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Pretenders Open Season of TV Rock

July 10, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ There is rock ‘n’ roll and there is rock ‘n’ roll on television. Chrissie Hynde learned the difference when a makeup artist, powder puff in hand, scampered across the stage toward her during a break between songs.

``We’ve got to stop the show because I’ve got some shine,″ the Pretenders’ lead singer said, looking slightly mortified.

She waved off the woman, preferring a towel to wipe away sweat that reflected light into a camera. Drummer Martin Chambers wondered aloud if his bald spot was causing similar problems.

Both shrugged off the annoyance to finish a sharp, 90-minute set earlier this week. Producers hurriedly distilled it into an hour-long ``Hard Rock Live″ installment in time for the season premiere this Friday at 7 p.m. on VH1.

In Hynde, they had a reluctant TV star.

``I don’t like being on television particularly, because I don’t think music comes off very well,″ she said a few hours before her performance. ``But it’s more the name of the game these days. This is America, and if Americans see you on television, then you exist.″

While nothing replaces the experience of music in a club or arena, the electronic concert halls of television are becoming increasingly important to a music career.

For one thing, cable gives music many more television outlets. ``Hard Rock Live″ and ``Storytellers,″ where musicians intersperse songs with stories, are regular series on VH1. Sister station MTV has a weekly live music series and still makes installments of its ``Unplugged″ series. PBS’s ``Sessions at West 57th″ is another respected music series. Black Entertainment Television will introduces an hour-long concert series that will run five nights a week in the fall.

Talk show hosts like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and Conan O’Brien also offer regular slots to musical acts.

All are a long way from the grainy footage of concert specials of the 1970s, often shown post-midnight, if at all. And with radio station playlists tightening considerably in the 1990s, more often television is the place for artists to expose their new work.

Hynde is old enough to be mom to sarcastic teen-agers who wonder whether there was television when she grew up. Television, yes, but her music career began in another era that seems prehistoric to young people: before MTV.

In their early years, the Pretenders and other British-based bands made rock videos that were aired on children’s shows in England. When MTV started in 1981, its playlist was filled with this material.

``It looked like there was this English invasion in music when actually there wasn’t,″ she said. ``We just happened to have a few videos knocking about.″

Hynde winces when she sees ``rockumentaries″ that glamorize the mundane lives of musicians. Television’s unforgiving nature is also somewhat intimidating for her: It’s tougher to play past a bad night and hope no one notices.

``You can’t rely on any other party tricks you may have up your sleeves,″ she said.

When the Pretenders were asked to be on ``Hard Rock Live,″ she wanted to see some past shows and producers sent tapes of performances by the Indigo Girls, Lou Reed, Rusted Root and Paula Cole.

She liked that they simply got on stage and played.

``If you like that act and they sounded pretty good that night, you’ll like the show,″ she said. ``It wasn’t like there were these incredible camera angles or something. It was the straightforwardness that appealed to me.″

So the Pretenders, standing on a New York soundstage designed to look like the ruins of ancient Greece, simply played. There were two new songs, but mostly they roared through hits like ``Back on the Chain Gang,″ ``Precious″ and ``Middle of the Road.″

Television cameras couldn’t quite tame Hynde’s rebellious spirit. She seemed annoyed that organizers didn’t want to hear ``Precious,″ presumably because of its obscenities. She also didn’t ingratiate herself to sponsors.

``I know this won’t make the final cut,″ she confided to the studio audience, ``but we by no means endorse the Hard Rock Cafe in any way.″

Further evidence that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t always polite. Even television can’t change that.

The second season of ``Hard Rock Live″ stretches into October, with acts like Third Eye Blind, Boyz II Men, Ani DiFranco, Trisha Yearwood and the Allman Brothers Band. Each week’s show is repeated three times: Saturdays and Thursdays at midnight and Mondays at 7 p.m.


Elsewhere in television ...

BEST BETS: Black Entertainment Television will introduce four new programs for the season beginning on Sept. 7. The concert series, ``BET Soundstage,″ will run Monday through Thursday and Saturday nights. ``Heart and Soul″ is a newsmagazine focusing on health and fitness issues. ``Buy the Book″ is a literary talk show, and ``BET Sports″ is a sports magazine show. BET has also acquired the sitcoms ``Sparks″ and ``Good News″ for airing in the fall.


David Bauder can be reached at dbauder″at″ap.org

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