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120 Minutes

The other day, I found a VHS tape labeled "120 Minutes" in a box in my attic. In order to play the tape, I had to set up my VCR, which was buried on the floor of my den under a stack of DVDs. When I put the tape in, it revealed a part of my high-school years that I had nearly forgotten: the year wherein I'd set up my family's VCR to record MTV's Sunday-night alternative video program.

My obsessive recording of radio and TV programs began in elementary school. On Saturday mornings, I would sit on my bedroom floor next to a boom box, a blank tape inside the player poised to record Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40. It was tricky to capture the song without the DJ's long-winded intro. Usually, Dees would talk over the first few seconds of the tune, so you had to sit there with your finger on the pause button waiting for the exact right moment to let go — after the exposition but before the singing began. And then you had to be there for the end of the song — also, inevitably, interrupted by chatter. In order to achieve perfection, the entire process of recording the show required constant attention.

The next week, the ritual would be repeated. I would either add on to or record over that tape, update it with newer tunes, or try for a better (less DJ-polluted) version of a previously recorded favorite. I was fickle and catholic in my taste. The songs on the tapes varied from hair metal, like Cinderella or Ratt, to solo Phil Collins and Huey Lewis and the News. There were Squeeze songs, tales of love as sung by the mulleted Richard Marx, and pop courtesy of Martika and Tiffany. The result was a commercial-free mix tape that played like a diary of that week's hit songs — albeit with abrupt and jolting endings to each musical sentence.

But it was 120 Minutes that opened up my world. The host at the time, Dave Kendall, might have been my first "friend" from across the pond. Taken with his dyed black hair and soft demeanor — his hands either overly expressive or tucked away behind his back, his hips swaying when he spoke as if he were somewhat awkwardly giving a report in front of a class — I hung on his every accented word.

I didn't love all the videos, though out of dedication to Dave — and with that teenage doubt that makes you question your own taste — I certainly tried. But in the end, I would usually fast-forward through bands like Catherine Wheel and Inspiral Carpets.

If it weren't for 120 Minutes, I would never have heard The Stone Roses or the handful of other British bands following a still-extant tradition of U.K. artists whose music never arrives with the same force (if it arrives at all) on these shores. My affection for The Stone Roses — which began with a wall-sized poster of them on my bedroom wall and culminated in London a few years ago when I saw the drummer, Reni, in a kabob shop and almost tripped over myself — still exists as a separate entity compared to the other music I was listening to at that time in my life. Perhaps this is due to the fact that 120 Minutes was itself an island — rarely communicating or crossing over with the rest of MTV or even radio. The insularity of 120 Minutes, of course, was why it was so crucial and influential.

Here are a few videos I watched (and recorded) in those days.

Stone Roses, "Waterfall"

Stone Roses, "Elephant Stone"

The Charlatans, "The Only One I Know"

Kate Bush, "Wuthering Heights"

Psychedelic Furs, "Love My Way"

XTC, "Senses Working Overtime"

The Primitives, "Crash"

The Sundays, "Here's Where the Story Ends"

And check out Soul Asylum's "Cartoon."