VH-1: Wheres The Music
On December 8, 2004, twenty-four years to the date John Lennon was taken away from us, another unhinged fan took away the life of Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell. What made this event so anomalous and abnormal is that Dimebag was shot on-stage. The horror and terror of the incident was showcased with a gentle and human touch on the most recent episode of "Pantera: Behind The Music". I never had cable television until I bought a house last summer. However, over the years, I would crash friends house's for "The Sopranos" and choice episodes of "Behind The Music". I even had friends from time to time tape me marathons of the VH-1 show which showcased the rise and fall of rock and pop stars. Each episode was engineered with the determination of an Academy Award documentary filmmaker, which made each and every episode engaging. I don't own a single New Edition, Notorious BIG or Leif Garrett album, but their respective BTM episodes were nothing short of astounding. Are they dramatic and over the top? You bet, but it works. Each and every episode was carefully hand crafted so the viewer was given incredible depth into the artists, who they are, who they wanted to be and where they are today. Just this past week, I was absorbed, forlorn and torn to pieces by two new "Behind The Music" episodes; one on the LA glam band Ratt and the other on the metal band Pantera.
At the turn of the millennium many of my friends and I were commenting how MTV's music programming had gone south and that VH-1 was a far superior music channel. But then, sometime in late 2001, someone at VH-1 made the decision that revenue and ratings were far more important than quality. Over the last few years, VH-1 went from the leading cable music channel to one that is fixated over the idea of celebrity. Even worse, their reality shows focus on "B" grade celebrities at best. What the hell happened in a few short years? It boils down to advertising and ratings. Instead of taking the high road and producing enlightening, influential and-yes-great television pieces on music, VH-1 turned their back on it and became a third rate E! rip off. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional "Surreal Life" and think "Best Week Ever" is one of the funniest things on TV, but do we really need to see "The Flavor of Love" 6 hours a day? "Driven", "Celebrity Fit Club", "Hogan Knows Best" and "Celebrity Eye Candy" are drivel entertainment further establishing that VH-1 has taken the low road in entertainment journalism.
However, none of this crossed my mind as I watched two back to back hours of "Behind The Music" which reminded me of what the channel is capable of when they decide to choose substance over style. As I watched the terrifying and gut wrenching footage of a distraught fan gun down Dimebag Darrel, I was reminded at just how compelling some "Behind The Music" episodes truly were. I know I'm being manipulated, but that's ok, because what they are showing is truthful and heartrending confessions from the artists themselves. This is why E!'s "True Hollywood Stories" can not hold a light to "Behind The Music". Each episode is authorized by the artists themselves. While over the last few years there were a few "Behind The Music's" that were weak (New Edition, Spice Girls and the Guns N Roses episodes come to mind), they still are a thousand times better than any show on E!. VH-1 should sit back and watch the Pantera "Behind The Music" again and think to themselves how these episodes are ten times more memorable than three quarters of their daily programming.
When I watched Pantera lead vocalist Phil Anselmo call out to Dime's brother Vinnie Paul in the episode saying how he needed him in his life, it reminded me of something I haven't seen on VH-1 in years...heart. I was drained and exhausted just from watching the episode. This is the feeling I have after seeing an important film like Steve Spielberg's "Munich". When they want to be, "Behind The Music" can be television at its best. The BTM crew is in top notch form with their recent episodes on Kid Rock and Pantera, arguably their best ever. Let's hope the powers that be realize just how potent and incendiary these episodes can be and they begin to create more programming like this, instead of shows that catch celebrities in bad poses. As much as I have always admired Pantera, I have never owned any of their albums and as I watched it with my wife, she turned to me and said "Uh-oh, I feel a new obsession coming on". Usually when I used to see a great "Behind The Music" I would become infatuated with the artist wanting to delve into their entire music catalog and find something I missed on the first go round regardless of the genre or music. That is how damn good and significant these shows can be.
"Ultimate Albums", "Legends", "Storytellers" and "Behind The Music" have nearly become extinct on the VH-1 radar and it's an embarrassment, especially when you see what VH-1 has replaced them with (B-grade celebrity reality shows). If anything, there is room for both and I don't see why VH-1 (or their sister station VH-1 Classic for that matter) plays more of these episodes and raid the vaults for older episodes people have now gone years without seeing. Even better, how about creating a "Behind The Music 2" where you pick up events from where the original left off. Many artists have gone on to do a lot since these episodes originally aired and it would be a great way of continuing the ongoing story of certain artists. Instead of the hack shows VH-1 have today, they should find more programming where they focus on and honor the life of people like Dimebag Darrell. Here is a man who enlightened everyone he came in touch with while he was on this earth. The Pantera episode, while full of drama and heartbreak, was really about the celebrating Dimebag Darrell's life. Now that he has passed onto a better place, what better way to serve his memory than by focusing on more quality programs like this that honor life and art instead of the idiocy of B-grade celebrities? Years from now, no one will pay attention to stupid celebrity ploys or who was the wackiest on "The Surreal Life", but people will remember the life of people like Dimebag, John Lennon, Robin Crosby, Keith Moon and others. There is a conscience in rock n' roll and through it we hope we can find the truth and enlightenment that can help us find salvation. Maybe if VH-1 is reminded of this, they too can find that enlightenment once again.