If you've had basic cable access over the past few decades, you know the voice and face of John Norris. The MTV News anchor has been a staple at the network--delivering up-to-the-minute music news, interviewing every bold-faced name in the book, and even helping to bring politics into the mix (Choose or Lose, anyone?). Being one of the only familiar faces left there, rumors of his lay-off from MTV served as another death rattle for the network, maybe even the final nail in the coffin. Norris has continued to keep up with the music scene, and has often been spotted at McCarren Pool, Todd P shows, and talking to the up-and-comers of a new generation of music. This week he told us a little bit about what his life has been like up to now.
How did you get involved with MTV? An internship while I was at NYU turned into a writing job at MTV News. Judy McGrath was an early champion of mine and I thank her to this day for it. I worked as a writer in the news department, and not on camera, for several years before they offered me a gig as Kurt Loder's 'alternate'.
What's your most memorable experience from working there? That's incredibly tough to say. Half a lifetime of great experiences. I often tell people that the single most memorable concert experience was one of my earliest big trips - the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in London. Just amazing. And all of the MTV 'pro-social' initiatives over the years - campaigns against gun violence and to promote diversity and sexual health - I was proud to be a part of.
Is there anything that didn't air that you wish did? Back when we used to have hourly news breaks and shot the news down in the studio every evening, they would roll tape on everything - in between segment banter, bitching, you name it. Surely some of that exists somewhere. It would be wildly entertaining.
What was a regular day like for you at MTV News? Writing, editing scripts, field shoots, lots of interviews, lots of voice overs, and more recently, writing for the MTV Newsroom blog. This past year I also have had a more indie-oriented interview series on Rhapsody, in conjunction with MTV News.
How do you feel about how the network has changed? Well I came there for the "M". So you tell me how I feel about how the network has changed. On the other hand, adding another voice to that chorus is pointless. Whining about no music on MTV is about as effective as complaining about gravity. They have evolved into something that undeniably works for them. Que sera, sera.
Is there anything you'd still like to accomplish? Lots. To rededicate myself to the business of covering music - and if I have, as people tell me I do, 'brand' value - to use that brand to help bring attention to new music. And of course, to play a part in reducing the consumption and exploitation of animals the world over. Animals are not property. Oh, also I told Katie Erbe the other day that I want a "Law and Order" guest spot.
Do you keep up with the music blogs? Which do you read regularly, and have you considered starting your own? My bookmarks toolbar features the usual suspects: Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, Idolator, A.V. Club, Paste, Largehearted Boy and of course the 'Fork. I also like Sasha Frere Jones' blog. I have surely thought of starting my own - but would want to do something different. In what way different, that's tbd.
What are some of the current bands you're listening to? Crystal Stilts, Japanese Motors, Max Tundra. For about six months now I have been loving the Parenthetical Girls latest record. I think Zac Pennington is a really unique talent. And I am quite excited by the new Animal Collective record and (particularly the second half of) Beirut's new 'double EP'.
What bands do you miss from the old days? The Wipers, Nirvana, Hole, and that master provocateur, Marilyn Manson. The Hole/ Manson tour of '99 was one of the most beautiful implosions I have ever witnessed first hand. Also Neutral Milk Hotel. If everyone from MBV to NKOTB can suck it up and reunite, why not NMH?
Are you more excited about the current state of music than that of the 80s or 90s? In a word, yes. Artistic merit aside, I am more excited about current music precisely because it is current. I want to hear 'Loveless' every once in a while, and I think the 'Don't Look Back' concert series is great. But in general, I no more want a steady diet of 10 or 15-year old music than I want to watch only 15-year old movies.
Which New Yorker do you most admire? Harvey Milk (you didn't say LIVING New Yorker). A true profile in courage.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? Snowier winters like we used to have; more door holding; better tipping; more free soy milk everywhere; less Red Sox gear on the streets. I mean, seriously? We get it, you hate the Yankees. See how much you hate em with CC, AJ, and Teixeira. Now, please move back to NE.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? None. OK maybe there's been those moments walking on the Ile Saint-Louis in my second favorite city....but nah, no way.
What's your favorite vegetarian/vegan place to eat in NYC? Now we're talking. A great new one in my neighborhood, Dirt Candy, on E 9th St. Also Counter, the old standby Kate's Joint, Gobo, and Candle Café, although I am rarely up there.
Best venue to see music. Death By Audio, (Le) Poisson Rouge, Bowery Ballroom, Studio B, Avery Fisher Hall.