- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

LOS ANGELES Rapper MC Hammer couldn't keep his eyes off the television set in his dressing room.

On the screen, a montage of video clips showed many of the music industry's biggest names, the legendary and the infamous, telling their stories on VH1's "Behind the Music." There were bits about their rise to fame, their fall from glory and, for some, their resurrection.

Mr. Hammer was among them he was one of the first, more than three years ago, to tell about his rocket ride to fame and his subsequent bankruptcy after losing more than $30 million.

"I have to say I was blown away when I first saw it," he says at a taping for the show's anniversary special. "I kept thinking, 'That's my life. I'm not watching TV, I'm watching me.' "

Since those first episodes, nearly everyone in the music industry has been lining up for a shot on the show.

"Behind the Music" began a new season Sunday with the story of 1970s singer Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, who renounced popular music after having a religious epiphany.

There is no shortage of those willing to tell the good, the bad and the ugly on the show, says Jeff Gaspin, the VH1 executive who masterminded the series.

"I was not planning on doing a biography series," he says. "It began as an idea to find out whatever happened to so-and-so."

At the top of his list was Milli Vanilli, the Grammy-winning duo who turned the music industry upside down with the discovery that they were lip-syncing songs performed by somebody else.

A "Behind the Music" formula quickly developed: Detail the performer's beginnings, the rise to fame, the glory moments, the fall and, finally, redemption and resurrection.

VH1 doesn't do unauthorized "Behind the Music" episodes. The artists must agree to tell all and allow use of their music.

For example, the episode featuring the heavy-metal band Poison revisited the group's meager beginnings in a roach-infested studio space.

It then followed their rise to fame and the excesses that followed. The band then fired its guitarist and fell off the charts and into oblivion until last year, when it launched a comeback tour.

The episode "gave the tour more legs," says Poison's Rikki Rockett. "What it did was let a lot of fans know where to find us."

The appearance also aided members' solo projects. A snippet of a single from guitarist CC Deville's new band, Samantha 7, helped land that group a record deal.

In fact, appearances on "Behind the Music" have helped many groups with slumping record sales.

Rick Springfield, who rode to fame in the 1980s with his No. 1 hit "Jessie's Girl," says his initial episode and the reruns helped his latest release, "Karma."

"Every time the episode airs, we see a spike in sales," he says.

Along with using the show to get out their side of a story, many artists say that without its "where are they now?" angle, it wouldn't be worth doing.

"I wouldn't want it to be just a nostalgia thing," Mr. Springfield says. "I'm still performing, I'm still writing, I'm still recording. I haven't disappeared."

Not every story has a happy ending.

Rob Pilatus, half of the Milli Vanilli duo, died of a drug and alcohol overdose shortly after his interviews with "Behind the Music."

"The story needed to be told. It wasn't all the story, but it was more than anybody had ever done about it," says Fabrice Morvan, the duo's other half. "I saw it the first time. I haven't been able to watch it since. It's painful. When I watch it, I see this young man with his whole life ahead of him, and now he's gone."

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