Merle Ginsburg: Marquee Moon

Early MTV was a corporate exercise launched by Big Radio guys with Big Banking money. Still, its hallways were teeming with young artists, writers, rebels, and punks like Music and Fashion Writer and Editor turned RuPaul’s Drag Race co-star, Merle Ginsberg.

“My parents were very, very normal, good, hard-working people who watched sitcoms at night,” Merle says. “I would sit there and think ‘These shows are so hideous!’ And I thought, ‘I’m going to find another world that’s the opposite of this.”

“That was black and white,” she says. “My world was color.”

And then she discovered psychedelics.

“You heard the Beatles first,” she says. “A then you heard Dark Side of the Moon. I was reading all this Huxley. And it all affected me so much from a very early age.”

Marquee Moon made the biggest impression,” she says. “Because Tom Verlaine was obviously writing it when he was high on acid. And it sounded like it.”

Merle cycled through a number of career ambitions: puppeteer, actress, and playwright, before resolving to write.

“The safer bet for me, because I love literature, was to go to graduate school in literature, get a master’s or a doctorate, and disappear into that, you know, magical world.”

Merle disappeared into the magical, thriving subcultures around New York University, taking in Avant-garde performances by a young Willem Dafoe at The Garage, and R.E.M. at Mudd Club. She began covering Twyla Tharp, Eric Bagosian, Steve Reich and Philip Glass for The Villager, and then Soho News.

“Danceteria, Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge played music videos,” she remembers. “So you’re dancing, and figuring out how to dance to this music, by watching the bands and the dancers in the videos.”

When Soho News folded, Merle called an old friend Uptown, and began writing news segments for a brand-new channel of nothing but those videos: MTV.

“Somehow I always wound up in the right place.”

Listen to You Hear It First: An Unofficial & Uncensored History of MTV News on Apple or Spotify now.

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