Concert teleprompters -- From Frank Sinatra to Kris Kristofferson, stars rely on monitors for a little memory help on stage

By David Browne
Updated November 06, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Backstage at the mammoth Oct. 16 Bob Dylan tribute concert, Kris Kristofferson didn’t know until 5 p.m. how his introductory speech for Dylan’s ”I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” would go. And what if he couldn’t remember all the lyrics? No problem. Like others on the bill, Kristofferson merely had to glance at one of the handy TelePrompTer screens in front of the stage, which scrolled out song lyrics (and the hosts’ introductions) all evening long.

Is the use of a TelePrompTer — long in the domain of political debates and awards shows — yet another reminder that classic-rock legends are growing long in the tooth and possibly forgetful? Not according to Wendy Laister, a spokeswoman for the Dylan concert. ”Some of the artists never sang these songs before, and the last thing you want is someone forgetting the words on live television,” she says. ”And these songs are very complicated; they’re not like ‘Love, love me do’ or something. It’s like learning poetry. So the TelePrompTer was a fail-safe.”

Laister contends it’s ”fairly normal” to see TelePrompTers in concert. That’s not exactly correct, but the trend is growing. The 76-year-old Frank Sinatra uses one to make sure he introduces the correct writers and arrangers of each song, and without a TelePrompTer Linda Ronstadt might have trouble remembering the Spanish lyrics during her Mexican folk-song tours. Even a relative youngster like Axl Rose feels the need for help during Guns N’ Roses shows. ”He doesn’t want to have to remember where he is in the lyrics,” says his publicist, Bryn Bridenthal. ”He just wants to concentrate on relating to the audience.”

Rose supposedly was tipped off to the use of on-stage TelePrompTers by Mick Jagger. The megascreen 1991 Rolling Stones at the Max movie showed a small monitor in front of Jagger’s feet that transmitted introductions like ”And here’s Keith” — just in case Mick forgot the name of his band mate of 30 years.