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BEHIND THE MUSIC EPISODE GUIDE

Part 3


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RUSSELL SIMMONS (1/23/00) The early footage is satisfies the old school nostalgia, but it’s nothing that Krush Groove doesn’t show you.  Present-day life with Kimora is a classy, domestic bliss, but naturally, Russell Rush hasn’t slowed down any, spending twenty thousand nonstop anytime minutes a month specifying everything from trade details with Polygram for Sony’s slightly used half of Def Jam (pocketing a cool $18 mil) to Phat Farm signage placement (storefront window, always) and button specifications (“they should look like the rubber on a Bugari watch, like it’ll bounce if you hit it on the floor”).  Though he went back to Cali, Rick Rubin will always be a friend.  The thought that Russell could have brought peace between East and West before the bloodshed is the only moment of regret.  But when even The Donald sings his praises, isn’t it time for a Russell reality show? (EB)

 

1972 (2000) This episode has all the best things and all the worst things about the “year” shows.  On the negative side they try to sum up certain aspects of culture that year in tiny, inconsequential segments (Blacks in’72 are Superfly and Stevie and out).  But when they tell longer stories this actually features some of the most compelling segments in any of these specials.  You really get a feel for the volatile, yet somewhat defeated,  state of youth culture. “Fashion statements were in, political statements were out,” is how this episode is summarized (and also pretty how the 1970 episode was summarized, by the way) though that isn’t exactly what happens in this episode.  It is more about Nixon’s successes in squashing an uprising.  John Lennon tries to “Rock the Vote” and they start deportation proceedings, rock stars rally against Dick and he counters with a James Brown (and by faking the end of the war) and most importantly (in the longest, most effective segment) McGovern runs a youth-driven ideological campaign as the democratic nominee and Nixon crushes him, even getting the youth vote.  Other highlights on this episode include a great segment where a riot is avoided at a Rolling Stones concert, Alice Cooper admitting he was pro-war and G. Gordon Liddy, for some reason or another, insulting Britney Spears. (JA)

 

1975 (2000) While short segments on Springsteen, Bee Gees, Dylan. Elton John and Earth Wind and Fire provide little Cliff’s Notes about what was going on that year, what is most interesting here are the longer segments, because they show why these BTM “year” episodes work sometimes and fail sometimes. The birth of the punk and Disco eras seem to be the most compelling things here.  Legs McNeil and Joey Ramone open the punk segment by discussing their total disgust in the state of pop music in 75.  While these episodes of BTM are usually disjointed and choppy the punk section of this is cohesive and flows, mostly because all the interviewees are talking about being part of a collective scene.   Cut to the Disco artists and KC and Donna Summer are just talking about themselves.   I guess that says a lot about the differences between punk and Disco, but it also says a lot about why these shows would have been a lot better if they were more focused. (JA)

 

TINA TURNER (3/5/2000) It’s not often that Behind The Music finds itself a genuinely sympathetic protagonist, which is probably why the producers seem to put more loving care into Tina Turner’s episode than their typical dumb-musician-gets-rich/dumb-musician-gets-hooked/dumb-musician-dies-or-cleans-up toss-off.  Tina’s story is the sort that, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before, you can’t help but cheer silently as she gets free of her abusive Svengali husband Ike and gets her multi-platinum revenge.  Meanwhile, if Tina makes the episode inspiring, it’s Ike who makes it utterly fascinating, oozing pure evil for BTM’s cameras in a series of shockingly candid, unbelievably unapologetic interviews (does this guy realize just how many rock fans would love to bash his skull?). The future Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock) followed her mother to St. Louis in the late 50s, away from her abusive, hard-drinking father.  She soon entered the orbit of abusive, hard-drinking local rocker Ike Turner, as a backing vocalist for his band The Rhythm Kings.  Ike proceeds to beat, berate, manipulate, and impregnate the talented, but woefully naïve young singer.  Rotten to the core, the present-day Ike makes it clear that, given a second chance, he’d do it all again (on the subject of his womanizing, he says “If I knew how she felt, I wouldn’t say I’d stop doing it, but I’d’ve done it a different way”). In a series of grainy clips from all-Black, local television variety shows from the 50s and 60s (where do they find that amazing footage?), Ike and Tina work the R&B circuit, then – after hooking up with Phil Spector for “River Deep, Mountain High” – leap into the British pop mainstream.  During their tour of England with the Rolling Stones (of which, sadly, there is but one still photo), Tina fell in love with England, British-style rock and roll, and the scruffy, skinny white boys who made it.  She encouraged Ike to work more rock songs into their predominately R&B sets, yielding an even bigger hit in their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”. Emboldened by success, Tina starts fighting back against Ike and eventually develops the resolve to  walk out.  Act Two of Tina’s American life begins with her and the kids (her son with Ray, her son with Ike, and Ike’s two sons with other women) surviving on food stamps and the charity of Tina’s famous friends, for whom she worked as a maid.  Determined to get back into show business on her own terms, Tina begins appearing in a series of tacky clips from 70s television, launching a comeback that climaxes in the familiar, iconic footage of the forty-something Tina shaking her aging (but still sexy) stuff on her mid-80s “Private Dancer” tour.  Given such a dramatic rise-and-fall-and-rise storyline, BTM does a laudable job of not screwing it up.  While her highs are better documented, it’s Tina’s lows that provide the real meat of the story, and BTM wisely focuses on the tough times, even if that means making do with a small handful of photographs.  Meanwhile, Ike is the episode’s secret weapon.  If he were acting, Ike would deserve an Oscar.  Considering that he’s not, he deserves a punch in the face. (EH)

 

1970 (3/12/2000) This is not one of the most cohesive “year” shows.  Basically there’s just a number of snippets about a bunch of stuff.  Singer-Songwriters got big, including Elton John (Bernie Taupin dressed as a gay cowboy speaks for Sir Elton).  Jimi and Janis die.  And in perhaps the most interesting idea presented here, Charles Manson betrayed the counter culture by looking cool, digging rock yet not being a good guy.  The concluding theory that sums up 1970 is that fatigue from protesting the war for so long led to Carpenters schmaltz.  (JA)

 

ELTON JOHN (3/19/2000) This episode doesn’t really tell you much you didn’t already know about Elton John, except possibly the fact that he used to be at least a little bit cooler than he is now.  In the beginning and middle of the episode, the music is pretty enjoyable, as are the outfits; toward the end, especially during the bizarre animated segment that must have been PR for whatever nameless failed Disney movie Elton’s agent had pimped him out to at the time of the show’s taping, the music is pretty awful and embarrassing.  Two highlights: Elton declares the strictly platonic nature of his relationship with Bernie Taupin (as though it were ever a question!), and we’re informed that Elton John was originally intended as the name of a band rather than a single fey performer.  I guess that “equal partnership” thing got lost somewhere along the Yellow Brick Road to international diva stardom (also known as Broadway).  (EF)

 

OASIS (4/2/2000) While this episode about the Oasis Brothers constant fighting, breaking up and screwing up is interesting, it had already been handled more deftly and with more humour by the Brit press numerous times.  However, what does make this episode great is the fact that VH1 decided that a drunken Englishman requires subtitles!  According to a TV watchdog group this featured the most bleeped cursing of any BTM. (JA)

 

NO DOUBT (4/9/2000) This episode is odd because the band was together for over a decade going through some very interesting times I’m sure, including the very tragic death of a member.  But that stuff was all in the indie/punk/ska underground days and falls outside of the interest of VH1 so it gets compacted and downplayed.  What this episode is really about is the fact that they shot this just when lead singer Gwen Stefani was dealing with her most pathetic, “I want to get married and have kids now” anxieties (I’m assuming she isn’t always like that).  All the actual band romance and heartbreak and tensions are better portrayed in their videos than in this show but nowhere but on BTM will you see Gwen act like a very hot version of the Cathy comic strip. (JA)

 

1984 (4/16/00) Framed in the context of George Orwell, this is a hodge podge of seemingly unrelated things in the year of “Big Brother and more big hits, big hair and big changes.”  At least they have footage of Rockwell to invoke paranoia, but other than that I wasn’t impressed.  Effeminate first son Ron Reagan is included as a talking head as kind of the anti-Ronald Reagan, which I guess is interesting, but any reports of real news always segues into some silly rock thing.   Homelessness leads us into men of the people John Cougar Mellencamp, Springsteen and Lee Greenwood.  Ethiopian famine, El Salvador and Irish Terrorist/Freedom Fighters gave us U2 and “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”  It seemed like a lot of stuff they mentioned was from ’83, and I’m not sure Flock of Seagulls and Wham were referred to as “hair bands” and I question a “Girl Power” link between Geraldine Ferraro and Tina, Annie Lennox, Madonna, Lauper and Pat Benatar.  But I did like the contrast of Huey Lewis’ humility and David Lee Roth’s insane anti-humility.  And the most telling thing about what was twisted about 1984 was footage of Kenny Rogers in concert wearing a Hip Hop Adidas t-shirt. (JA)

 

POLICE (4/23/2000) If this wasn’t made by Americans I would say it was made to make Americans look stupid.  After Sting walks away to become a solo act just as the Police become the biggest band in the world poor American drummer Stewart Copeland thinks his “cool band” will still get back together someday.  When they do for an impromptu jam at a wedding it may be the most anticlimactic big BTM moment ever. (JA)

 

THE GO-GOS (5/2000) I've always been more a Jane guy than a Belinda guy (think of Jane's sexy Joan of Arc turn in Bill and Ted’s Big Adventure), but Ms. Carlisle really won me over by doing something Tina Turner and Madonna likely never will...while rehearsing for the Go-Go’s reunion (a focal point of their BTM) she actually un-affectated! That is, she reverted from the fake English accent affectation she's been perpetrating for the last few years and went back to her drugged-out All-American Valley voice!  This episode does a good job capturing the vibe of the early punk days and the tensions and abuse problems that occur when the band makes it.  Also, bravo to VH1 for editing the tedious Go Go groupie masturbation video to an interesting 30 seconds. (JA)

 

RICKY MARTIN (5/28/00) Give Martin classy, bold credit for refusing to answer if he is gay.  However, give VH1 bad journalism points for agreeing to do this show completely out of its regular format so that Martin (or his publicist) cans show the world HE IS NOT GAY!  This episode is framed in the form of “spend the day with Ricky Martin” as he lives a vida loca!  Along the course of this crazy day we meet a very fake, central casting “true love” girlfriend.  So much for classy boldness.  We also learn of his close, collaborative relationship with beautiful ex-Menudo Robby Rosa, but RICKY IS NOT GAY! (JA)

 

AC/DC (6/4/00) A classic and essential episode that deserves every fan’s viewing.  The Bon Scott period gets more than equal time, and much of the time spent on Brian Johnson-era AC/DC is devoted to fond remembrances of Bon.  The episode’s charm rests on the Young brothers’ on-screen charisma, which obviously hasn’t receded with Angus’s hairline.  Malcolm is the true interview centerpiece, and what he lacks in on-stage dynamism, he more than makes up for on-camera as a candid, sweet, and sympathetic figure.  His drug hell segment is actually painful for the viewer, and we’re genuinely happy to see him rise out of it.  The episode’s only flaw is the extended lip service it pays to AC/DC’s latter-day output (“I was born with a stiff... stiff upper [up her?] lip”). (TA)

 

BON JOVI (6/11/2000) The Bon Jovi episode finds Behind the Music in fine form.  This is a totally solid episode that’s a rollicking good time from start to finish.  Sure, Jon Bon Jovi and the boys don’t ever seem to confront the high-level, manic-depressive, wrecking-ball tragedies and devastating personal struggles that plague their Behind the Music comrades-in-arms and characterize Behind the Music’s TV personality, but I for one didn’t feel let down.  How can’t you root for five rough-and-tumble musketeers from Jersey who set their sights on stardom and—through hard work, hot riffs and Jon’s pretty face—end up in the limelight just like they always wanted?  This episode must have been put together at the height of Sopranos mania, because references to the North Jersey mafia pervade the whole thing—throughout the episode, we’re constantly reminded that, as far as Bon Jovi is concerned, “once you’re in, you’re in.”  This celebrated aura of brotherhood compounds the gravity of Alec John Such’s redcoat defection and leaves the viewer wholly satisfied that Jon Bon Jovi would never cheat with Heather Locklear behind Richie Sambora’s back (though the reason Heather chose weaselly Richie over photo-friendly Jon is not discussed).  The repeatedly affirmed feeling of brotherhood or “family” enjoyed by the Bon Jovi boys does beg one question that VH1 never asks: if the boys are all equal-partner “brothers,” WHY did they agree to let the band be called Bon Jovi?  And for that matter, why did Jon—vocally proud of his ethnic heritage—change his name (and the band’s) from the Italian-sounding “Bongiovi” to the somewhat more ambiguous (but still meaningless) Bon Jovi?  Even though these burning questions are never resolved, you’ll forget your gripes as soon as you hear “Wanted Dead or Alive” playing in the background.  I know I did. (EF)

 

MONKEES (6/25/00) This segment pretty much tells the story of The Monkees, verbatim, probably not telling you a lot you don't already know if you're much of a fan, BUT the story is told, and the images unfold, with the same whirlwind pace of the T.V. show. Four actors, each with varying degrees of musical experience and all with great comic timing, find themselves in a shotgun marriage that both jump-started their careers and sealed their fate. All this because Davey, Michael, Mickey and Peter had passed the final audition for a new T.V. show based, conceptually, on the early Beatle films. Among the many hopefuls these four young men (all barely 20) beat out were Steven Stills, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, Mickey Rooney, Jr. (who'd soon star in Riot on Sunset Strip), the whole of the Lovin' Spoonful, and even, legend has it, Charles Manson. Considering that the four, who'd never previously met, had to learn to be both a comedy troupe and a musical unit (though, yes, they were not allowed to actually play on their own records) in a very short time, they pulled it all off remarkably well. Their first single, "Last Train To Clarksville,” was a hit before their T.V. show even debuted. It was already 1966, and while The Beatles could afford the luxury of experimentation in the third year of their reign, The Monkees, under the direction of Don Kirschner, played it safe, coming up with something that resembled the already quaint-sounding '64 model Beatles, but with an American sound that could not be denied (despite the presence of a bonafide Brit). The show was a smash hit, as were their subsequent LP and 45 releases, but all was not well in Dodge. Considering themselves to be prisoners of their surroundings, the "Prefab Four" quickly sowed the seeds of revolt (speaking of Seeds, a 45 of "Mr. Farmer" is displayed twice in this program!), led by Mike Nesmith and Pete Tork, the "real musicians" of the group. They fought tooth and nail with Kirschner for the right to play on their own records. The infamous incident where Nesmith runs his fist through a wall, saying, "Don, that could have been your head!" is accounted for. Nesmith is given the right to record one song per album, his first effort being "Sweet Young Thing," an early venture into Psychedelia (as was Peter Tork's underrated Novelty/Psych masterpiece, "Your Auntie Grizelda,” which sounds like Mickey Lee Lane guesting on "Piper At The Gates of Dawn”). Still, things eventually came to a head, and when the big showdown occurred, The Monkees basically told Kirshner to step aside and let them do it their way. Kirshner probably thought that the show's producers, Bert Schneider and Robert Rafaelson, would call their bluff, but, surprisingly, they sided up with The Monkees. For their third LP, "Headquarters,” The Monkees basically got the chance to be a real band for the first time (though their first concert dates, without support musicians, should have proven they were up to the task). Though it was a noble effort, and one that produced some great songs, "Headquarters" had the misfortune of being released within days of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."  The Monkees still turned up a very respectable #2 to The Beatles' #1 spot in the Summer of Love, but the record they fought so hard to make only amassed a little over half the sales of their two previous LPs. Still, their follow-up "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, reverted (somewhat) to Kirshner's approach without their former mentor's involvement. Sharing musicians' duties with studio cats (all credited), The Monkees finally produced an album worthy of their individual and collective talents. Most people agree that it was their best work. Nevertheless, the boys learned quickly that even creative control wasn’t going to bring them the relevance they strove for in what was probably the most rapidly changing market ever, one in which the underground had found it's way to suburbia. Still, when they embarked on their first U.K. tour, they found themselves the guests of honor at a now-legendary party thrown for them by The Beatles, who made it very clear, privately and publicly, that they "got it."(too bad they didn’t follow the Monkees' example when they were filming "Magical Mystery Tour"). The band also befriended Jimi Hendrix, who had yet to return to The States after conquering Britain and much of The Continent, and offered him the opening slot on their upcoming U.S. tour. It was a move designed to give Hendrix the exposure they felt he deserved in his homeland, but, also to allow themselves a shot at the older, hipper crowds they so desperately wanted to attract. It didn’t happen that way. In fact, if you're to believe this documentary, it didn’t happen at all. They didn’t mention it. When the T.V. show was cancelled, The Monkees did what Batman and The Munsters did, they set out on their first (And only) feature film venture. Unlike similar projects, "Head" was in no way meant to be viewed as a companion piece to the T.V. show. With Jack Nicholson concocting a script from stoned conversations with the band (who had, metaphorically, at least, based a later episode of their floundering series on the joys of smoking pot, which they referred to as "The Frotus"), and a cast that includes Annette Funicello, Victor Mature, Sonny Liston, Tony Basil, Frank Zappa, Carol Doda and even Tor Johnson, "Head" is comprised of several, mostly unrelated, vignettes. For all it's druggy surrealism, it remains a popular underground classic, with some beautiful photography and great songs, not to mention a then-daring stab at The Vietnam War. By 1968, many artists were voicing their discontent with the situation in Southeast Asia, but I don't think even Country Joe ever incorporated the controversial and disturbing footage of the President of South Vietnam being shot in the head. "Head" flopped, and the equally ambitious T.V. special, "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee" didn’t fare much better, in spite of some fine new songs and special guests like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll, and The Buddy Miles Express. The group, falling out of favor (even though yet another, albeit younger, audience was discovering them via Saturday morning T.V), began to disintegrate, first with Peter's departure, then with Mike checking out after two LPs as a three piece, and finally, Mickey and Davey roughing it before a disinterested public as a duo for one album. The two continued to record and perform together after the final, official (and, some would say, overdue) breakup of The Monkees.  What happened next is not covered in great detail. Mickey Dolenz's long descent into drugs and alcohol is briefly discussed, and his boozing and schmoozing with the elite of Hollywood's (relocated) Rock community, but there's no mention of The Hollywood Vampires (A notorious drinking club and sometimes Baseball team, with a core membership of Dolenz, Nilsson, John Lennon, Alice Cooper and Keith Moon), a situation somewhat rectified by a mouth-watering color photo of Dolenz with Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro. Nesmith's many successes are accounted for, though Peter seems to have fallen the hardest in later years. His stay in an Oklahoma jail for bringing a small amount of hash across the Mexican border illustrates his lowest point, but one might argue things would have been a lot worse if the Mexican authorities had got to him first. Davey Jones appears to have avoided scandal (though there was a drunk driving incident more recently), but his post-Monkees career is hardly even eluded to (not even his "encounter" with Marcia Brady, to which he later mentioned, "A lot of people think we got married, moved to Nebraska, and had 8 kids. Actually, it was Ohio, and we only had 6 kids!”), at least not until he joined Mickey and The Monkees' chief songwriters and producers, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart in the short-lived but tightly knit unit, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart, who toured the U.S. and The Far East in 1976, and even put out a fine studio LP and a live album recorded in Japan. Eventually, MTV put The Monkees back on the map by running a marathon of all their T.V. episodes, which led to a huge reunion tour in 1986 and even a Top 20 single. Since then, The Monkees have been touring off and on, minus Nesmith, though he's joined the others on stage a few times, and nearly went through with a reconciliatory tour (which he backed out of after a few U.K. dates, though not before participating in a reunion CD and T.V. special, both of which were better than one might suspect). Last time I checked, they were down to Mickey and Davey (if they're even still performing), though, when I saw them a few years ago, shortly before Peter split yet again, they were still trying to prove that they could cut it, and succeeding remarkably. (JB)

 

QUEEN LATIFAH (7/9/2000) Although her brother dies and that really upsets her, for the most part this is a BTM where nothing happens and nothing is interesting.  They certainly portray her as a big, butch biker gal but she wont address rumors of being a lesbian and there’s almost no private life stuff covered in this episode.  Her music wasn’t really interesting enough to be a compelling focal point and her acting and talk show hosting careers were similarly unremarkable at that point.  This is a good example of a show that should have been benched in pre-production. (JA)

 

PUBLIC ENEMY (7/16/2000) What is fascinating about this episode is that Professor Griff, a band “member” who made no musical contributions (he provided the paramilitary S1W security force that was a major visual element of the band’s stage show, and operated as road manager) is the most interesting guy in the act, and BTM recognizes that.  As he tells his story, and is constantly smiling a winning grin, laughing and being charming, you are totally freaked out by a). his disconnect from reality, or b.) his ability to lie while smiling, or c.) that this guy is fucking crazier than you can begin to figure out. Griff was out of the army and running a fifty man security force when he was recruited by PE, and you can tell he cast a spell over his bandmates with both his charismatic ways and by pure intimidation (when he would have to go fetch Flavor Flav from the local projects for shows Flav never challenged him, fearing Griff’s mystical powers of violence, “I can’t beat no Griff up, the guy is like Five Fingers of Death!”).  When an interview gets him in trouble (something about Jews being responsible for “the majority of wickedness”) he insists that the tape is doctored, and laughs at the playback as if it was absurd. When it leads to his suspension from the group he reacts, “Suspended me, what the fuck, is this the military, this is a fucking rap group, how do you get suspended from a rap group?” We are also told that this lead to a Jewish sniper hunting the group, which I find pretty hard to believe. We really see that Griff’s smiling, happy act is off-kilter when he maniacally laughs about his wife leaving him, and we know he lived as crazy a life as we suspected when his post PE career is as a bounty hunter, never going anywhere without a bulletproof vest and a gun.  Griff aside, the other members of the group are also compelling.  Chuck D’s story is great, as he became a rapper on a college radio station and directly turned that low wattage success into one of the best rap LPs ever, their Def Jam debut featuring songs they did on the radio.  Also, Flavor Flav, who looks drug damaged, is great to listen to, explaining how he is straight now except he still uses beer and Newports.  The two best interviews here, though, are archival pieces with the governor of Arizona who apparently was unhappy with being assassinated in a PE video and some white hillbilly PE fans who explain, in a deep drawl, how Public Enemy, “teaches us about black struggle…” (JA)

 

FAITH HILL (7/23/00) There ought to be a rule, like the Catholic Church has for canonization, that X number of years must pass since an artist’s last noteworthy album before they may take their place atop Mount Behind the Music.  And there should also be some kind of minimum-three-rock n’ roll-miracles requirement.  Were that the case, then BTM fans wouldn’t have to suffer through the series’ premature, half-assed retrospective of country/pop phenom Faith Hill.  Not that Faith is necessarily a bad candidate for the BTM treatment – we do get a few intriguing glimpses of her dues-paying days opening for tobacco-spitting contests and slogging it out as a backup singer to balding fat guys on the unglamorous Nashville bar circuit.  However, it’s clear from the interviews that Ms. Hill is too much of an ongoing concern for her friends, family, or industry associates to cough up the real dirt.  Instead, all the interviewees circle their wagons around the billion-dollar, bottle-blonde superstar, telling us all about how wonderful she is and how fabulously she and her hunky megastar husband Tim McGraw get along (meanwhile Faith’s ex-husband, from whom she has retained her stage surname, doesn’t get a chance to rebut).  In place of personal drama, BTM offers a lame subplot about Hill’s search for her birth mother (she was adopted as an infant by a good, God-fearing, small-town Mississippi family) which goes nowhere.  Faith finds her, they meet in a park, they say “hi” then get on with their respective lives (and we don’t get so much as a name or a photo, let alone an interview).  On the career front – for want of any genuinely miraculous moments (like Johnny Cash’s prison concerts or Sinead on SNL) - much is made of Faith singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Superbowl in January 2000 and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the Oscars three months later.  VH1 even shamelessly plugs her appearance on their “Divas” special that same year, as if it were some kind of monumental, Jimi-lighting-his-guitar-on-fire feat.  Given that the episodes original airdate of late 2000, the whole thing feels more like a press release than a documentary. Musically, the episode glides along to the whiskey-free, post-Garth country-pop of Hill’s hits “This Kiss”, “It Matters to Me” and “Breathe”.  All gloss and no grit, it’s the sort of ‘country’ that a suburban car dealership might use to demo an SUV’s stereo system.  After forty-five minutes of hearing Hill and McGraw coo their mildly twangy soft-rock duets, it’s easy to grasp why Hip Hop is presently outselling country music among white, rural youth by a 4-to-1 margin. (EH)

 

BANGLES (7/30/00) This episode does exactly what everybody involved with BTM wants it to do- namely, it makes the viewer want to listen to the featured artist’s oeuvre all over again in hopes of decoding all the lyrics, album art, and music videos in light of new revelations about tensions within the band, personal problems, looming insanity, or whatever else has been exposed “behind the music”.  The classic example of this is Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.”  It’s one thing listening to the record as a collection of pop songs, but it’s quite another to listen to it as a document of the painful breakup of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. The Bangles: Behind the Music, like the Foreigner episode, sets up a series of hit singles to be read as career milestones, for better or worse (mostly for worse, of course). “Manic Monday” make the Bangles stars, but it also tells the story of yet another seduction of a young ingénue in the 1980s by the Purple One, who penned the song as a love-offering to Susannah Hoffs. The official word is that they never got together, but who can blame Prince for giving it a shot? In a band full of hot-looking girls, Susannah makes them all look like dogs, which is increasingly problematic in itself.  “Walk Like an Egyptian” was a massive hit, but the drummer, a founding member, neither sang nor drummed on it; sort of like when Ringo was replaced in the studio, it’s a death knell. Now, “Hazy Shade of Winter”, recorded for the Less than Zero soundtrack (which also featured an early Danzig vanity project and Slayer playing “Inna Gadda da Vida”) was a rocker that really sounded like a brief revival of their LA garage roots, but it was not to last. “Eternal Flame” was all Susannah Hoffs- the shape of things to come. Man, what a great episode if only for the ephemeral musical footage it contains. There’s even an interview with famed Los Angeles DJ/Sad Sack Rodney Bingenheimer, who broke the band when they were called The Bangs. My favorite moment has to be The Bangles playing “September Gurls” in 1986. Beautiful. The other nice thing about this episode was that it was able to portray the band’s conflicts without making a villain out of anybody, not even Susannah Hoffs. Motley Crue and the Bangles both reunite as bands at the end of their respective BTM’s, but where I felt embarrassed for the war-weary, but desperate to “reconnect with their fans” Crue, I was genuinely happy to see The Bangles playing together again, and Susannah Hoffs is still as hot as ever. This episode definitely merits an A+. (BC)

 

PETER FRAMPTON (8/6/2000) One of the most interesting things I read regarding this type of program was an interview with Frampton where he compared being the subject of a VH1 BTM with being the subject of an A&E Biography.  Framp seemed to feel that the rigid rise/fall/redemption story arc of BTM was dishonest and that it told his story poorly.  That said, I’m not sure how to write about this other than to say that anyone would view his career as having that arc.  He was respected but marginal than became the biggest rocker ever with one album that sold seventy gazillion copies and then nobody heard about him for decades and then he seemed to reemerge as a healthy survivor…but his reemergence prominently involved appearing in shows like this!  One thing I will say that seems to support his claims that this show was dishonest is that even though it only gets a few seconds of tongue in cheek commentary I’m pretty sure VH1 put some kind of subliminal super-editing into play where his male pattern baldness is given as much tragic weight as his near fatal car crash.  But his Sgt. Peppers movie flop is given the most tragic weight of all! (JA)

 

STYX (8/13/00) As a Chicagoan I should have loyalty, but I've never liked STYX. However, their Behind The Music was AMAZING!  For 50 minutes you're not privy to the fact that everyone holds Dennis DeYoung in the same type of contempt that one usually reserves for, say, plagues. Then in the last 10 minutes, James "JY" Young makes several brutally telling comments, one of which makes it clear that the band feels Dennis is lying about his "light sensitivity" that cancelled a 90s tour (he claims stage lights fatigue him) and one statement about how VERY VERY SLIM the possibility of working together again was, that actually made me flinch.  And in the "Nice job, honey!" Department, it ends with Mrs. DeYoung just making her man look as pathetic as possible, by telling how he'll watch TV and see something and say, 'We should do that,' to which she always tells him, "They don't want you."  Ouch.  Also you have to tip your hat to a band that suffers a low point by being forced by the band leader to perform a futuristic melodrama musical play with dialogue and costumes in front of a rabid festival metal crowd that wants to rip their Mr. Roboto mechanical limbs off! Sail away and don't come back, brother.  Not exactly a love letter to Dennis, the moral is, “sail away, brother, and don’t come back.” (JA)

 

1977 (8/20/00) Sadly, this episode doesn’t go strictly month-by-month, moving between genre, time, location, and historical context for its eleven-minute blocks.  Sometimes the motion can be a bit disorienting. We begin with the corporate arena rock of Frampton, Styx, Boston, Journey, Kansas, et al. set far off in the distance, nicely contrasted against the immediacy, proximity and vitality of punk.  Queen is arena, but “We Will Rock You” b/w “We Are the Champions” is designed to leave the audience bleeding, deafened, blinded, and emotionally drained.  Andy Gibb and KC & The Sunshine Band keep it lite ‘n’ funky, but Halle Berry gives an idea of the Commodores’ command of the charts: “Everybody wanted to be a ‘Brickhouse.’ You had to be 36-24-26, and even if you weren’t, you said you were.” (this is a leftover quote from the Lionel Richie BTM).  Camille Paglia and Harvey Fierstein inform us of disco’s history as gay, black subculture.  Donna Summer, Studio 54, Grace Jones, Bianca Jagger, a white pony, 8 million people trying cocaine.  It’s the same old bacchanalian sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s just clearly much better. The industry loves it because clubs can sell records.  “Dancing Queen” is the crossover hit and Saturday Night Fever is both the movie and the soundtrack of the era.  While uptown was disco, downtown was CBGB’s and Hilly Kristal explains that the country bluegrass blues thing just wasn’t working out.  The Ramones take the tunnel to audition then quickly skip the pond and, in Joey’s words, incite the punk movement.  All the lights go out for 25 hours and Fran Drescher recounts Son of Sam terrifying New York and promoting the Talking Heads (thankfully, Spike used the version w/strings).  Blondie is slow but steady in pushing the new wave.   As we focus on London, Malcom McLaren explains that the original vision was for young, sexy, assassins of pop music.  Sid can’t play but Miles Copeland explains message over musicianship.  The Clash can’t get American distribution but Elvis Costello can.  We hear “Suspicious Minds” and Joe Strummer lets us know that there were some punks that mourned the loss of The King.  Debbie Boone lights up our lives while Ronnie Van Zandt, and Steve and Cassie Gaines are gone. Sid is already covered with blood and we’re two years away from Steve Dahl/Disco Sucks.  Steve Jones is wearing a v-neck t-shirt under a furry anorak.  Chris Frantz wears Oakley shades and a RISD sweatshirt.  Tina Weymouth has bangs and looks

     like a Volvo ad.  Joey looked like Joey, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” was used in a Nissan

     Pathfinder ad in this episode.  (EB)

 

      ICE-T (8/27/00) This episode could go for two hours and still seem incomplete.  The first

       man to walk like a pimp to the mic on getting started in entertainment industry: “I’m not

       one of those guys that’s like, ‘I like the music.’ No, I like the money.”  When Body Count 

       releases “Cop Killer,” Bush, Quayle and Charlton Heston have Ice up against the wall. 

        Complaints are a fever pitch and Warner Bros shies away.  Already in his fifth career as an

         actor, Ice goes independent: “When you don’t have to worry about record sales, you can     

         worry about the art.” Seem contradictory?  Ice’s charisma will have you seeing clearly.

          Remember, Don “Magic” Juan asks him for advice. (EB)

 

         ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL (9/24/00) Though I would likely mark the Creed  

episode   later this fall as the beginning of the end of decent BTM’s, I think this episode is more accurately the so called “jump the shark” point.  The never-funny Kathy Griffin hosts a sit down, ironic retrospective of the show.  The producers of the show shouldn’t be sanctioning snickering., ironic appreciation of BTM -  they have to act like they are just presenting the facts and not trying to make fun of people, this isn’t “E! Network.”  Griffin welcomes past guests to update their stories, and in a shockingly uncool move jokes with Rick Springfield about his very recent domestic abuse arrest.  However, the biggest blow that demystifies the wonder of BTM is dealt when Jim Forbes, the announcer who became the awesome voice of BTM, appears on camera, ruining the mystique of that ominous narrative voice by putting a plain face to it. (JA)

 

CAT STEVENS (10/1/00) The Cat Stevens episode has operatic rises and falls and aside from the interludes of actual Cat Stevens music, it is easily one of the best BTM's.  Cat was only 19 when his second single, "Matthew and Son," leaped into the British pop charts.  He went on a package tour with Englebert Humperdink, from whom he learned to drink, and Jimi Hendrix, from whom he learned "other things." Then came fall number one: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  But rather than allow the illness to derail his career, Stevens used the recovery time to write tons of new material.  He emerged as an introspective, singer/songwriter who cranked out three Top 10 albums in a mere 18 months. During this run nine of his songs were used in Hal  Ashby's 1972 film Harold & Maude.  From there Stevens spent the rest of the 70s riding one wave of success to the next.  (In typical BTM style, the show's producers skated through Cat's biggest years, which is a shame because I wanted to learn more about his 1975 numerology-based concept album, “Numbers.”  It sounds like a fascinating mistake, but I know I'll never be curious enough to actually buy a copy.  I think VH-1 should start a separate series that focuses on misguided 70s concept albums.)  Steven's next fall came when he nearly drown while visiting the beach house of A&M Records president Jerry Moss.  Stevens bounced back from the incident but promised to serve God for sparing his life.  Within three years Stevens had converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusef Islam, and stepped away from his life as a pop singer.  For years he stayed out of the spotlight and devoted his time to various charitable causes and educational organizations, and all was well until 1989.  That is when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa, or death sentence, against British writer Salman Rushdie for his blasphemous book The Satanic Verses, and set up Stevens' third fall in the process.  Asked to comment on the fatwa, Stevens said something to the effect of, "Yes, the Koran calls for such a punishment for those who commit blasphemy," which was interpreted by the press as, "Yes, I think Rushdie should die."  And scores of music fans, myself included, accepted the press' version as true and hopped aboard the anti-Stevens bandwagon.  I remember feeling no small amount of respect for 10,000 Maniacs when they insisted that their cover of Steven's "Peace Train" be deleted from future pressings of their “In My Tribe” album because of what Stevens had said.  For most people Stevens remains a pop music pariah due to his Rushdie-related comments, but that is what makes this episode to remarkable.  In many ways it is a sympathetic portrayal of a misunderstood Muslim and even when depicting Yusef's current secular music projects, this episode avoids the ironic detachment typically associated with VH-1. (MF)

 

BARENAKED LADIES (10/8/00) If you are interested in seeing goofy, doughy guys get naked this is the episode for you.  There are two key things that elevate this episode.  One is seeing photos of a young black kid with an afro, who we learn often asked his white mother why the other kids called him “nigger.”   All grown up, Tyler, the light skinned, goofy member of Barenaked Ladies, explains that when he was twelve his mother told him his father was Black.  Twelve?!?  You didn’t have a mirror? On a dramatic note, the band’s keyboard player is diagnosed with cancer and went through debilitating chemo and a bone marrow transplant.  Not being a key, creative member of the band this shouldn’t have worked as a powerful story arc because we hadn’t heard much from or about him before we learn he got sick but we do get to see his frailness and his spirit as he attempts to get his chops back and rejoin the act.  This unfolds before our eyes and it is a vivid portrayal of both how serious and damaging chemo can be but also how strong and loyal and good hearted a nerd-based band and their fans can be in helping this young man recover. (JA)

 

CHICAGO (10/15/00) Chicago is not at its surface a fascinating act, and the best they can sum them up as is “the men behind the most famous logo in Rock.”  That said, this brass based, one time progressive band has 33 years of straight touring under their belt and has sold 120 million LPs.  Starting at Depaul University (where they are still honored by a hot dog stand featuring their gold records) this was a group of regular Chicago guys (the interviews likely remind non-Chicagoans of the Bears Superfans skits on Saturday Night Live) who rode an interesting idea and loyalty to mega-success.  Their manager decided to push the logo and keep the band faceless until music videos had them put tenor Peter Cetera upfront, which led to him leaving for a solo career (he doesn’t participate in the documentary, which makes it easier to downplay that era, which doesn’t fit into the storyline). The last word on the video Cetera-era comes from a founding member stating, “I’d rather fail with good music than have a megahit of crap.” Unfortunately the good music he is referring to is a late 90s Prog-concept album called “Stone of Sisyphus” that sounds worse than a Cetera-Steve Perry-Dennis DeYoung supergroup would.  Anyways what makes this episode interesting is that the big tragedy is a key member dying, but since that doesn’t really halt their success (the 80s superstardom was still ahead of them) it is handled in a different, more respectful way than many BTM deaths.  Big Terry Kath was the best member of Chicago, an awesome Blues-based guitarist who could really sing with soul and had a love of experimental music. He was also an ugly, fat Chicago guy which totally grounded the band in the city’s regular guy aesthetic.  He accidentally shot himself in the head at the party (infamous last words: “It’s not loaded”).  Since this doesn’t really fit in to the narrative of the story (it is senseless and strange, and not totally drug related) instead of being all dark musical cues and fades to black they instead have a nice long tribute to Terry, a free standing piece, featuring all the warm memories his wife, daughter and colleagues have of him.  After his death the band goes from sorta soulful to totally schmaltzy, but there’s still half a show left.  Ultimately what makes this episode interesting is the Chicago-ness of Chicago.  While every other band has some conniving slickster ripping them off, Chicago’s loyal manager is as un-Hollywood as possible, and despite completely making them what they became, he simply tears up all their contracts when they decide to leave him.  That’s good people, Midwestern style.  I also learned that it’s harder to play horns on coke than guitar on coke. (JA)

 

TIFFANY (10/29/00) I used to think that the producers of BTM could make an interesting show for any once-successful pop star. Then I saw the Tiffany episode.  As you may recall, Tiffany was the late 80s teen queen who toured shopping malls and landed a pair of dull covers in the Top 10 ("I Think We're Alone Now" and "I Saw Him Standing There).  To no one's surprise her subsequent albums failed commercially and she faded from public view.  This episode focuses on what happened after her days on the charts but there's not much to work with.  She dabbled with decadence ("I smoked a lot of pot") and then opted for the straight and narrow (getting married and accepting Jesus Christ as her lord and savior).  There was considerable tension between Tiffany and her parents during her rise to fame (at one point she took her mom to court, suing for the right to move out of her mother's house and to get out from her mom's legal control), but because no one was willing to go into any depth on the issue--as is their right--nothing is revealed.    One amusing exception is her what-I-was-doing-when-I-heard-about-my-first-#1-single anecdote.  Tiffany, then 16, was doing dishes at home when her manager called with the big news.  She replied to the effect of, "Wow, thanks, but I can't stay on the phone because my mom will get mad if I don't get the dishes done." (MF)

 

BADFINGER (11/5/00 – originally scheduled 1998) The real story of Badfinger,  as far as I can tell, is done faithfully, here. It is one of heartbreak, woe, anger, immeasurable tragedy, and, yes, triumph. Their triumphs, however, prove to be short-lived.  As The Iveys, the band gets the opportunity of the lifetime, winning the patronage of The Beatles, who sign them to Apple where they work extensively with the soon-to-be ex-Beatles, as well as releasing several, critically acclaimed, albums of their own.  Now known professionally as Badfinger (taken from an obscure John Lennon song), the band is personally groomed for success by The Beatles, a dream come true by any band of their day's standards.  But they find themselves unable to forge their own identity, despite several hit records. Amidst the recollections of a band with talent to spare and arguably the best break in the world (weighted down by the horrors of bad management and rapid loss of direction) are dazzling clips from T.V. shows like Germany's Musikladen and Beat Club, as well as interviews with the likes of Paul McCartney and (Would you believe?) Lou Christie, both of whom express tremendous admiration and respect for Badfinger. Neither the safety net of Apple Corps (Which outlived The Beatles, though only by a few years), nor having one of the most respected songwriters on the scene, Harry Nilsson, covering their own "Without You" (And, of course, making it a monster hit) could save them from their fate. By all accounts, the group's downfall would be with their second manager, Stan Polly, reported to have ties to the mob. Polly had the band, with their girlfriends, residing at his house and put on salaries well below the cost of living, even as their records were selling millions. A break with Apple in 1972 proved to be commercial suicide, as they released an album on the former, and on Warner Bros., at the same time. WB withdrew their LP, and the advance ended up in Polly's pocket. The group still put out records for Warner Bros., but found their sound falling out of favor, record sales tapering off and touring sometimes not even an option, for apparent lack of interest. Things could only get worse, and soon, they did. The first, devastating, blow came in 1975, when guitarist, Pete Ham, now living with his girlfriend and her young son, gets the word that he's broke, just as the couple are also expecting a child. Ham turns to Polly for some long-overdue financial assistance, but is turned down flat. After a night of drinking with bassist, Tom Evans, Pete Ham is found in his garage, hanged.  Excerpts from his suicide note are chillingly read aloud: "I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody...This is better. Stan Polly is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.” The surviving band members attempt to keep it together, amidst much infighting. Eventually, Joey Molland and Tom Evans drop out of music and take regular jobs, while drummer Mike Gibbons turns to session work. Molland is later approached by two young musicians from Chicago about starting a new band. He accepts, and convinces Tom Evans to join. Elektra agrees to sign the band, on the condition that they call themselves "Badfinger.” Their two LPs for Elektra flop, as drink and drugs fuel unrest within their ranks.  In the early 80s, U.S. Tours are simultaneously announced by two competing versions of Badfinger, one led by Molland, the other featuring Evans, Gibbons, and later member, keyboardist Bob Jackson. A battle over the rights to use the band name only causes the already-thin ties between Evans and Molland to break. The Evans-led group only performs sporadically, though they do turn up on local T.V. at their present base in Milwaukee, doing a guest spot with, of all things, a Horror Host known as "Toulouse No-Neck,” who sings a wretched version of "Come and Get It" for laughs. It is, at once, both fascinating and depressing.  The group did, however, play a gig in the Chicago suburbs around this time, and I'm told they were nothing short of brilliant. (I myself saw Joey Molland perform as Badfinger with a pickup band several years ago, and it was better than anyone had a right to expect. He connected with the audience admirably, and handled the songs that he didn’t even sing originally with a rare sort of elan. He also did a credible Snagglepuss imitation, a feat only previously ascribed to The Downliners Sect.) In 1983, Evans informs Molland (who, we're led to believe, was, by that time, on better terms with his former bandmate) that he intends to kill himself.  Evans' six-year old son finds him hanging from a tree, and a wish to join Ham is sadly fulfilled, by the same means. Somehow, the saga of Badfinger never seems to really end, despite tragedies of Shakespearean proportions. Molland continues to perform under the Badfinger name, stating, quite accurately, that it's the only way he can get bookings. Gibbons joined Molland and Jackson recently at a special awards presentation, declaring "Without You" one of the most covered songs of the year, in wake of Mariah Carey's hit version. As usual, something goes wrong, an erroneous group credit for "Without You,” plainly Evan and Ham's baby, ruins what should have been a triumph. Once more, defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory. The Badfinger story is not a happy story, it is a true story, and every true story ends in death.  (JB)

 

1992 (11/12) This could have been good, with “Grunge” usurping hair metal and Clinton sweeping Bush out, but instead it was just one minute mentions of every one who was hot this year.  They make some clichéd nods towards trends, but for the most part they are just trying to figure out a way to shoehorn En Vogue, Soundgarden, Michael Bolton, Jon Seda, Cypress Hill, Pm Dawn and a bunch of other incongruous acts together. The most interesting thong here was the theory that Nirvana became #1 in January because kids who got the Michael Jackson record for Christmas returned it and got “Nevermind.” (JA)

 

SNOOP DOGG (11/19/2000) You know our society is screwed up when a guy as essentially upbeat and laid-back as Snoop Dogg can find himself mixed up in crack dealing and murder.  Though his BTM profile often seems ripped from COPS or Court TV (in fact, I reckon about a third of the footage is from Court TV), he almost seems like the kind of guy you’d want to hang out with.  The kind of guy you almost wouldn’t mind your daughter bringing home… Almost.  The origin of Snoop’s nickname is surprisingly benign.  Born Cordozer Broadus, his mother dubbed him “Snoopy” for his large Charlie Brown head and love of Peanuts cartoons.  In a hilarious exaggeration of the usual Saturday night/Sunday morning dichotomy, his mother fondly recalls how she’d share a six pack of malt liquor with her twelve-year-old son every Saturday night, then wake Snoop early the following morning to sing in the church choir.  Essentially a good kid, Snoop made $90 a week bagging groceries and spent his free time freestyling over hip-hop beats with best friend Warren G, the kid stepbrother of NWA’s Doctor Dre.  Later, frustrated by Dre’s refusal to even listen to their demo tape, Snoop gave up on music and turned to crack dealing as a way to bring in some real cash.  Scared semi-straight by a stint in prison, Snoop returned to society with a renewed dedication to music.  Around this time, Warren was able to sneak one of Snoop’s tracks into the mix at a bachelor party for one of Dre’s friends.  Impressed, Dre took Snoop under his wing and the two made gold with their soundtrack for Deep Cover, then platinum with Dre’s “The Chronic” and Snoop’s solo debut “Doggystyle.” Unfortunately, the environment at Death Row Records, the label Dre co-founded with über-thug Suge Knight, was saturated with drugs, guns, booty, cash, malt liquor, and testosterone.  This ultimately led to an incident in which Snoop’s bodyguard gunned down a stalker from a rival gang.  In an eerie series of reenactments more reminiscent of COPS than BTM, we see the altercation play out over and over again in washed-out slow motion.  We also see photos of the victim, introducing an uneasy awareness that a human being actually died… this Snoop Dogg guy might actually be dangerous.  It’s a testament to Snoop’s candor and charisma that he’s able to reassure us of his innocence (once set apart from the mass of anonymous Black defendants by his fame, no jury could convict this man).  As the drama enters its Court TV phase, Snoop has our full empathy once again, and we are relieved when the jury pronounces him not guilty.  Today, the older, wiser Snoop enjoys a status as a beloved mainstream entertainer, doting father, quasi-role model, and hip-hop elder statesman.  Like Ice-T before him, he has gone from the face of scary ghetto depravity to a familiar, friendly prime-time personality.  The kind of guy even your grandmother almost wouldn’t mind having as a house guest… Almost. (EH)

 

CREED (11/26/00) The Creed Behind The Music was the perfect example of how the show was on a downward spiral because they were making episodes about young, boring bands to coincide with expected blockbuster record releases instead of choosing subjects based on the dramatic potential of the story.  While every episode has the announcer backtrack a little after each commercial to set the table dramatically for the next shoe to drop, the dearth of any actual history of this band necessitated the announcer to backtrack almost to the beginning after each commercial break just to fill the hour.  And not only was there very little to say here, but there was little clarity to what needed to be said.  Creed is supposedly a Christian band gone secular but other than showing that lead singer Scott Stapp has a father in the ministry they never really demonstrate any actual overt religious content in the lyrics (only vaguely uplifting, spiritual stuff).  And the show also fails to give enough explanatory background about the Christian Rock scene and how Creed and their audience fit into it.  Perhaps Creed never was really an overtly Christian band, but I think it is also possible that Creed’s people want to downplay the specifics of their early career and told BTM what content to include.  I really don’t know, which isn’t what I

should be saying after seeing a biographical documentary.  My initial reaction to this was that I did not enjoy this episode at all, especially because I found Stapp, and his bogus Christ poses, obnoxious and unpleasant.  Then I realized that there was one moment of the documentary that actually was pretty amusing.  Early in Creed’s career Stapp, without the band’s knowledge, took the ample band funds and invested it all in a pyramid scheme bankrupting the band.  Now there are a lot of stupid rock stars, but c’mon!  “Choking on your own vomit” stupid is one thing, but this is a whole different league of stupidity.  Creed may or may not be God’s messengers, but one thing is for sure: when the good Lord was passing out brains Stapp was off somewhere posing in the mirror with arms wide open. (JA)

JOHN LENNON: THE LAST YEARS (12/3/00) This is actually a superb episode.  Obviously you can’t do a Beatles BTM, it is simply too huge a subject.  Instead they offer us an ultra-focused exploration of the last few years of Lennon’s life where he atones for his misdeeds as an absentee father and bad husband by becoming a doting stay at home dad to Sean and a respectful collaborator with Yoko.  After taking years off from music he eventually records an album, and though the stories about that are great, it is the archival, primary source material pertaining to his home life that is best.  An audio tape of him telling his toddler about the Beatles is priceless (“…no, Ringo sang that one…”) and an interview he did with a kid journalist is really revealing. Because this episode did such a warm, genuine job of covering Lennon’s family life it doesn’t come off as heartless when it goes into great detail about his assassination.  In fact, the show delves into perhaps the best journalism/documentary filmmaking in BTM history, as virtually every principal is interviewed, including both policemen on the scene (who drove him to the hospital), the doctors who worked on him in the trauma unit and an amateur photographer who spoke to Mark Chapman while shooting Lennon photos.  Though the doctors try to keep his death secret so that Lennon’s kids wont hear it in the media it leaks out and Howard Cosell announces the death on Monday Night Football (that footage is included in this show). We see sad footage of Julian arriving at the scene too late, trying to connect with his deadbeat, and now dead, dad (one of the rare unclassy parts of this show is when they use leftover Julian footage from his BTM where he is surrounded by pretentious candles, which don’t fit the spare, honest tone of this documentary. Overall this was a really excellent, focused show, and kudos for not featuring the other Beatles at all, except for a postscript about the “Free As A Bird” sessions with Jeff Lynne years later, which was really unnecessary.  This told a much smaller story than other BTM’s, but it made you really feel the importance of the subject and the loss suffered by his absence.  (JA)

 

EVERCLEAR (12/10/00) Stay away!  This episode is so boring and unmoving that even the most steadfast Everclear fans (if there are any such creatures) will have a hard time stomaching it.  All of the band members come off as total tools—there’s Art, the brooding yet wholly uninteresting, vacant, unlikeable, coke-addicted, wife-beating frontman; Craig the stoner-voiced, greasy-haired, lives-with-his-parents bassplayer/resident dumbass; and Greg, the second-string, Warped Tour, personality-free drummer.  These three players perform a bunch of songs about why forty-two year old Art still hasn’t been able to get over the fact that his dad wasn’t around while he was a kid, and when that proves not to be enough to placate him, Art goes on to “work” for the social services organization for kids that wants to use his song “Father of Mine” in their commercials.  It takes some effort to rouse yourself to care when the band almost breaks up.  A textbook example of why MTV flavors-of-the-week should rarely, if ever, be given their own Behind the Music episodes. (EF)

 

2000 (12/17/00) While this looked like it might be a ragtag “year” episode when it launched with the noncommittal, “it was a year of dizzying diversity,” this one was actually pretty focused.  Instead of giving profiles on artists who had big years they did several longer coherent segments, that weren’t brilliant but at least were ambitious.  One interesting one covered Napster, the demographics of mainstream records and the way listeners in their early 30s felt unserved by the music biz.  Better was a segment on Moby, N*SYNC, Sting and artists who were licensing their music to TV commercials as an alternative or a supplement to radio play. David Wilde of Rolling Stone and others pontificate on what selling out means in the 21st century, and there’s no clear answer. (JA)

 

RUN DMC (2000) This episode is incredible because it proves that what makes BTM magic transcends even the most manipulative corporate synergy, with all its meddling and manipulation.  This episode was designed, executed and labored over because it was supposed to coincide with the release of RUN-DMC’s comeback album, a guest star-laden event designed to mimic recent albums by Santana and Whitney which made long money using the same ideas.  But when this episode was aired the album not only was delayed, but it was destined to be a failure.  And the reasons for the failure are devastatingly clear from the content of this show.  Instead of being the expected advertisement for the album this episode tells you NOT to buy the record because it can’t be good.   And the reasons for this?  Band dissent, failing health, ego problems…ahhh…the very heart of a great BTM!  The main thing that is wrong with the then current RUN-DMC was apparent as soon as they interview DMC, who speaks now in a nasal, thin, damaged voice.  It seems he had been rapping out of his register for two decades and destroyed his vocal cords (the label thought it was psychosomatic and sent him to a shrink).  He also was an all malt liquor alcoholic, drinking a case a day (he likened it to Popeye’s spinach) and that messed him up as well. The new happy-to-survive DMC can’t rap like he used to and doesn’t want to be tough or bad on wax any more, and in fact he has developed a new mature rap style, demonstrated by his song “Cadillac Car,” which states, “up in the morning hit the treadmill…cooling with my kids and my wife.”  So Run basically did the album all by himself, rejecting the use of any of DMC’s gentle Mister Rogers-style raps.  Though the present day footage was fascinating I don’t want to downplay the great early years material, with nerdy friends making it big in rap by being original and humorous, yet still hard (though Jam Master Jay was by far the most authentic street dude, he protected the other guys before they got big).  The episode takes the angle of trying to answer the question “is there a way for a b-boy to become a b-man,” and in fact they all do seem to have become mature adults with nice wives and adult activities (preaching, producing, parenting).  But Run still has that hunger, and he LOVES the spotlight (when he tells about his suicide he just sounds like he wants to tell a good BTM story for the camera…”I bought a bottle of poison” sounds awfully vague.  What did he do, go to the poison store?).  One of the most jarring things is seeing Jay laughing about getting shot, years before he was executed by a gunman. He seemed like the most together charismatic member of the group (certainly the most handsome) and his death may be hip hop’s biggest tragedy. (JA)

 

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (2001) I love this episode for several reasons.  As they tell the story of how this film persevered despite production problems (the original director had to be fired) and personal woes (Travolta was dating an older woman at the time who died of cancer) we get to experience some great artists - Travolta and the Bee Gees - at crucial career crossroads.  While the Bee Gees were adults at the time and have always acted in a very similar manner, super young Travolta and contemporary Travolta are different species and I love seeing period interviews with kid Travolta.  Unlike his tough, or dumb, characters from that era, real life young Travolta spoke in a gentle, nerdy, happy cadence that was tremendously charming.  He seemed intelligent and sincere in interviews, and his mature relationship with (the mature) Diana Hyland makes it seem like he had some substance. I also love seeing interviews with other actors from the movie.  It is such an amazing film and you feel so connected to the characters so seeing them decades later is interesting.  Also, unlike some of the other BTMs about movies this actually goes behind the music that proved to be the best selling of the era. On a postscript this may end up being the episode with the longest life because a version of it is an extra on the Saturday Night Fever DVD, which is certain to be in print forever. (JA)

 

GREASE (1/21/2001) VH1 must have expected to do a 20th anniversary Grease special (and they did something called “Grease- Where Are They Now) but basically this came out a couple of years later and felt warmed over.  What is best about this is that it starts off with the playwrights, two normal guys, and it tells their story or humble beginnings, a modest, fun idea, and the climb to mighty heights (and some of the lies and double crosses that go with Hollywood dealings).  When it gets to the actual Travolta days it becomes a fun but inconsequential show that points out racy lines and suggestive hot dog animation and the like.  Still, for fans of the movie this is more interesting than it had to be. (JA)

 

HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS (2/4/01) I love this episode because it is about humility and enjoying being in a band.  After decades the News is still intact with original members, and they are still just a bar band that enjoys hanging out together.  I’m amazed to learn they sold over 10 million copies of “Sports,” especially since I wouldn’t buy one if it had free poontang tickets in the sleeve, but I have to say I totally respect this band after watching this.  Huey grew up in the Bay Area with real beatnik-minded folks.  His dad is something called a “part time radiologist” and his mom is a free spirit who took him to the Fillmore to see Beat poets and hippie artists, and they both seem like cool old people.  One thing is that they were sort of hustlers, they seem to never have had money but Huey lived like a rich kid, going to prep school, and going to bum around Europe as a teen (he got the music bug while busking with  a harmonica in North Africa).  He goes to Cornell, fails at engineering but succeeds at being in a frat band.  He draws straws and is forced to personally fire the bass player who isn’t working out and that negative experience leads him to decide that insane loyalty to band members is more important than the band being good, a philosophy that oddly enough served him well.  After flopping with a hippie band called Clover he relaxes and forms a house band at a club called Uncle Charlie’s that eventually becomes the biggest band in the world without changing much.  Today Huey plays golf, is nice to people and plays 60 gigs a year with his buddies.  No tragic or dramatic arc at all, but what a nice story. (JA)

 

JOURNEY (2/18/01) The BTMs devoted to 1970s album-rock acts often follow a similar pattern: an overambitious lead singer slowly transforms a hard-rock band into a mushy power ballad machine. The lead guitarist knows it’s corny, but goes along with the decision anyway, bitching all the way to the bank. When the inevitable reunion happens in the nineties, the lead singer backs out due to illness; his bandmates, against his wishes, get a soundalike and press on without him. Both Styx and Journey followed this template, but at least Dennis DeYoung was with Styx from the gitgo. Steve Perry was imposed on the band after they'd been established, gradually tried to take over the reins from lead guitarist Neal Schon, and then has the raw nerve to claim he always felt like an outsider! The next time this is rerun, watch out for a key scene: by '86, the band was down to Perry, Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain plus two session musicians. The live footage shows that only Perry, Schon and Cain were allowed to play under a spotlight! The bassist and drummer are, literally, toiling away in total darkness! The bassist in the shadows, by the way, was Randy Jackson, who is now one of the judges on American Idol. (JP)

 

DOOBIE BROTHERS (2/25/01) No, there's no trivia about the band's career-defining appearance on the 70's sitcom What's Happening!!!, and we'll never know if Rerun's bootleg tape was ever retrieved. Despite that glaring omission, this is one of the more successful BTM's ever made. You've got the expected drug and drink problems (true to their name, there's seemingly umpteen hundred photos and home movies of the band passing joints), at least one death (another latter-day member passed on since this episode), plus the obligatory New Member Who Changes The Band's Sound (also see: Journey, REO Speedwagon). In this case, it was Michael McDonald, whose creamy-smooth, quasi-soul, middle-of-the-road style clashes with at least two lead guitarists. Unlike Journey, REO, etc., everybody had kissed and made up by the time this episode aired. And when they reunited in the late 80's (sans McDonald), they reverted back to the (sorta) hard rock sound they had before Michael McD showed up. Something for everybody -- lotta drug-induced scandal and shame, a happy ending, and more kitschy 70's hippie fashions than you can swing a dead cat at. (JP)

 

ROD STEWART (3/4/2001) Not being particularly spiritual, I don’t think a lot about things like the afterlife, or the beforelife, or where I am on the karma ladder. That was before seeing the Behind The Music on Rod Stewart.  Now every Behind The Music cobbles the smut and glitter of a fabulous music career into a tidy oval of early promise fulfilled, ego bloat, loss of identity and, finally, personal redemption. You really need the big moments to make this spirograph/biograph work – the scary overdose, the reunion with the calm and thoughtful hot stranger who turns out to be your offspring, loss of limb to the rhythm section. If we can’t see our heroes live in ’75 and catch their crystal sweat, we at least want to taste their tears on TV now (or a facsimile therein, because it is actually our own tears, salty and real). And this is why Rod’s Behind doesn’t really work, because NOTHING BAD HAS EVER HAPPENED TO THIS MAN. They must’ve had the VH1 interns burning up the Lexis/Nexis lines looking for some tragedy in this guy’s life, because it just ain’t there. We go from his birth in war-torn London (he effectively avoided the War) to his embrace of American rhythmandblues to his ‘shy’ start with talented-but-curmudgeonly Jeff Beck and the Faces. So far, so good. Then, a million wacky, crooked photographs of him dating Every Single Cute Girl in the 1970s. He is a bleached dervish having a constant climax behind the mic stand, or making the ladies laugh with a rocks glass in his hand. The ladies look like they have never known such bliss. (His moles apparently appear and reappear, but you KNOW they’re all benign, or that would be the show’s keystone, Rod’s spandex dance around the Reaper.) His albums have titles like “Footloose and Fancy Free” and “Never A Dull Moment.” This goes on. He divorces a wife, and gives her the rights to “You’re In My Heart” as a settlement. He cruises into disco, and comes out golden, with Carmine Appice on drums and a short Asian bassist wearing red leather pants and vest who makes Rod look seven feet tall. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” “Young Turks,” and the string of hits and trim continues. All the current interviews with him are shot with a major Doris Day filter on the lens, with a golden hue approximating candlelight, which makes you-the-viewer feel like YOU are drunk and about to make out with the divine Scotsman.  (They don’t talk about the bucket-of-sperm stomach pump myth, by which someone tried to clip tail off Rod’s shooting star, or the fact that Rod became FDR (sans polio, naturally) while Jeff Beck became Herbert Hoover, and Ronnie Wood became Ronnie Wood.) But this is Behind The Music, so here we go: Big Tragedy #1 is in the mid-80’s, when his, like, 20-year-old wife Rachel Hunter breaks up with him. He goes on about this like it is Hiroshima. His ego, clearly, has never experienced such trauma. He manages to get Rachel to provide some back–up vocals for his hit “Lost In You.” They’re clearly still on good terms, because Rod was man enough to get over it, and Ms. Hunter clearly realizes she that was she was young and foolish to ever reject Rod.  Big Tragedy #2 is that suddenly, at the age of 89, Rod’s father DIES. (Maybe not exactly 89, but up there – the guy was old.) Rod is shaken to the core by this display of mortality within his own bloodline. He just can’t believe his dear dad is gone. He realizes he can wear more somber colored suits as well, not just neons and pastels. He tucks his beloved father into the boggy peat of his native land…and then goes back to LA.  So, reincarnation: what did this man do in a previous life to have afforded him such a ride? I’m telling you, it must have been amazing and completely selfless. Robert Plant can name-check all the Eastern themes he wants, but Rod is Krishna-esque. The Buddha don’t have to be fat, and the gold may just be in his hair. This canonized wonder now has tackled the charts once again by ripping through the canon of the “American Song Book.”  Just know, as he smiles that quizzical smile at you from his boyishly akimbo and charming pose on the cover, that Rod knows the answers, and all the dogs are smiling back at him, and the applause you hear is all the single hands clapping. (SL)

 

FLASHDANCE (3/11/01) Nary a mention of Lee Ving! That’s one complaint about this episode. Plus, they could have shown a few more of the audition tapes from prospective lead actresses. Hubba hubba. Anyway, the making of this “Rocky for women” is the typical “writer/director’s vision vs. Hollywood producer’s reluctance to take any kind of chance” story. But thanks to Adrian Lyne’s perseverance, we have Flashdance as a cultural touchstone. Let’s see, break dancing, the fashionably ripped clothes fashion, and uh, artistic stripping were all popularized by the movie. Plus scenes have been homaged from the time of the film’s release in 1983 up until J Lo’s recent aping of the climactic dance number. I thought Ving was the real star, though. (CB)

 

BILLY IDOL (4/18/01) Beyond a few good original songs and some spectacularly unnecessary covers, Billy Idol is totally unmemorable as an artist, and his Behind the Music matches him well in this sense.  When we hear about Billy cheating repeatedly on the mother of his child, overdosing on GHB on the Sunset Strip, and nearly losing his leg in a motorcycle accident when he’d been riding around after drinking and taking sleeping pills, he just kind of seems like an asshole.  The fawning cameos by Downtown Julie Brown, Adam Sandler, and the guy from Matchbox 20 are annoying and unpersuasive, and the appearance of Legs McNeil is confusing. (TA)

MEGADETH (4/25/01) Though, on the charts and in the hearts of fans, Megadeth always came in second to their arch thrash-metal rivals Metallica, their Behind the Music episode beats out Metallica’s by a mile when it comes to sheer heavy-metal chaos and depravity.  Bleak, depressing, and nihilistic – even by BTM standards - with a barely-sympathetic antihero in crazed band leader Dave Mustaine, this episode makes for punishing, but riveting viewing in the vein of films like Monster and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In the early 80s, Mustaine - the deeply troubled son of an alcoholic father whose idea of discipline involved pliers, earlobes, and blacktop – answered an L.A. newspaper ad seeking a guitarist for a metal group.  That band turned out to be Metallica, and Mustaine impressed leaders Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield with his impossibly fast, screeching technique.  The group became stars in the local metal underground (which defined itself in opposition to the “faggy” glam rock of Mötley Crüe and Van Halen).  The smoky, harshly lit footage of early Metallica shows serve as a potent reminder of just how dangerously intense the now-hopelessly sold-out dinosaur act used to be.  While recording their demo tape in LA, Mustaine beat the piss out of the band’s three other members (simultaneously), then drove them up a wall during a cross-country van tour during which Mustaine would pick fights with locals at nearly every bar, gas station, and restaurant along the way.  Upon arriving in NYC, where the band had intended to relocate, Lars and James informed Mustaine that he was fired, and drove him straight to the bus terminal, where they bought him a ticket home.  Though this might seem like an unforgivable betrayal, it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for Mustaine, especially when his chilly personality in the present-day interviews (the lights are on, but nobody’s home) is contrasted to the affable, relaxed Ulrich and Hetfield. It took Dave two months to stop drinking long enough to put a band together.  Mustaine recruited next-door neighbor David Ellison after hurling a flower pot at Ellison for playing Van Halen basslines too loud at ten A.M. (he then made nice by buying the underage Ellison a six-pack).  With the addition of junkie jazz-fusion veterans Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson, Megadeth soon claimed Metallica’s recently-vacated local throne.  Signed by Metallica’s label, who were hoping to replicate the success of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All (on which, to Dave’s unending rage, the band included several Mustaine compositions), Megadeth embarked on what would become a never-ending tour/drug binge.  Mustaine consumed everything he could get his hands on – hash, acid, mushrooms, opium, morphine, demerol, cocaine, heroin, even crack (the editors even throw in a picture of Mustaine with a blackened crackpipe hanging from his lips).  And while this aggravated his propensity for violence, his bandmates were crazy enough in their own right to dish it right back.  It’s easy to see how they scared the crap out of tour-mate Alice Cooper (classy as ever in his brief appearance): the backstage pictures of Megadeth in their heyday seem pulled from Fangoria, rather than Rolling Stone.  In defiance of the usual BTM plot arc, Megadeth’s music just kept getting better the further they fell over the edge of infighting and drug abuse.  Their debut “Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good” became a metal classic, as did the follow-ups “Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying” and “So Far, So Good, So What?”  In the early 90s, the band made history when their album “Countdown to Extinction” debuted at #2 on the pop charts.  But Dave’s moment of triumph was cut short when Metallica’s “black album” topped it at #1 a few weeks later.  Eager to settle the score, Megadeth’s people met with Metallica’s people and arranged a “Battle of the Bands” tour for the two million-selling thrash-metal groups.  Upon discovering that their audiences were mostly one and the same, Dave, Lars, and James buried the hatchet and have became friendly towards each other again, if not necessarily friends.  Inspired to enter rehab by Gar’s fatal overdose and his own 8-day, heroin-induced coma, Mustaine claims his days of reckless drug use and random violence are behind him.  But, knowing all that came before, and looking into his vacant eyes, one can’t be sure.  It’s enough to make heavy metal scary again for even the most de-sensitized headbanger. (EH)


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