Dave Holmes was probably never supposed to be here. The host, comedian, and writer became a personality on every teens’ TV screen basically as a fluke, but he grabbed that opportunity and hasn’t stopped running with the ball since. Beyond his TRL days, Dave Holmes has appeared on countless television shows expounding upon his music and pop culture knowledge, and he’s now written a book about his life, Party of One, detailing how important music is to growing up and becoming who you are. Holmes took the time to speak with us about the book, which TRL video is the most iconic of all time, and an infamous moment from MTV history that definitely should have gotten people fired.
Your book, Party of One, is structured like a 21-song mixtape, even including interludes. Why did you choose that format?
Well, it’s always been my favorite way to reach people. Music can do what I’ve felt like I’ve never been able to on a personal level. Music has kind of pushed my life forward — it’s the thing that has been most important to me for the longest — the book was always going to have a musical backbone, so then I thought why not structure it like I would a mixtape or playlist for a friend.
And you even made real mixtapes for pre-orderers?
Yeah! I’m actually a little bit behind. They told me what they wanted for the feel of the mixtape and — it’s funny — when I made the offer, I did not understand how long it was going to take because I want to do it right. I didn’t want to send everybody the same 21 songs; I want to kind of meditate on everyone’s individual situation and give them something that might entertain them because I know how important it’s been for me when someone has made me one. It feels nice when someone writes you a handwritten letter or makes you something. So, I want to make sure that I’m doing it right. It does take a while, but it’s a labor of love.
You explain in the first half of the book how music can help be a social equalizer to break the ice with strangers, but also be a deeply personal thing to help express parts about yourself you couldn’t otherwise explain.
For me, music was really important, because it was important in my family. The first thing I was able to do as well as anyone in my family and fit in was sing-alongs with the radio. And when I got older and things started to get a little tumultuous, in music, you can kind of outsource your emotion. You might not be able to express how you feel or even really know you feel, but you can put on a Smiths song and go to town. It’s like porn for your emotions.
There’s a moment in the book when you attend a diversity seminar as a young student who is freshly out of the closet and is ironically flatly ignored. You had a strange moment where you met one of the most iconic LGBT acts of all time in the Indigo Girls at an Applebees to reassure you. Was it then that you knew that you could be who you wanted to be and that the world had a place for you?
Um, actually that moment came only probably four months ago [laughter]. I knew around then that there was a place for me, but I wasn’t fully comfortable in my own skin until I was 40. I put myself out there and made peace with being different around that time, but I never relaxed into myself until later in life, which probably isn’t uncommon.
You were at MTV at such a pivotal moment in pop culture and how you made it there through I Wanna Be a VJ when you were up against Jesse Camp was so odd. A few stories from that time made it into the book. Did you know when you were there that it would be such a massive cultural touchstone, or did you feel like it was another day at work?
I kind of knew it would be massive just because it felt that way for me personally. And I recalled how important MTV felt when I was 13 and how much time I spent in front of it and all the things from that time I still remember, and the window it gave to a world I didn’t see around me growing up in St. Louis. When there is music and pop culture and excitement and all that, kids really attach themselves to it and love it and it gives them something to dream about.
Everything changed really quickly as soon as I got there. The teen pop explosion happened two months after I started. It became so huge and the studio was besieged by 13-year-old screaming girls and boys, and I never took for granted how exciting that was. There are people who are even in their 30s now who have such vivid memories of the work we did back then.