How Billy Squier and MTV Saved Christmas
A 1980s Christmas
Sometimes magic finds you when you're least looking for it. It strolls in, ridiculous hair and Christmas sweater leading the way. It makes you feel better about your current fashion style and musical tastes, yet it warms your heart with memories of simpler times. A time when MTV was just a rebel upstart and actually played videos. When Rock-em Sock-em Robots were in vogue and your dad had a mustache that society accepted as stylish.
There was a time not to long ago when Christmas was no longer a time of the year I looked forward to. Sometimes fate places impossible tests in your path and sometimes they happen to fall in December. You lose things. Loved ones disappear from your life. Whatever joy Christmas once held becomes mired in painful memories and bleak outlooks.
As a child of the 80s I was an irrepressible Billy Squier fan. I had no clue what "The Stroke" was about, but at the time it seemed the pinnacle of cool. I vaguely remembering thinking Billy's video for "Rock Me Tonight" was a departure from character. I saw the nimble dancing atop a bed, pink tank top as chosen uniform as a shocking change from the hard rockin' Billy I looked up to. We parted ways. I moved on to punk and Billy, well Billy Squier faded away, a distant guitar riff occasionally heard amongst the shadowy sounds of soft rock radio stations.
Enter Billy and the MTV Chorus
MTV had only been around since August of 1981 and it was instantly something the young generation could claim as their own. There were options beyond watching 60 minutes with your parents now. There was a place where you could feel like you were understood. There were new friends to spend time with. Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and J. J. Jackson were the best hosts a party could hope for (RIP J.J., who I just read died in 2004) At least a party that 10 year olds were invited to attend. I had a crush on Martha Quinn that I'm almost positive ushered me through the hallowed halls of puberty. From August of 1981 on the music video became a part of our lives. Van Halen, The Police, Michael Jackson, The Cars, Prince, Duran Duran... the list was long and colorful. Billy was there and he had something special in mind for the holidays.
Billy wrote a heartfelt, rollicking original Christmas song. "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You" was mine. It wasn't my father's Sinatra or my mother's Brenda Lee. I had my own personal Christmas anthem. The studio version was good, but when Christmas1981 rolled around and MTV assembled a chorus with Billy as the bandleader there was holiday history ripe for the picking. I still remember placing my tape recorder next to the television in an effort to own the magic. The resulting recording was a static mess, but that didn't stop me from playing it until the tape became a meal for my tape deck, no hope of a pencil winding its guts back inside.
Thanks to the vast wonders of Youtube, I found the video footage recently. It's the same party I remember, the crazy dancing, the awful sweaters, the numerous mullets, bulbous afros and tortoise shell eyeglasses. When that crazed, square bellied Santa lets herself go, I still laughed like it was 1981 all over again. The whole gang was there and I felt like I was home again, trying to stave of my father's smiling requests to turn down that awful Christmas song.
About seven years ago, after I lost my father to cancer at Christmas I was done. The holidays were no longer joyful. Over the years I've warmed up to it, I smiled occasionally, maybe trimmed a tree if I feel up to it. But it took Billy Squier and the MTV chorus to remind me what was important about the holiday season. It is about those you love, remembering those you lost. The giving, the receiving is what takes center stage. The commercialization of Christmas has shifted the spotlight from what matters. The give and take is ensconced in plastic, well lit with electronics, when it should be simple, organic. A hug, a smile, a kind word. A quiet time to say I love you.
Billy would want it that way.