Since it first appeared in 1986 during the heyday of MTV, people having been asking us about the video for “I Can’t Wait”. What is the meaning behind it all? Why is Valerie pulling a shark out of a coffee pot? Is the dog wearing sunglasses a part of the band?
John and I have always loved the video for I Can’t Wait. Working on it with Jim Blashfield was one of the highlights of our pop music career. Jim lives in Portland with his wife Mellisa Marsland (who also produced the video), and his daughter Hallie. We have gotten to be good friends with Jim and his family over the years. We even got to work with Jim recently on a multi media performance called Brain Chemistry For Lovers. Jim directed, edited the script, and created video for it. Over the years we’ve had a few discussions about the music business and assorted other music related topics, but because the video for ICW had always “made sense” on a non-literal level to us, John and I had never thought to ask Jim “What was that all about?”
Enter Sloan de Forest, a woman who calls herself “the Pauline Kael of classic MTV”. Sloan had a blog called “Images of Heaven: Remembering The Lost Art of Music Video”. She had decided it was time to uncover the story behind the “making of” ICW. She emailed Jim. He responded and copied us on the email. The blog no longer exists, but Jim's response does. Here it is in it's entirety:
The video came about because I was a filmmaker living in Portland and my producer Melissa Marsland and I had just finished our first video, And She Was and another for Joni Mitchell called Good Friends and our fellow Portlanders-- the Nu Shooz crew who had been having some big international dance hits-- asked us to do a video for them. I explained that I wanted to improvise it. I didn't want to plan it at all. I wanted the experience of just making it up from what was around when we got to the studio. The morning of the shoot, I loaded my kitchen table and chair and lamp into my car along with some biology slides and a coffee maker and some kind of cigar box and headed over to the stage. I rummaged around among the props there and found some canvas and some walls from a commercial and some fake cactuses. I went upstairs where the band and the crew were assembled-- we had a good and very professional crew, as you can tell from looking at the images-- and told them I would be back in 10 minutes with instructions about setting up for the first shot, about which I had no idea whatsoever. I rummaged around in people's offices and borrowed a few other items which looked promising. I went upstairs and said we were doing a video that took place in the desert and set people about creating that. It seemed like we needed something in front of the green walls so the video editor went down the street and came back with a dumpster and rigged a way to make the lid go up and down with fishing line. I recalled that my friends who were on vacation had a great looking dog house for their dog Buster and some people went there and stole it. We called up a friend with an obedient dog who would stay when asked and he brought his pooch over. Somebody else got a bunch of tools out of the trunk of their car. Now, fully prepared, with the band members doing an admirable job of hiding their apprehension, we were all set to shoot the live action! Valerie was completely along for the ride with a great sense of playfulness as her song was absolutely misinterpreted.
After the shoot the next step was a trip to Seattle to get the footage transferred and do strange things to some of it and then, for post production, a trip to the thrift store and the corner grocery, returning with every other little gadget and doo-dah you see on the screen. The video editor was Mike Quinn who subsequently did the high-degree-of-difficulty video editing for my videos for Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and others. During editing I called my friend Roger Kukes, the animator, and asked him if I could use part of his animated film Up for the ending of the video where Valerie Day opens the little box and all the wiggly images come out, revealing all knowledge known to humankind. I recall that the opening scene with the Banana and souvenir totem pole dropping onto a piece of metal with holes in it took about 8 hours to composite and was completed while I slept on the couch in the editing room. The scene where the image of the dog watching the golf ballish thing swings in and unceremoniously lands on Valerie's head-- and where it remains for longer than might be considered, strictly speaking, necessary-- is there because it made me laugh when we tried it in post and was left in because nobody said I couldn't. We had a take in which the guy with the smoke machine walks through in the background waving it around while Valerie is singing, but I left that out, due to some conservative impulse on my part, which I regret.
When they saw the video the record company called it "unusual", or perhaps "quite unusual" or maybe "very unusual" or possible some other less neutral phrase that I have repressed. So what is it? Besides being a promo for a band and a song, it is an experiment to see what results when you take a line from the video "tell me what it's all about" and decide that Valerie is a some kind of a scientist with an interest in small appliance repair instead of somebody waiting, lovesick, for a phone call, and let everything follow logically from that. If viewers look closely they may notice that happiness seems to be represented as a shark found lurking in a coffee pot, a metaphor which is certainly worth considering, if you ask me.
This being Portland and Nu Shooz being Nu Shooz and me being something of a troublemaker with a perhaps overdeveloped allegiance to the ordinary, the Portland MTV video premiere party was held in a truck-stop cafe and bar up the street. The local news sent a mobile truck to broadcast the glamorous event live.
By the way, and not incidentally, Valerie Day and John Smith, the Nu Shooz core, are fabulous and very versatile musicians and have a new CD out, Pandora's Box, that is exquisitely produced, hypnotically beautiful and completely different from the zillion seller Poolside, of which I Can't Wait was a part.I didn't have in mind to promote their CD when I began this fascinating run-on mind-evacuation, but, since I'm talking about it... http://store.nushoozmusic.com/
So hey, thanks for your interest, Sloan. I agree that some pretty interesting work was made during that period and am aware that my co-conspiritors and I were a behind a few of the more interesting ones. That was our intention. To do stuff that bent the expected trajectory or looked deeper or cast light and attention on subjects, images and ways of seeing things that were often overlooked. Thanks for appreciating that!
I must go now and milk the swan.
Reading Jim’s account of how the video came together made us appreciate him even more than we already do. And what a blast to have his version of the making of! He’s a master at using images to explore that theme park of the mind – the unconscious – and give us all a great time while doing it.
Thought I’d share it with you.