When a barely 20-year-old Lisa Montgomery arrived at MTV in 1992, big hair bands were falling out, Seattle grunge groups were bursting in and presidential politics was becoming cool.
It was the height of the music video era and the bespectacled high school dropout from Oregon landed just as the wave was about to crest.
For the next half decade of debauchery, that virginal veejay who had dropped her first and last name in favor of her moniker in the middle – Kennedy – rode uncomfortable questions, oversized glasses and men’s pajama pants to basic cable fame.
You can read the semi-sordid details, if you must, in “The Kennedy Chronicles,” a snapshot of the people she met and the music and musicians she loved during the second incarnation of the Naughty ’90s.
(A better title would have been “The Rock Stars I Almost Lost My Virginity To,” a who’s who of guitar heroes – including Buffalo’s own Johnny Rzeznik - that is the book’s recurring theme. The dangling preposition can’t be what prevented this title from happening; whoever edited this tome missed a host of grammatical issues – including “might of” instead of might’ve - that “should of” earned it a jacket warning to keep it away from English teachers and newspaper nerds. Anyway …)
Kennedy earned her street cred by saying the things other people wouldn’t say in polite company, even if it made for cringe-worthy moments and she reveled in her honesty. I’ll return the favor and say this honestly: This is not a good book. It is a collection of anecdotes told by a fangirl who at once could not believe her good fortune and was never comfortable with the fame and star access being on MTV afforded her. It has its moments; it has a couple of fascinating stories that only she and one other person involved can say are true – Putting her virginity on the line against Michael Jordan in a dice game anyone? - but the name dropping and the whole “look at me” vibe in the book make for a painful and occasionally boring mix.
The Kennedy story is a chapter, maybe, in the history of MTV. There’s not enough there there to make it on its own.
The M still stood for Music with a capital M when Kennedy was unleashed on MTV. It also could have stood for Monster, because everyone who cared about or loved music had to have their MTV and the still growing network was basking in the revenue that came from being the one and only readily available source for music videos.
“… MTV was a wonderland of musical genres where hip-hop, metal and a burgeoning alternative rock scene mingled like shallots and fresh basil in a bubbling, cultural stew,” is how she describes it.
The Kennedy that is chronicled here arrives almost fully formed as an intern, producer and disc jockey at a Los Angeles radio station. Her antics caught the ear of an MTV exec who decided to give the kid a shot at the big time. (Her childhood in Indiana and Oregon is referenced only fleetingly. Maybe she’s saving it for the prequel.)
If you remember the MTV of that era, it’s easy to understand why someone would green-light a book about Kennedy by Kennedy. She didn’t look the part. She wasn’t rock-star cool like Adam Curry, didn’t come off as bookish and above the fray like Tabitha Soren, didn’t have the gravitas of John Norris or Kurt Loder, was not funny a la Jon Stewart or Adam Sandler and wasn’t a foul-mouthed hottie like Jenny McCarthy.
You get the idea. And not fitting the mold that was part of her schtick. She asked the questions people were either too smart or too scared to ask – including a disturbing incident with Rod Stewart that she likes so much she retells it three times – and did the things that probably should have gotten her fired – including a sexual pantomime she performed with a microphone while standing with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the 1994 Video Music Awards. (Take that, Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus.) It’s no shock to learn that one of her broadcasting heroes is Howard Stern.
If there was one lesson she learned from the King of All Media, it was that honesty was the best policy. That was part of the reason she wore her virginity like a badge of honor and maintained it through a series of everything-but-intercourse sessions with a litany of stars that included Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Dave Navarro of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Buffalo’s own Johnny Goo himself.
According to Kennedy, her secret dalliance with the then-married lead singer and frontman of the Goo Goo Dolls led to one of the group’s most well-known songs, the 1995 mega-hit “Name.” To Kennedy, the lyrics hit a little to close to home: “Did you lose yourself somewhere out there? Did you get to be a star?” And then “You could hide beside me/ Maybe for a while. And I won’t tell no one your name.”
She writes: “When I asked him about it he indeed admitted the inspiration and told me there was no way all we’d shared wasn’t going to show up in his writing.”
If the lyrics are not proof enough that one of the Goos’ greatest hits was not an ode to an MTV veejay, she cites some proof: “He thanked me on the record. Right there, plain as day in the credits, he thanks ‘Lisa Montgomery.’ ”
So the girl who we know by her middle name is the girl we all know from “Name.” Now that’s interesting. If only the same could be said for the rest of this book.
The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses
St. Martin’s Press, 337 pages
Bruce Andriatch is The News ‘Deputy Managing Editor for Features.