By Joe Queenan
Updated August 12, 1996 12:00 PM

MTV (Sat, Aug. 17, 8 p.m. ET)


Rock stars and drugstore cowboys like to sing about the hard times they’ve seen. Unlike most of these posers, Steve Earle really has seen them. Busted for drug possession in 1994, country rocker Earle served two months in prison and, as a condition of his parole, agreed to stage two free concerts in Tennessee prisons. Earle, who describes his former self as “the ultimate functional heroin addict,” says that if he hadn’t gotten locked up, he’d already be dead.

Good thing he got locked up—he’s a terrific performer. Belting out numbers like “Ellis Unit One,” from Dead Man Walking, Earle puts on quite a show for a very tough audience. The program has a strong antidrug message, featuring brief interviews with murderers who admit that drugs ruined their lives. They also complain about how awful prison is. Yes, but so is being murdered, guys. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.