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TV REVIEW : Words Move MTV Back to Its Eclectic Roots

July 28, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN

Electrical grounding: Never had it, never will.

That could be the rallying cry of tonight's participants on "MTV Unplugged" at 10 p.m., who, for once, aren't pop singers with pickup cello sections but rather seven poets doing their usual neo-beatnik thing.

As the first episode in the series to feature spoken-word performances instead of acoustically reworked rock, this show takes "Unplugged" a welcome step back toward its more eclectic roots, when it was originally more of a cult artists' show rather than the repository of slumming superstars.

This isn't your father's poetry, of course. With a backing band, Maggie Estep rants on for several sorta-amusing minutes about "The Jerk I'm Obsessed With," offering asides about another jerk who is, in turn, obsessed with her. She also does a ranting duet with black poet Reg E. Gaines in "Using Me for Sex," a cacophony of interracial lust and relational Angst .

The other poets eschew the band and go it a cappella, mostly with a less sexual, more topical bent. Edwin Torres' "Peesacho" is a torrent of engagingly rhythmic dialect. Gaines' "Please Don't Take My Air Jordans" ("for Spike, Mike and all the black kids that have been killed for $200 sneakers") details a deadly greed infecting even--or especially--the ghetto.

All the poets here are very much performance -oriented, and none are exactly what you'd call calming. But probably the least hyper of the uniformly forceful lot is Barry Yourgrau, whose allegorical flight of fancy about making a kite out of his father provides a nice break from the literalness of other poems.

The biggest "name" here, Henry Rollins, closes out the show with the inevitable irony of "Ode to MTV Unplugged," though he waxes sincere long enough to enthuse that this spoken-word episode is "the greatest accomplishment" in MTV's history.

We'd have to beg to differ and vote for the cancellation of the original VJs' contracts; still, Rollins' enthusiasm is well-placed, even if this short show is more of a teaser than a satiating sampler.

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