Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Super Super Bowl and a 50th Anniversary

I tried my best this year to avoid all of the Super Bowl hype. Sure, I've been watching them at least since Otis Taylor made mincemeat of Bud Grant's secondary, but I have long since grown tired of all the pre-game festivities. So, I tuned it out. Even with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band finally on the bill as half-time performers, I did my best to ignore the details, paying only glancing attention to the interviews and none at all to reports from people at the rehearsals. I could be surprised live, along with most of the rest of the country.

When I thought of writing something, of course my reason was to write of Bruce performing. After all, one of the famous apocryphal stories of Bruce was of his former manager, Mike Appel, attempting to get Bruce on the bill for a Super Bowl pregame show, in part by dangling an otherwise unknown song called "Balboa vs. the Earth Slayer." That was in 1973. Bruce was releasing a new album two days before the big game, which was broadcast by NBC... and there the parallels end.

As Bruce became a superstar, there came to be a list of "Things That Bruce Would Never Do." These things have the mark of Integrity with many of us diehards. Bruce would never do TV commercials. Bruce would never accept corporate sponsorships of his tours. Bruce would never release a Greatest Hits album. Of course, some of the list of Things That Bruce Would Never Do, he did. So, when Bruce agreed to play the Super Bowl -- one of the things that inevitably ended up on the TTBWND list -- it wasn't really such a surprise. Nor even a disappointment. Mostly, as a fan it seemed a "concern," as in, could Bruce bring the feel of a show in just 12 minutes, and could he do it at a time when he wasn't touring?

Those questions are now answered, and I want to write about that, but as Dov Pilkey might write, before I write about that, first I'm going to write about this:
That was one holy shit Super Bowl game, wasn't it? I'd not been paying too much attention to the NFL this year, but if there was one thing I knew, it was that the NFC West was the Worst Division In The History Of Major Sports. Which it probably was: The division, as a whole, went 9-31 against other teams in the NFL, including a putrid 3-7 by the Cardinals. And the Cards didn't lose cheap: They gave up 56 points to the Jets. Then, in the final 6 weeks of the regular season, they lost badly to the Giants at home, were mauled by the Eagles, steamrolled at home by the Vikings with a playoff seeding on the line, and then were completely annihilated by the Patriots. This was a bad team whose record was propped up 'cause it played in a historically bad division. It was wholly unworthy, yet somehow come playoff time the opposing quarterbacks all played like they had voodoo pins stuck in them. I'm still trying to decide who the impostor was who wore Jake Delhomme's uniform during the 2nd round playoff game was, surely Arizona had nothing to do with that.

So, I made it plain that, were I a betting man, I'd bet the house on Pittsburgh. The Steelers were a good team. This would redeem the rest of my "if I were a betting man" picks for the post-season, which, going in to the Super Bowl, were 1-10. Thank you, Steelers, for beating the Chargers, or I'd have been perfect.

We called over the in-laws and sat down to a game and a show. Missed all the pregame. No Bruce interview. Just sat down at 6 for the real deal. Saw Faith Hill, wearing way too much eye shadow, murder "America the Beautiful," and saw Jennifer Hudson do a splendid lip-synch to the national anthem. My father-in-law was convinced it was live. I assured him the halftime show would be live.

The first big commercial was for Bud Light, and it was fantastic. Guy gets thrown out window. Second big commercial was for Doritos. Boss gets turned in to a soprano. Hey, if ever there was going to be a release from the real world, tonight would be it. Ben Roethlisberger scored a touchdown that was overruled on replay, and somewhere in Seattle a TV set went through a window. The first quarter was played in less than a half hour of real time. But this was all warm-up, we had to eat and get back for Bruce.

James Harrison nearly wrecked the halftime show by a) making the greatest individual play in Super Bowl history on the final play before the half, and b) seemingly taking up the entire 12-minutes allotted to Bruce while doing it, with 10 minutes more to review the play and determine that yes, he really did score.

BOSS TIME!!

So, time to write about that now. Bruce took about, oh, 2.5 seconds to answer any doubts. Even from the initial silhouette of just Bruce and Clarence, it was clear the band was ready, willing, and definitely able to rock and roll all night... or 12 minutes, as the case may be (or 14, as my clock seemed to indicate). Players had pre-taped intros for the band, using paraphrases of Bruce's own intros dating back to the reunion tour. And now Bruce, with the horns, coming on the "10th Avenue FreezeOut," to start a microcosm of the party portion of a live show. Put down the nachos and chicken fingers! Slide into the camera! Ouch! And, hey, who said these songs really need second verses, anyway? "Born to Run" in the 2nd slot, and then... is that a huge choir for "Working on a Dream"? Is that the same choir he sang with at the holiday shows in Asbury Park? Wow, that was strange, weird and fast, but they sounded pretty good. Horns out front for "Glory Days," and I swear I saw Kingfish among them. Fireworks not just in the show, but as percussion instruments. Even the "delay of game" shtick worked, as did Bruce's changes to the "Glory Days" lyrics to substitute football for baseball and a Hail Mary, for that stupid speedball. The cameras mercifully spent little time on overzealous teenie-bopper fans -- and anyway, most of the fans they showed looked like the real deal. If I had one minor quibble, though, it's that I would have liked to have seen more of the full band. Steve sure seemed to have a great time. Bit from my one watching of it, I'd be hard pressed to say if Charlie Giordano was in attendance, and I'm not sure I actually spotted Nils Lofgren or Garry Tallent, either.

Bonus points, by the way, to anyone who can name another Springsteen song that references a "Hail Mary," without googling for it.

My father-in-law kept asking me to turn up the volume. That stereo system was the loudest I've had it in 15 years of owning this house. He still complained that he couldn't understand a single word. (and, yes, somehow I find myself thinking, "and maybe that's how it should be").

Bruce played THE guitar. So, as he was playing, I remarked, "that's THE guitar. I have touched that guitar." Which I did, in Toronto in 2002 when Bruce used it for "Thunder Road" and held it out to the pit near the end of the song.

Elianna, my 7-year old, looked at me with incredibly wide eyes. Obviously, she was impressed. She stammered a bit, seemingly searching for something to say. Finally, she found it:

"Dad, what's his middle name?"

Touchdown.

The 2nd half of the game was a true rarity: A series of events so riveting that they completely overshadowed the halftime performance. The Cardinals might have sucked down the stretch of the regular season, but they were superbly coached in this game. Huge play after huge play after huge play, on both sides, with finally an astonishing catch by Santonio Holmes to give Pittsburgh the last lead. And then we almost got that final Hail Mary, too... but it was fumbled away. No Glory Days for Kurt Warner tonight.

Whatever the hype was, however big it was... that surely lived up to it. All of it. The game, the halftime.
Now, Bruce, about the other Things That Bruce Would Never Do... Bring 'em on!

-------

This morning I took the kids to school, getting in the car just at 8am. I had the radio tuned to Little Steven's Underground Garage. Elianna wanted XM Kids, of course, but as with most modern radios I had to turn the radio on before I could change the channel. I tuned in just to the opening chords of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away." And though I knew it was coming, it hit all at once: Today was the 50th anniversary of the day the music died, out near Clear Lake. "Not Fade Away" is maybe my all-time favorite Buddy Holly track, maybe because of that Bo Diddley beat, maybe because Bruce Springsteen played it during the first show I ever heard him live, in an utterly incendiary version of it (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnUVfdpDXQ0 for that performance; I was stuck listening to it on the radio in my bedroom). The Rolling Stones had their first hit with their cover of "Not Fade Away". Bob Dylan played it. So did The Byrds. The Grateful Dead turned it into a 10-minute audience sing-along. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers performed it, as did Patti Smith. But no one can touch the original.

I kept it on Underground Garage. For two minutes, Daddy controlled the radio. The steering wheel doubled as a drum kit during the guitar solo. I told the kids about the day the music died, but I'm not sure they understood. When it was over, and the next song came on and it wasn't another Buddy Holly song, I turned it to XM Kids. Just in time for The Hampster Dance. The music really has died.