Martin Kahan was born on April 17, 1947, in New York. Dr. Aaron Kahan, a rabbi, raised Kahan and his younger brother Sheldon after divorcing their mother. When Kahan was a teenager, they moved to Miami Beach. There, the early roots of his career took shape. According to MSN, “he was described as trading the trappings of the yeshiva environment for the folk scene.”
It was a chance encounter with Frank Capra at the University of Florida in Gainesville that piqued his interest in directing, initially documentaries. However, in 1983 he began the journey to make him famous, music video direction when he moved back to New York. His first job was live clips from the group Rush, including Tom Sawyer, Freewill, and Limelight. This was just before the MTV days started. Once music videos started taking off in 1983, he was essentially an on-call director for Columbia Records. His first project was Scandal’s song Love’s Got A Line On You. From there, his career was on an upward trajectory. He started doing more videos for various Columbia artists, including Eddie Money, Loverboy, and Clarence Clemmons. His video for Ian Hunter, All of the Good Ones Are Taken, received an MTV VMA nomination. During the height of the MTV days, he did videos for Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and Michael Bolton. One of his most notable videos was Lick It Up for Kiss, which was the first time the group was featured without makeup.
In 1984, he took on a project that would change his whole career trajectory, working with Ricky Skaggs. He did several music videos for the star, including Honey (Open That Door) which included a cameo by New York City Mayor Ed Koch. By 1986, when he did Countrified for John Anderson, he became more renowned for his work in country music than he was for his ones in rock and roll. According to Music Row, many of the most iconic country music videos of the 90s were his. John Michael Montgomery was starting to become popular, and Kahan helped by directing the 1995 video, Sold (The Grundy County Auction incident). Some of his most well-known clients were Billy Dean, David Ball, Ty England, The Gibson Miller Band, and Rick Trevino. However, several videos really stood out from the rest.
In 1993, he directed Chattahoochee, which was thought to be a career-defining moment for Alan Jackson. One of the rowdiest country groups of the 90s was the Confederate Railroad, whose songs were about some of the most ridiculous subject matters. Several of them, Trash Women, Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind, and the emotional ballad When You Leave That Way You Can Never go back, were all Kahan’s projects. He finished off one of the most significant decades in country music with videos for a handful of other up-and-coming country singers. Clay Walker became popular in the mid to late 90s. One of his biggest songs was Then What in 1998, which was another project masterminded by Kahan. Additionally, he worked with Neal McCoy. He also did several videos with Kenny Chesney, including She’s Got it All and That’s Why I’m Here. One of Chesney’s videos would be Kahan’s last project; 2000s I Lost It.
Sadly, four months after he directed the video for Chesney, he suffered a severe brain injury when he fell down a flight of stairs. The repercussions were so dire, doctors needed to put him in a medical coma. Even though he recovered, his career was over. There were still lasting effects from the accident; Kahan suffered from amnesia that made him unable to create new memories. He tried desperately to recapture the fame he’d enjoyed in the 90s. Yet, instead, he wound up homeless as he moved around looking for any type of work that would recreate the name he’d made for himself. His family finally intervened and placed him in a long-term care facility in Lakewood, New Jersey. He lived in the past throughout his time since the present meant little or nothing to him. Many of his friends recalled he told the same stories multiple times because he was unaware he’d just said them. Nonetheless, the stories helped him enjoy a small amount of renowned since he told them so masterfully.
On July 18, 2021, Martin Kahan passed away at his home in Lakewood after a battle with cancer. According to Variety (), Kahan was known as “high-flying, hard-living, and some would say notorious.” However, he was as devoted to the yeshiva faith he grew up with as he was to the music industry. The day he died was Tisha b’Av which is a solemn day of fasting and mourning. In a statement for Billboard, long-time friend Arthur Levy wrote, “In his final years in Lakewood, Kahan never stopped theorizing about country music’s gradual downsizing of its promo video output, and how he could work his way back in the fold.”
Even though Kahan’s career ended far too soon, his legacy still remains in the music industry. He was one of the pioneers in music videos which was still a fledgling industry when he began. Even though he went through some extremely tough times after suffering the freak accident, it didn’t take away from all of the people’s lives he touched. Even his long-time friend Levy would patiently listen to Kahan tells the same stories multiple times during the same phone call because he understood how much his career meant to him. Kahan couldn’t quite understand why it was over because the brain damage was so severe. The 1990s were one of the greatest decades for country music, and some of the most memorable songs were brought to life under Kahan’s direction.