Countless spermatozoa are wiggling across the MTV screen. A caption appears: RIGHT NOW, people are having unprotected sex. Moments later the frame is filled by a slowly turning metal screw, as we read: RIGHT NOW, justice is being perverted in a court of law. Guitars grind, drums pound, and the camera’s eye sweeps through a door onto a residential street. Coarse block letters flash across the scene: RIGHT NOW…you could be…OUTSIDE.
Well, yeah, but if you were you’d be missing the other 51 observations served up in a pulsing, playful, and profoundly political salsa cruda of type and image called ”Right Now,” which has become one of the most requested videos on MTV. Surprisingly, this arty clip, in which the band that made it barely appears, comes from a veteran hard-rock outfit whose previous videos were generally little more than safe, wall-to-wall performance footage: Van Halen.
Why did the group risk change? ”Well, believe it or not, this band does have more than one dimension to it,” drummer Alex Van Halen says with a laugh. The song is a punchy, drum-driven one-step program for personal transformation: ”Don’t wanna wait ’til tomorrow/Why put it off another day/ Catch your magic moment/Do it right here and now.” Given this ”Just Do It” concept, Warner Bros. Records chose adman Mark Fenske (he thought up Nike’s classic dog’s-eye-view jogging-shoe spot) to direct his first music video. ”I didn’t try to do this as an ad,” says Fenske. ”The best advertising doesn’t try to sell you either. We didn’t need to see another band singing to us.”
Instead, the 54 aphorisms refract the song’s chorus into a thousand points of view. RIGHT NOW, nothing is more expensive than regret (over the image of a condom). RIGHT NOW, your parents miss you (over film of Fenske’s mother: ”She works in a high school,” he says. ‘Now kids ask for her autograph”).
”You couldn’t make everything heavy,” says Fenske. And even heavy thoughts could be illustrated lightly. For RIGHT NOW, our government is doing things we think only other countries do, says Alex, ”rather than hitting you over the head with some image of carnage, Mark used a cartoon. He didn’t become heavy- handed. You mention poverty, you’re guaranteed that 50 percent of people will say, ‘Aaah, I don’t wanna hear about this s—.”’
Unlike many major-artist ”message” videos, ”Right Now” takes stands. More important, it does so in a way that invites conversation, rather than simple conversion. ”It stimulates you to think,” says Alex Van Halen. ”It doesn’t really make any decisions for you.” Right now, more videos should make us think like that.