The Pittsburgh Steelers, my favorite NFL team since the days of my youth in the steel city, won the sloppily played and sloppily officiated Super Bowl XL in Detroit Sunday night, beating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10. My elation over the victory was clouded by unease over the spectacle itself. Performances could have been better all around. One extreme example of the mediocrity of this Super Bowl is the poor performance of winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose quarterback rating wound up in the low 20s. At the game’s conclusion, I puzzled over who possibly could be chosen as MVP, as there were really no standout performances. Hines Ward, who had some fair to middlin’ numbers, got the nod as the stealth MVP. In any case, this was not the most entertaining of Super Bowls, in spite of my team winning.
And now, on to the musical morass…
Let’s get to the musical component of the entertainment, the primary subject of this article. Like Ben Roethlisberger’s mediocre performance, the music fell far short of my expectations. If there is going to be music at all, the NFL must simply do better. Our current expectations are for great musical tributes to excess—spectacular performances for a spectacular event—but it hasn’t always been that way. Back in the early days of the big game, we’d see some college bands marching out on the field at halftime and shortly thereafter we’d get back to business. However, in the past fifteen years, Super Bowl music has evolved into a glitz-o-rama, and our expectations have been raised commensurately. In 1993, when Michael Jackson appeared with 3,500 local children in Super Bowl XXVII, things started really getting out of hand. Since then, the non-football entertainment has had significant ups and downs, but the trend is for more and more glitziness and hokiness.
As you are probably well aware, the haltime acts of the new millenium have not been without controversy, in response to which the NFL has been reactionary and overcompensatory. The infamous “wardrobe malfunction” involving Janet Jackson’s breast being exposed by Justin Timberlake in Super Bowl XXXVIII is an extreme example. Three years before that costume faux pas, Britney Spears had evoked criticism with one of her salacious, crotch grabbing dance numbers. The NFL, being maximally PR-conscious, reacted to rampant criticism by signing grandfatherly, sexually passe Sir Paul McCartney for Super Bowl XXXIX. Now, a year later, the big money league procured the overpaid services of the elderly but still gyrating Rolling Stones led by Sir Mick Jagger. This Turkey is unhappy with both these choices. British retro-rocking knights have about as much to do with American football as Minnie Pearl has to do with the World Cup; however, if a world class act is what people want, choose one like U2, whose smashing performance at Super Bowl XXXVI should have set the tone for future events. Turkey to NFL: Book an act with current relevance and run with it!
The Rolling Stones have gathered some moss
Why should I hold off my sardonic comments about the Stoned ones? Because I should respect my elders? Hell no, they’re only a few years older than I. I’m a commentator on all phases of life, and it would be hypocritical of me to mute my pen on this one. The Stones (whose age can only be determined by carbon dating) are still making decent, albeit recycled, music. They served their function well by giving my team a little longer to rest for the second half. On the other hand, they’re old farts. Watching Mick Jagger—whose face has more lines than the street map of London—gyrating like Britney Spears caused me to long for Super Bowl XXXV, when Britney was doing the salacious gyration herself. If the Turkey wants to watch old folks, he can always tune into re-runs of The Golden Girls. Watching my contemporaries age only serves to remind me of my own old farthood.
The Stones rocked out with three numbers on a ludicrously trite stage shaped like an extended tongue, the band’s hackneyed trademark. They “showcased” three songs, which ranged from old to obscure to ancient. One of the tunes, Start Me Up, was censored by ABC, as Mick sang about a hot babe’s effect on a corpse’s manhood. Another, Rough Justice, was required to have the word “cock” excised. As these old guys cross over into Viagra territory, why the hell are they singing about cocks? In addition to their censorship, ABC also imposed a five-second broadcast delay to enable the production people to snip out any impromptu transgressions. Fortunately for us, there were no wardrobe malfunctions or exposed body parts. For the finale, Prof. Jagger’s archaeological dig unearthed Satisfaction, a song about 1960s-era sexual frustration. Jagger introduced it by correctly stating that he could have done it for Super Bowl I, because the song had been on the market for over a year by then. The budget wasn’t nearly adequate for a world class act at the top of their game back then in 1967. If it was, would Pete Rozelle’s NFL have hired an act from the 1920s doing the Charleston and the Black Bottom? Anyhow, it has been said that Jagger did his best wiggling in the finale after which he blew a kiss to the assembled multitude. As far as I could glean, he didn’t stick his tongue out. I get this second-hand because I wasn’t really paying attention.
Jagger seems to be in great shape for someone slightly older’n dirt, being equipped with a surprisingly flat stomach and tons of energy. But what’s with the triceps? There was enough flab flapping in the breeze to merit a comparison to Roseanne Barr.
Looking for another viewpoint? Here is a somewhat more acerbic one. Alas, after an exhaustive search I could not find a single positive published review.
The Stones made me glad that halftime was there for a bathroom break and game talk. A little retro-rock accompaniment with familiar, overplayed old songs at least keeps up the tempo without providing the distraction of something truly novel and new. I was as oblivious to the music as…as…as…well, as Keith Richards was to his surroundings. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
One of my friends of has strongly disagreed with my stance on the Stones. Here’s a rebuttal by this particular redhead, who will remain anonymous:
“I don’t buy into the ‘old guy’ (nicer term than yours) thing about the Stones. Mick Jagger is in better shape than most people in any age bracket. The Stones are old blues men in the tradition of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters—they just make a whole lot more money and put on a better show. If you’re unimpressed I suggest seeing them live. I hope they never stop until they drop dead. They’re doing what they’re born to do. Music—and performing rock music—isn’t something just for the young.”
Very well stated, but it sidesteps my point. I don’t care what sort of shape Mick Jagger is in. [OK, I lied. There was that arm thing. –TNT] Recycled music that is as familiar to us as the backs of our liver-spotted hands is a safe haven. What I want is something on the edge, something that actually moves us somewhere. If we must be half-assed about it, we would be better off returning to the college marching bands or—God forbid!—the “Up With People” halftimes of the 1960s and 1970s. As for my flatulently descriptive nouns, what can I say? The Turkey is a potty mouth.
So much for giving the Democrats equal time.
Aaron “Woodchuck” Neville, Dr. John, and the still relevant Aretha
The pre-game entertainment was equally mediocre. Did you see the Saturday Night Live parody of Aaron Neville, Aretha Franklin, and Dr. John doing the national anthem? It was right on the money—such that I cracked up while the real Neville was singing. I liken his song styles to the distressed chirping of a constipated woodchuck. Gives me a damn hernia listening to it. Of course, it was also ludicrous that Neville abruptly stopped singing and passed the baton to ‘Retha, who was backed by a 30-voice gospel choir. We could have done without Aaron completely. Miss Franklin belted out the anthem with soul, gusto, and a dash of chutzpah. She had to be the high point of the evening’s music. (I can say this with impunity because I don’t have the results of Keith Richards’ blood alcohol test and tox screen. OOPS! There I go again!)
R&B Legends and British Blondes
The hastily concocted pre-game Stevie Wonder/Motown segment was pretty lame. Again, it involved recycled old material, however in this case it was presented as a medley. Stevie was assisted by teenage British up-and-comer Joss Stone, whose sexy blondeness and great set of pipes made her by far my favorite Brit of the night. Alas, the medley format did not give her enough time. John Legend and India.Arie also assisted Stevie Wonder, but each was only able to belt out a few lines before making a choppy transition to the next old Motown song. The choreography was lame, too. Dancers flitted around, increasing the confusion on the stage. Some microphones didn’t work properly. Stevie concluded by chanting an original poem calling for world peace. The best thing about that part of the act was that it signaled the end of the show. The entire production looked as gratuitous as it was in actuality.
It was kind of humorous how thick the NFL laid it on in response to the criticism from the Lords of Motown and the other black activists about having a bunch of old English whiteys performing in their Super Bowl. Detroit is their city. It turned out to be a cursorily implemented parody of overcompensating appeasement. The NFL PR guys had obviously worked overtime, but perhaps they also had enjoyed a few too many dirty martinis while doing so. I can only imagine some of the conversations in those Park Avenue offices while they were hastily conceiving the whole reactionary thing.
There’s truth in the notion that, as Mike Wilbon of the Washington Post and ESPN said, Detroit is laden with musical talent and, in fact, Smokey Robinson was performing right down the street. A good halftime show could have been put together with all-Detroit acts, from Smokey to Eminem to Aretha to some up-and-comers. Hell, Madonna is from Detroit. What was the NFL thinking?
This Turkey would like the NFL to turn this into a learning experience. If there must be non-football halftime entertainment, how about something more creative and relevant than a buncha aging Brits playing 40 year-old music? Skip the pregame music except for the national anthem. At that point, we just want to get to the kickoff and music is a distraction. Put that energy into the halftime show and give us a good reason to time-shift the bathroom break.