I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ann a few times and we stay in touch via Facebook (and I’ve even contributed art to one of her shows), but the first time I ever heard of her was a long time ago, back in 1984. I was attending college at West Virginia State (now “University) and after a morning class, found myself back at home, half-dozing on a couch in the living room. I was not a morning person back then, and couldn’t make it through the day without falling over if I had to take a class before noon.
I was half vegged-out flipping channels when I landed on WPBY right when they had a slide on the screen and a voice-over guy reading about “the bright young lady who graduated from George Washington High School” and introducing a short film by her. Being an unenlightened brat at the time, I watched with very low expectations.
It was “Made For Television,” Ann’s short film that channel-jumped through dozens of brief parodies in fifiteen minutes. This was a video Ann made with the late Tom Rubnitz in 1984. It wasn’t just that it was a short comedy film that impressed me. Ann was incredible, playing almost 50 characters. And it wasn’t just that she was playing different characters. She was skewering televangelists and other mainstays of TV at the time, but then half-way through, she made fun of Lene Lovich.
I became an instant fan. The mere fact that somebody from West Virginia even KNEW who Lene Lovich was was mind-blowing to me. I only had a small circle of friends at the time, and the arrogance of youth allowed us to think that we were operating on a different level than everyone else. Nobody else from aroud here could possibly like the same stuff as us.
Seeing a film made by a West Virginian that was so…hip…was like a lifeline. I went to a high school where people thought AC/DC was punk rock and Steely Dan was Jazz. I remember serious arguments over whether or not KISS was better than The Beatles. The fact that I listened to DEVO, YES, Zappa and…Lene Lovich, made me an outcast.
Seeing Made For Television gave me something that I hadn’t had before: Hope. It gave me hope that cool stuff could be made by West Virginians. It gave me hope that I could stay here and work with creative people without having to make everything about coal, hillbilly pride and getting drunk.
That hope led me to create Radio Free Charleston so I could promote West Virginia’s world-class talent without catering to the cheap stereotypes that help keep this state in the back of the line. That hope led me to turn down jobs in other states because I like living here. And even today, when our political climate is as toxic as the groundwater around Elmer Fike’s chemical plants used to be, that hope keeps me believing that things will get better. They have to.
And for that, I thank Ann Magnuson…for giving me hope. And I hope she doesn’t get pissed off because this video I’ve embedded probably isn’t legal. Ann, you deserve every accolade you get.