You know you're a polarizing figure when Courtney Love takes a liking to you.
For anyone who regularly watched MTV from 1992 to 1997 during the height of grunge and gangster rap there was no presence on the network more memorable (or more irritating) than the single-named Kennedy, she of the nerdy glasses and hair as unruly as her mouth, who was once voted most hated MTV VJ in a Rolling Stone readers' poll.
She annoyed artists and viewers alike — including Thom Yorke, Roseanne and poor Martin Landau, who schooled her on the red carpet for not knowing he was in the Mission Impossible TV show — and caused a healthy amount of trouble. But she also had a bird's eye view of alternative rock at its zenith, and got to make out with almost every one of the era's gods — who didn't wanna cup Trent Reznor's balls in the early '90s? — while the rest of us could only stare at them on our college dorm room walls. She even wrestled with a few, including Reznor and both of the fratricidal Gallagher brothers.
Now a morning time host on 98.7 FM, Kennedy revisits those years in her new memoir, The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses (from Thomas Dunne Books), a Cinderella story of a teen KROQ intern and DJ who became an MTV staple while barely in her 20s. She'll be discussing the book at Book Soup on Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m.
It's been so long since MTV got rid of music that hardly anyone cares anymore, but Kennedy's remembrances still feel like both a eulogy and love letter to its pre-Snooki era. And though calling House of Style, MTV Sports and Jenny McCarthy golden is a stretch, Kennedy's tenure at her former job marked the waning days of MTV as the singular arbiter of not only music but pop culture.
“Like sexual harassment in the workplace and two-martini lunches, VJs are the stuff of legend whose time and train have passed, but I was fortunate enough to sneak into the express and ride it through the greatest age,” she writes.
Born Lisa Kennedy Montgomery in Indianapolis, Kennedy was 18 when she was hired as a KROQ intern and then DJ by former program director Andy Schuon, who also later hired her, at 20, as a VJ on MTV, namely as host of Alternative Nation (Schuon is now helping Sean “Diddy” Combs spearhead Revolt, a new music cable network.) Over the years, she got to cover seminal moments like the 1994 version of Woodstock and sat in on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance. (Fact: The show's producers wanted the band to play an encore, but moody Kurt Cobain refused).
More famously, she interviewed bands at their douchiest (Radiohead), druggiest (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis) and most awkward (Bjork, Beck). Some interviews were epic; in the book she reveals Radiohead's Thom Yorke really was a creep and weirdo, but he seemed that way in their interview mainly because he couldn't answer a question. Later, during Radiohead's performance at the MTV Beach House, Yorke jumped into the pool and almost drowned thanks to his heavy Doc Martens. “To say we were oil and water is an insult to those innocent liquids, because they blend more beautifully than Thom and I ever could,” Kennedy writes.
“What people consider my worst interviews were kind of the best, as well, in a way, because they were so surreal, like J Mascis,” Kennedy says during a phone interview, referring to her 1993 one-on-one with the Dinosaur Jr. frontman, who was nearly catatonic and couldn't stop rolling his eyes. “You know John Lydon [aka Johnny Rotten] got so mad he ripped off his mike and walked away. That was pretty great. People would consider that disastrous. Same applies to Martin Landau. The fact that he kept coming back to lecture me, there's something poetic about it.”
Up next: the people (and microphones) she hooked up with
Then there was the time during the 1994 VMAs when she fellated her microphone while former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was being interviewed by a fellow VJ. She had to write an apology letter. She was also banned from Jon Stewart's MTV talk show for asking Rod Stewart backstage about the decades-old rumor that he once had semen pumped from his stomach.
In the book, Kennedy admits she had “snarky, needly reputation.” Getting harassed in public was routine. “We did a promo where I wore a sash and I had a bouquet of dead flowers and a tiara, and I made a speech: 'To all those Rolling Stone readers who voted me the most hated VJ, I just want to say, 'Fuck You!,' and I threw the flowers at the screen. I had to make a decision at that point how I was going to react to negativity. It's almost like when you're running in the hot son: You either complain about it and wilt or you can say to yourself, 'I'm a solar panel.'”
Still, the girl swapped a lot of spit with a lot of rock stars; yeah, even man-whore Dave Navarro counts, and perhaps not every girl got to sleep with him in a coffin. And remember the Goo Goo Dolls' “Name”? The song is about Kennedy. She also formed close friendships with Reznor, whom she occasionally shacked up while he was living in the infamous Sharon Tate house (including the day of the 1994 Northridge earthquake), as well as Dweezil Zappa and Henry Rollins, who confided in her he briefly dated Madonna — perhaps the books second biggest WTF moment.
The first? The night she made a wager playing dice with Michael Jordan in a club in 1995, a story that's gotten a lot of traction online even before the book's release. He wanted her to go back to his hotel room. She wanted Knicks tickets. Kennedy won. Little did MJ know she was a virgin at the time. (Yes, even in a hedonistic Neverland like MTV, Kennedy was not only a Republican — now libertarian, she says — but a straight-edge devotee who trained for triathlons and did not have sex until she met her future husband, former professional snowboarder Dave Lee. All that rock star canoodling was penetration free.)
“That could've meant, 'Come back and help me pack my things,'” she says of Jordan's proposition. “It could've meant 'Come back and have a club sandwich,' even though at the time I wasn't eating meat. But I think I could infer from his half of the wager that he wanted to rip my vag and tell me about his feelings.”
So what does the married mom of two young girls think of what's become of her old network?
“I'm more concerned about the girls who are pregnant at 16,” she says. “That freaks me out a little bit. But one of the reasons I don't watch MTV now is I'm 40 and that would be weird. It doesn't belong to me. That's not my generation. I had my time and I got to be a part of it. If people want to watch music videos you can go to Youtube. But it would be great if there was still music on TV that people could check out and be visually excited by an artist.”
Kennedy will be discussing her memoir at Book Soup on Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m.
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