120 Minutes returns with Matt Pinfield: Remember the Blake Babies?

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May 6 2011 9:29 PM

Matt Pinfield and the Return of 120 Minutes

Everyone's cooler older brother is back spinning videos on MTV.

Still from Lady Gaga's video Bad Romance.
Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" video

As if you needed further reminding that you are over the hill and rolling down a gentle slope to your eternal grave, MTV recently announced that it was bringing back 120 Minutes. Can you believe it? The alt-rock video show—the late-night left-of-the-dial compilation that rescued so many of us from popular hits or our bad taste back in the analog days—has been gone long enough to be due for a comeback. Back in the day, the Kingpin-coiffed VJ Matt Pinfield functioned like a good friend's older brother, uncorrupting the youth by introducing Blake Babies songs in a warm rumbling baritone. Shortly, Pinfield will be hosting a monthly update on MTV2. To judge by his guests on an online micro-chat show, titled 120 Seconds, that's launched at mtvhive.com, the resurrected 120 Minutes  will devote attention to indie-minded gems of the moment—stuff by Das Racist and The Kills and so forth—with some indie-minded duds thrown in for good measure, surely. But also the site is reconstituting classic episodes from the show's glory days, from the days when you, with the sneering naivete that is the privilege of adolescents, would have scoffed at any band that allowed its music to be licensed for a Volkswagen commercial. And now, here you are, living a Passat dream yourself. But returning to the series, you feel, magically, like you're living in a teenage dream all over again—and without carrying the actual burden of teen angst!—and reliving your crush on Justine Frischmann. Here come the lo-fi alt-rock classics by the great Spike Jonze and a good hundred unknowns. And here come the nonclassic videos you've forgot you'd forgotten, which are sometimes personally touching in their earnestness, sometimes culturally significant as artifacts in their very bare competence—their art-school-frosh vocabulary of soft Surrealism and chewy Dada, their budget jumble of material from industrial films and nature documentaries, their shabby green-screen setups and white-backdrop lip syncing, their satires of suburban life more prefabricated than any Levittown split-level ... 120 Minutes  aired from 1986 to 2000, in that dread-shaded timeslot that is either the stinging tail of the weekend or the unkind welcome to the working week—midnight to 2 a.m. Monday. Surely, there were actual "adults" who participated in the festivities—and one suspects that the average 30-year-old of two decades ago was far more grown up than his contemporary analog—but if you were at the proper phase for the show to hit you in the right spot the first time around, then your viewing experience perhaps involved creeping to the set while your parents slept, rushing home from school on Monday to watch a VHS tape of the previous night's show, or stagnating on your dorm-room couch. If your date of birth marks you as a mid-Gen-Xer, then your most pungent memories of the show likely date to the hosting tenure of Dave Kendall, a blaring Brit whose style relied on semi-ironic cheese and postmodern cheek. (On a Yuletide broadcast, Kendall once matched a Santa hat with his black motorcycle jacket and told an intentional bad joke about his guest: What does Trent Reznor's mother use to hang his Christmas stocking? A 9-inch nail. Har-dee-har. Elsewhere, Kendall asked Depeche Mode's Martin Gore this $64,000 question: "Are you a miserable bastard?") If you came of age a bit later, then Pinfield was your man, and seeing him now in clips on MTV's site—sitting cross-legged on pillows talking to Björk as if it's storytime, getting buddy-buddy with Bob Mould, somehow eliciting a chuckle from Lou Reed—is likely to trigger first a Proustian reverie, then a cascade of questions. Was Beck really ever so tender? Would the culture's sense of absurdity be the same without his? Did the Internet kill this kind of video star?

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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