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If 90’s MTV VJ “Kennedy” had access to the Internet or social media two decades ago when she was the trouble-making voice of alternative culture, oh, the photos she would have Instagrammed and the scoops she could have tweeted.
“Kennedy,” whose full name is Lisa Montgomery Kennedy, was in a unique position at MTV, then a cutting-edge music channel where all of pop culture converged. When she was a VJ from 1992-1997 there was no social media or celebrity gossip sites, Americans relied on MTV and its young on-air personalities to be in the know regarding everything: music, television, movies, big stars, and even politics. To watch them was to be amongst the cool kids.
“There was never a greater collision of culture and media,” Kennedy writes of that era in her new tell-all memoir, “The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Years of MTV Through Rose Colored Glasses.” “Being yourself on TV was different than playing a character or even now being a reality star.”
For Kennedy, being “herself” meant a confronting Rod Stewart in his dressing room about a major sex scandal. Something that would have been infinitely Vine-able, Tweetable, and more.
We might have, for example, seen video of Stewart’s reaction to Kennedy’s intrusion in his dressing room. “That old story?” she recalled him saying, “That was started by a roadie who was mad about getting fired. It’s one of those things that’s so outrageous that it stuck.”
To Kennedy, his response seemed rather easygoing—until the rock star blabbed to his now ex-wife Rachel Hunter who, in turn, went ballistic all the way to the top of MTV brass and the young VJ almost lost her job.
In fact, the threat of unemployment loomed large during Kennedy’s five years at MTV, she said, but never more than the time she performed mock fellatio on a microphone while standing on a stage next to then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and in front of all of MTV’s higher-ups.
Now 40 and a happily married mother of two, Kennedy said she had no idea how she came off as the channel’s only virgin, Republican, potty mouth.
“It’s so funny because I thought I was nice and fun,” she said. “I really did. I had such a warped self-image. And I really think America thought I was an eccentric loudmouth. I thought I was demure. Can you imagine? But looking back, getting to watch some videos, I’m like—what the hell was I thinking?”
She wasn’t. She was a young adult who got plucked from her internship at a Los Angeles radio station and shipped off to MTV headquarters in New York City in 1992 to be a “video vixen and tidbit procurer” alongside other VJs like Bill Bellamy and Karen “Duff” Duffy.
“The studio was such a communal den of jackassery,” she said. “We were a bunch of twentysomethings just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick, lighting things on fire.” The truly corporate part of the environment was the “money and influence on the line.”
“The fact that they trusted us with it is a miracle,” she said.
The intersection between influence and trust definitely took shape during the President Clinton’s first election, where Kennedy found herself as the only conservative working at the network that helped galvanize the youth vote. Initially Kennedy tried to keep her political views a secret, but all was revealed when she attended an inaugural ball where she met guitarist John McLaughlin and his companion Martha Stewart and proceeded to hike up her evening gown to show him the pink GOP elephant tattoo she had inked on her pelvis. The scene was reported in The Washington Post, and soon Kennedy was discussing her political views on “The Tonight Show.” (Kennedy has long identified as a Libertarian, after discovering that socially she and the Republican Party are worlds apart).
“In the beginning MTV was totally cool,” she said. “Later on, there was more specific wording as to what I was allowed to do in public and the press. They knew that at heart I was a total jackass. I wasn’t going to run for office any time soon.”
If nothing else, Kennedy’s stints as a resident in MTV’s notoriously promiscuous summer beach houses would have hampered any political ambitions. She maintained her virginity but does not claim to have lived the life of an angel. In her book she shares stories of make-out sessions that led to oral sex and that Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction almost became her first lover. That honor eventually went to former professional snowboarder Dave Lee to whom she’s been married 13 years.
“Part of it was a deep-seated fear that God was going to strike me dead,” Kennedy said. “I come from a very long line of very superstitious Romanian women who hold on to their chastity probably way too long. People say to me, ‘What if your daughters read this book?’ And I say, ‘My daughters are going to read this and the man who actually gets it is their dad! He was the one that made me feel at home and loved and he’s awesome.’”
Kennedy, now a morning radio show host on an alternative rock station in Los Angeles (she's also worked as a correspondent on John Stossel's Fox Business show) decided the timing was right to commit her memories to paper because of a general wistfulness for the 90s permeating today’s culture. She always kept a journal, but says some of the events she wrote about were so impactful that she still has vivid memories of them.
“For people who grew up watching MTV, that was the only place to go,” Kennedy said. “At the time, I didn’t watch it much because I just didn’t have the time so I had no idea of the context or the impact. But the more I talk to people about the 90s, they really long for it in a different way. What’s great about MTV is that it belongs to whatever generation is the steward at the time. It’s something you can’t hold onto, which makes it really cool. And it’s one of the reasons I wanted to preserve the moment—it was ours, it existed and it was super fun.”