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[whitespace] The Rot Sets In

VH1 keeps music videos alive late at night and reminds the bleary-eyed that Def Leppard was once a hair band of note

By Gina Arnold

EVER WONDER where the music videos on stations once devoted to music like MTV and VH1 went? I can tell you: they moved to the wee hours of the morning. VH1 has a show that begins at 2 or 3am called Insomniac Theater, but it ought to be renamed Nursing Mothers' Theater, because I can't believe that anyone else is watching other than us poor, benighted tit slaves.

Nothing like a little night feeding to catch up on bad TV. Since giving birth a month ago, that's all the "art" I can manage. Want to hear the ultimate statement about how motherhood rots the brain? It only took me a week before I canceled my subscription to The New York Times and considered putting the money saved toward paying for some supercable stations.

Luckily, before I made that drastic move, I remembered my brother's comment when I first got regular cable: "Now you know for sure that there's nothing on TV." It's so true. The more stations you get, the less there is to watch--especially at 4 in the morning, when all that's on is either reruns or "paid programming"--infomercials, to be exact.

I try to watch a little Spanish TV to keep up with my language classes, and occasionally, I tune in to a movie. Mostly, however, what I watch are reruns of comedies and dramas I watched years ago: Charlie's Angels, Monty Python, Beverly Hills 90210 and Absolutely Fabulous. Law & Order, for some reason, is on constantly on cable, although not, alas, Homicide. But in the end, one always winds up at the same point on the dial: at VH1.

Don't get me wrong. VH1 is not a good station. Its original programming (particularly Behind the Music and Before They Were Rock Stars) is completely predictable and clichéd, its idea of who's a rock star is limited and its music-vid programming has become interchangeable with that of MTV, i.e., it alternates between a myriad of new "emo" bands that play plaintive power ballads (Incubus, Lifehouse, Staind, etc.) and the usual prefab pop--Destiny's Child, Janet Jackson, the Backstreet Boobs, whatever.

ALL THIS is true and more. And yet--I cannot tell a lie. So low have I fallen that I actually found myself looking forward to the VH1's original drama Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story.

It seemed like such an odd choice for a docudrama. Of all the bands whose careers spanned the '80s and '90s, why Def Leppard? True, the band's story has some drama--a death and a spectacular car wreck--but which band's story doesn't? The same facts cover the histories of Hanoi Rocks, Mötley Crüe, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the list goes on and on.

The only thing I could think of was that Def Leppard (besides being party to the project, which is, if you think about it, like helping to write your own obituary) has more spectacular hair than those bands and is thus a lot easier to impersonate.

But was Def Leppard important? I can't remember seeing them perform live, and since I was a daily rock critic during the band's crucial years, that seems fairly significant. No, I take that back. I saw them once, after drummer Rick Allen lost his arm, opening for someone at Shoreline--Aerosmith, maybe.

His drumming was atrocious. (Of course, so was Aerosmith's, so what's it matter?) Certainly, Def Leppard never mattered even on the American dumb hair-band circuit, and when Nirvana came along--kablooie! Anyway, Def Leppard was hard to distinguish from Poison, REO Speedwagon and a bunch of other acts whose music won't even get played on the KABL and KARAs of tomorrow.

Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story didn't tell me anything I didn't know--or could guess--about Def Leppard. So its members were working-class yobs from Sheffield; they made it big, got a lot of girls, did a lot of drugs and fell apart. The show didn't explain why it, of all bands, made it big (Hysteria implied that talent had something to do with it, but that's hard to swallow); or even how or why the band stayed together all these years despite so many setbacks.

Hysteria didn't explain anything that an episode of Behind the Music couldn't have done better, but it did make me understand why, against all common sense, I keep turning back to VH1.

The station combines all the things I like about other channels: the nostalgic feelings brought on by Mary Tyler Moore reruns, the stupid melodramas we're used to on shows like BH Niner, and the lightweight news and information found on network TV.

But most of all, VH1 is a lot like the history channel, only instead of chronicling the battles of World War II, it chronicles our own times, which are of course far more interesting to look back on than times we didn't live through.

I enjoy seeing things like The Def Leppard Story, even if its view of those times isn't mine, because it puts events in perspective. Has so much time passed since Pyromania beat Michael Jackson in the charts? Well, yes, it has.

Back when Def Leppard was prowling the planet, AIDS wasn't something rock stars even thought about: alcohol abuse was a more pressing problem. A show like Hysteria really highlights how much time has passed in one's own life, and that's interesting in and of itself.

Planet of the Silly People Dressed in Costumes

HAS ANYONE but me noticed that many of the apes in the new movie Planet of the Apes look quite a bit like certain rock stars? Helena Bonham Carter's character, for instance, is a dead ringer for Michael Jackson: she even wears one fingerless glove.

Then, there are two apes who are clearly a parody of Ike and Tina Turner, while the rest of the cast of gorillas is clearly meant to sound like Barry White. The whole thing is most peculiar, even bordering on racist, especially since two of the very few human characters happen to be played by pseudo rock stars: Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) and Kris Kristofferson, both of whom happen to be humans who look remarkably like apes.

The stratagem really makes me wonder what director Tim Burton was trying to say. He might have been trying to be funny, but if so, he misses by a mile. Of course, it might be my imagination, but I don't think so. I don't think so.

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From the August 9-15, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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