Our manager told us about this new television network that was about to launch, a 24-hour network that was going to play nothing but music videos. They were gonna call it…
MTV. Music Television.
He played us a few videos that were scheduled for rotation, and asked us if we could do a couple like that. We, the boys in the band, looked at each other and told him, ”Yes, we can.”
But we didn’t have a lot of time. The launch of MTV was about to happen.
Our manager was Carl Griffin (Griff), the same guy who signed me to Motown. Our band was BootCamp. We had just released a 7” vinyl single with two songs, “Hold On to the Night” and “I’m A Victim.” It was doing really well.
We had no idea how to make a music video. We didn’t even know what a music video was until Griff showed us the MTV demo reel. But we knew a guy who worked as a cameraman for the local TV station. He worked in the news van, doing live remotes.
We called him. He told us he could “borrow” the cameras and stuff from the TV station, but it had to be after hours. My guess is that he was gonna borrow this stuff without asking, because he asked us to keep it on the down-low. The hush-hush.
The first video we shot was for the song “Hold on to the Night.” I wanted to shoot the video at night (clever!) on The Block, which is a two-block section of Baltimore Street in downtown Baltimore that has strip clubs, adult bookstores and peep shows. And a hot dog place called Pollack Johnny’s.
But how were we gonna get Baltimore Street closed down in the middle of the night, when all the action was going on?
I called the Baltimore Police Department. I told them we were shooting a movie with Ben Vereen. It was the first name that came to mind. To my surprise, the BPD agreed to shut down the street. Ben Vereen is an actor and singer, he was pretty popular in Baltimore, had done a bunch of shows there. So the Baltimore Police Department put out the order to close Baltimore Street for a few hours for a movie shoot for Ben Vereen.
We showed up with our TV cameraman, and a couple of guitars, and…we had no idea what to do. We had no script. We had no Ben Vereen. We had a boombox and an empty street. It started to drizzle…so we pressed “record” and started rolling. In the rain.
Action! We did take after take. The drizzle worked in our favor—it made the street look shiny and cool. The camera guy was really creative. He did takes where he was lying on the wet ground with the camera looking up. He swooped and swerved and shot some crazy footage.
Hit Man Howie Z started banging his drumsticks on the side of a trashcan. Some garbage got stuck on one of his sticks, and crap started flying everywhere. The cameraman was getting it all, but if he had panned out, you would have seen a sergeant with the BPD standing next to Howie, yelling at him…
“You better clean up all that s**t when you’re done, son!”
We did some more takes, and…
Maybe the cops finally figured out that this wasn’t a Ben Vereen movie, or maybe the strippers were complaining about us driving away the customers, but the police put a halt to the filming. They took down the barricades, and traffic started flowing slowly down Baltimore Street again.
We left without having any idea if what we shot was good, bad or ugly.
It’s a wrap! One down. One to go.
A friend of mine had just finished working on an Al Pacino movie that was shot in Baltimore, And Justice for All. The filmmakers had used an old courthouse and the old Baltimore City jail for the movie, and the sets were just sitting there vacant, waiting to be torn down.
All the props and the furniture had been left behind, completely intact. It would be perfect for the “I’m a Victim” video.
Once again, we had to do it all on the hush-hush. We didn’t really have permission to use the vacant And Justice for All set. We just showed up on the sly and started shooting. Our camera guy had “borrowed” the gear from the TV station once again, and we all sneaked into the courthouse and the jail, and commenced with the craziness.
For the “I’m A Victim” video, we actually had a vague idea of what we wanted to do. I was going to be a lawyer. Hit Man Howie Z (BootCamp drummer Howard Zizzi) would be the guy on trial, Rob Roberts (Bob Fallin, guitar) was the judge, and Tom Alonso (keyboards) was the stenographer.
There wasn’t a real story. It was just us, in a courtroom, clowning around, with our assorted friends as jurors and observers.
We just started filming and improvising. The camera guy was shooting everything, trying to get as much footage as possible in the little time we had. We had one camera, that’s it. We didn’t have any microphones, or audio. We just sang along with a battery-powered boombox. We didn’t have any lighting. We didn’t have any assistants or stylists or producers or directors telling us what to do, where to go or what to wear.
At one point, we were filming in a jail cell, and the door accidentally slammed shut with a CLANG! I was locked inside and they couldn’t get the door back open. It freaked me out a bit. I have recurring nightmares about being in prison.
We were making it all up as we went along. I was just hoping the real cops wouldn’t bust in, and bust us for trespassing and send us to a real jail.
We wrapped up—no sense in pressing our luck. Once again, we left the shoot with no idea if what we shot was any good.
The cameraman edited both videos on his own. He snuck into the editing suite at the local TV station, and “borrowed” a few hours at a time. He eventually cut all the footage together. He showed us the two videos.
They had a certain charm, for sure. Maybe the cinematography wasn’t gonna win an Oscar, and our acting wasn’t gonna keep Robert DeNiro up at night worrying about us stealing his next acting job, but the videos had a unique down-home allure.
Griff sent them to MTV. We, the BootCamp Boys, didn’t think much about it after that. We had no idea how big MTV would be.
When the network launched, MTV included the two BootCamp videos. They were two of the first 100 videos MTV ever played. They put us in regular rotation. MTV caught fire. We started getting calls…labels, agents, producers.
It was an exciting time. I gotta give it to the camera guy. His name is Kurt Kolaja. He did a great job doing everything, from shooting to editing.
MTV took off. So did BootCamp. We were in for a crazy ride…
Asparagus with Parmigiano
I like to use thin asparagus—the size of a pencil. They’re more tender and tastier than the big boys.
So try to find asparagus that’s not the size of a tree trunk. As a general rule, the larger the vegetable, the tougher it is.
If the asparagus are really thick, you’ll have to peel the skin off the outer stalks.
This dish should serve four people, depending on the people. Members of my family eat like horses. That’s why I feed them in the barn.
1 pound thin asparagus
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper
¼ cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus a little more for sprinkling
Here we go…
Rinse off your asparagus and pat dry with paper towels.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
You need to break off the bottom ends of the asparagus. Grab an asparagus spear. Grab one end with your thumb and forefinger, and the other end with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand, and bend until it snaps. Discard the bottom end.
Do this to all the asparagus. Rinse well, pat dry with paper towels.
Put them in a glass or ceramic baking dish.
Drizzle with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons.
Mix them up; make sure each spear is coated.
Add some kosher salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.
Mix them up again.
Put the dish in the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes. Check the asparagus, make sure they’re done. If they ain’t, put ‘em back in for 5 minutes. They should be firm, but not crunchy.
Take the dish out of the oven, sprinkle the asparagus with the grated cheese.
Set the oven to broil. Put the dish back in the oven for A MINUTE OR TWO! Keep an eye on these guys!
When you see the Parmigiano start to brown, take the baking dish out of the oven, try an asparagus spear, make sure it’s done, and dish it up!
This dish goes well with Slim chicken Marsala, or chicken Milanese, or lemon chicken.