted.  People stopped coming to their live gigs.

That.  That was the end of the world, if anybody had asked Shredd at the time.

But now, the real “War Zone” was coming to pass.  The band had lost all their money on that last failed record and tour.  Shredd moved to a town outside L.A., got a one-room flat above a shop, on a street very much like the sad stretch they’d used for their pathetic final music video.

This time, nearby buildings were burning for real.  Rocket shells lit up the sky, and an awful rumble of machinery shook the road below.

He imagined a tank rolling down his street.  Shredd wanted to get his old Les Paul sunburst and race outside, climb onto the hull and stand proud, wailing his guitar against the flaming night.  Skinns would be happy this time, pounding machine-gun beats against the gun turret, while their bass player thumbed the same note over and over, and Dusty’s hair blew wild in apocalypse wind.

He never made it out the door…