Well-meaning Raitt 'Talk' may fall on deaf teen ears

March 16, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Do teen-agers care what Bonnie Raitt has to say about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll? Will they even know who she's talking about when she says how much she admired Joan Baez or wanted to be a beatnik?

Such questions beg to be asked of ABC's Afterschool Special, "Bonnie Raitt Has Something To Talk About," airing at 4 p.m. today on WMAR (Channel 2).

The format of the special, which will pre-empt "Oprah" in Baltimore, has Whoopi Goldberg interviewing Raitt about her life. It's not exactly MTV-visually-exciting. Most of the hour is just these two fortysomethings sitting in chairs talking to each other, with occasional cuts to clips of Raitt in concert.

The talk is generally an interesting one, with some reflections from Raitt, a former alcohol and drug abuser, that could be important to the teen viewers whom ABC targets with its "Afterschool Specials."

"So, Bonnie, when you were a kid, did you think you were cute or did you think you were, like, kind of geeky?" Goldberg asks.

"Well, you know, like a lot of teen-agers, I had a weight problem, a skin problem, braces. I felt betrayed," Raitt says.

"But you had your music, right?" Goldberg asks.

"Yeah, I used to sit in my room. I mean, that was my saving grace. I used to just sit in my room and play the guitar. I played all those sad ballads that I learned off the Joan Baez records and sang about unrequited love.

"I just couldn't wait to get older. I could not wait to be a beatnik. You know, actually go to Selma and be in the Freedom Rides, and here I was 13."

There are even a couple of moments in the special where something approaching wisdom is offered.

One of those involves Raitt's talking about what she felt as a teen-ager about her father's being away from home most of her childhood. Her dad is Broadway musical star John Raitt.

"I wrote a song on the new record called 'Circle Dance' about my dad being away a lot and how it really hurt at the time," Raitt says. "Of course, I understand now, because hindsight is a great thing."

Viewers are then shown a tape of her singing the ballad in concert: 'Can't go back and make things right/ Wish I'd understood/ Time has made things clearer now/ You did the best you could."

The next edit brings Raitt's father on screen.

"When she was about 13 years old, I was very much on the road in those days. I came home just to shower and change clothes," John Raitt says. "And she was crying in the bathroom. And when she came out, I said, 'What are you crying about?'

"And she said: 'You're never home. We don't have to have this big house. Why can't you be home like other daddies?'

"I said: 'You'll find out. Daddy has to go where his talent is wanted. That's what happens sometimes in life.' "

And, then, one last cut back to her in concert, singing, "Time to let you go."

It's a touching moment that could speak volumes to feelings of loneliness and the anger toward parents that many teens experience when parents don't devote every second of every day to the teen-ager's life.

But the entire sequence is only about two minutes in length and, for too much of the other 58 minutes, the producers are content just to point the lenses at the two superstars in the chairs and let them play to cameras, promote their records and films or go blah, blah, blah.

Granted, almost any kind of conversation that pre-empts "Oprah," "Jenny Jones," "Montel Williams," "Donahue," "Ricki Lake" or any of the many other syndicated talk shows, which dominate the latchkey hours when too many kids are watching TV alone, is an improvement.

But I think ABC might have missed the mark when it comes to teen-agers. I wonder if they want to hear this much advice from someone older than many of their mothers -- even if she can play a wicked slide guitar.

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