Saturday, November 14, 2009

Not Fooled Again, Just Bored Again

Some time back, before the market value of their target audience's homes fell by 70 percent of so, concert promoters assembled a few 18-wheelers full of $50 bills and visited a few formerly well-known musicians. Their proposition was simple: A Jefferson Airplane reunion tour.

The idea was promptly rejected by Grace Slick with the immortal words, "What could be more pathetic than a bunch of old farts up on stage playing rock and roll?"

So we can cross Gracie off the list of performers we'll be seeing at future Super Bowl halftime shows. The guys (and they're all guys) who run the NFL are positive EVERYONE wants to see Medicare-eligible rock stars of yesteryear strut their stuff between Doritos commercials.

The Who, or rather, Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend and two other guys who aren't The Who, will be the halftime act at Super Bowl XLIV next February. Having once, very briefly, been a performing musician, I can't hold this against them. Big star or scuffling minor-league wannabe, work is work. But it's sad anyway. The reason the remnants of one of the greatest bands in rock history are playing this gig is because they're SAFE. The NFL knows that "sex, drugs and rock and roll" has seamlessly degraded into "light beer, rock and roll and NO sex."

Let's face it. "Pictures of Lily" is not going to be on the band's song list at the Super Bowl. The Who will play only their songs used as TV themes and in television commercials. Great songs, each and every one -- but also a shout-out to their audience that "you shouldn't feel bad about your life. These guys sold out, too."

Most of all from the league's perspective, the Who will show no human nipples. Since the Great Wardrobe Malfunction of Super Bowl XXXVIII, (which I missed due to being at the game, hundreds of feet above the field in the press box), the performers listed below have done the Super Bowl halftime show (capsule reviews attached).

Super Bowl XXXIX: Paul McCartney (they're great songs, and he's an old trouper).
Super Bowl XL: The Rolling Stones (sad beyond words).
Super Bowl XLI: Prince (pretty good, actually).
Super Bowl XLII: Tom Petty (meh).
Super Bowl XLIII: Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band (a good, hokey halftime show. He grokked the Super Bowl).

The alert reader will note the most obvious fact about this list. No breasts. All the performers were guys, older guys. No danger of illicit flesh French-frying the brains of America's psychopathic and repressed religious fundamentalist groups. Nothing to divert America from watching more Doritos commercials. He or she will also note that the acts, even Prince, have always had predominately white audiences.

The even more alert reader will add The Who to the list and note that half of the acts selected to perform at our country's biggest sports event are furriners -- Brits to be precise. It was an insult to the history of rock that the Stones did the Super Bowl in Detroit. Berry Gordy should've sued. Holy cow, is Aretha Franklin too sexy for pro football?

I have some sympathy for the NFL here. Super Bowl halftime shows shouldn't be controversial. They're just part of the hoopla of our weirdest national holiday, and the entertainers shouldn't muscle in trying to make themselves the big story. But the law of diminishing returns is going to kick in with a vengeance on the "rock stars of yesteryear" policy before too long.

The years are going to keep getting more yester, and the acts deemed big enough for the Super stage are going to start looking bad and performing worse. That section of the audience too young to recall The Who (or whoever) in its prime will conclude, not without reason, that the NFL is culturally clueless. That section that, like me, is old enough to remember how amazing those acts were in their prime will only get depressed. Might turn us off Doritos for life.

Happily, there's more to popular music than stadium rock. The list of entertainers, young and old, who could do a terrific Super Bowl halftime show is a long one. You want young? Taylor Swift or Beyonce would get the job done and then some. You want old? Merle Haggard could do a Super Bowl show. Or Tony Bennett. There wouldn't be a musician in the world who wouldn't want to be in either of those guys' backup bands for that gig.

He's really old, and performs sitting in a chair these days, and is not in good health. But it would be a tremendous event if B.B. King had 12 minutes of the Super Bowl to play Lucille before the tens of millions of Americans who have never been lucky enough to see him perform.

The odds of any of those acts appearing in future Super Bowls range from long to theoretical mathematical concepts. The National Football League IS culturally clueless. I mean, look at Roger Goodell. Is that a man who has ever rocked? Hell, I'll bet he's never even swung.

So I have a backup to the future plan for the halftime show, one I proposed to scoffing league officials over a decade ago.

Bring back the Grambling band.


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