Less than halfway into "Rolling Stone: The Tenth Anniversary," on CBS tonight, Bette Midler surveys the situation and sizes it right up. "The tenth anniversary of Rollong Stone!" she says. "What could be more BORING?"
If the occasion itself is hardly the stuff of tingled spines, at least the network special commenorating it - at 9 o'clock on Channel 9 - has enough loony bad taste, rampant overproduction and indulgent pseudo-solemnity to qualify as a true fiasco fabuloso. It's crummy, but it's entertaining.
Midler's segment, near midpoint in the two-hour pageant, strikes the night's high note and holds it. Her parodistic vivacity and brash stance spritz the preening self-importance that saturates the show. She sings a seductive "La Vie En Rose" and a turbulent "Do Doo Run Run," among others.
Comedian Steve Martin, another of the greatest living faces in television, bullies a few comedy sketches into life as well and also serves as an antidote. But the motif remains pretentiousness, and imagined hip pretentiousnessa t that.
In this obsession, the program may indeed be true to Rolling Stone magazine, which appears to take its role as chronicler of the rock generation - a self-appointed role - as the most divine mission since F. Scott Fitzgerald's. Watching the show is little like reading the unrelenting me-prose of the magazine and wondering to yourself if even the grayest old head writing editorials for the Times of London could conceivably be taking himself any more seriously than these kids do.
Of course it's no tiny irony that a publication with roots ostensibly in the counter-culture of the '60s now comes crawling to mainstream television like just another merchandiser - still trying, to some extent, to merchandise antimercantilism. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is listed among the "stars" of the program, though he has only a cameo role in the opening sketch, and is creditied as a contributing writer and executive producer.
Trying to pick out the most preposterous of the special's chain of independent modules isn't easy. Martin Sheen reading an angry letter from a Vietnam vet merits some kind of prize for fatuous and gratuitious moralistic cant. It is replete with a reference to the "white racist Americans" who allegedly masterminded the war. Perhaps this is an effort to keep the magazine's counter-culture credentials intact, even on a program that often resembles the Ice Capades.
A four-minutes filmed sequence, part of it shot - by cinematographer Haskell Wexler - in an L.A. record store's parking lot, reportedly cost $100,000 to produce. "Life in the Fast Lane" (from an Eagles song) tells of a fame-hungry young woman (Lesley Ann Warren) who rubs herself with money until a smoke bomb goes off.
I think maybe there's some heavy social comment going down, huh?
The special also features Gladys Knight and the Pips, Art Garfunkei and Jerry Lee Lewis. They do not rub camera, but producer-director Steve Binder has said that money was no object in producing this Hallelujah Chorus for the world's ex-hippies.
To watch all this money being squandered proved sort of fascinating, and to seel Rolling Stone jumping through televisions hoop is weirdly satisfying, since the previous pose of the magazine has been that rock was too holy and pure ever to be captured by a vulgarism like TV.
The Rolling Stone tenth anniversary special is the kind of ghastly mess that is pleasureable because you feel most of the people involved in it deserve to look ridiculous , and they do.