Classic Rock: Sunday Night Super Bowl Spotlights

In this month’s guest post, sports fan, culture critic , and rock music aficionado Geoff Moore focuses his eye on the TV sporting event extravaganza the Super Bowl.  With an event that places as much importance on the half-time show and its requisite musical guests, how does this reflect on the impact of rock n’ roll as a once proud bastion of cultural revolution, as opposed to a marketing mouthpiece which is fodder for pure, ratings-optimizing spectacle?  Wade on in, good people …

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Roman numerals are like Mods, you don’t encounter them much anymore unless you spin early Chicago albums, cite a particular incarnation of Deep Purple, do crossword puzzles, or follow the National Football League.

Super Bowl XLIV is nearly upon us. Historically the American football championship game has proved to be akin to a non-album B-side, rather dull and of interest to fanatics only. But XLIV provides the tilt so much more gravitas than your average Arabic 44, Boo Boo. Dirty Harry’s .44 excepted: ‘But being as this is an XLIV Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question, Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’ Doesn’t exactly make your day, does it?

The Super Bowl, whatever its number, draws more than football fans to television screens. The NFL’s season finale has become equally noted for its advertising and musical content, just as the glad rags paraded on Hollywood’s red carpet now rival the actual Academy Awards naked crusader statuette presentations. The game with all its pageantry is America’s singular television event, its annual gift to the globe.

That the stodgy old NFL, its rotating cast of broadcast partners and corporate sponsors have embraced rock ‘n’ roll as suitable Super Bowl entertainment in 21st century speaks to the league’s marketing acumen. A cast of hundreds with fistfuls of flags and ribbons dancing through a Tribute to Show Tunes! will not hold viewers’ attentions through to the next commercial when there’s no football being played between the third and fourth quarters, but beam a music legend into living rooms from the gridiron and well, now you’ve got eyeball glue.

Who’s left of the Who will perform the theme songs of Super Bowl presenter CBS’s various CSIs to an anticipated world-wide television audience of 100 million souls at the half. Pete and Roger will play for about 12 minutes. By contrast, a 30-second ad buy for one of the 62 slots available during the 2010 telecast is priced to move at about $2.5-million (US) to $2.8-million (US) per spot. A relative bargain as North America ‘re-calibrates’ (Thank you, PM Stephen Harper!) itself admidst the lingering sludge of the 2009 global recession, or a savings of some $200,000 to $500,000 compared to last year’s game.* Air time is money and the Who’s 12 minutes of medley will no doubt pay out double at the window of the iTunes store. Maybe they’ll move a few commemorative t-shirts and some other merch at TheWho.com.

Unsurprisingly, Geffen released yet another Who greatest hits compilation late last December aimed specifically at Luddite viewers whose interest in the band may be piqued by its prime time performance February 7 at the really recently re-handled Sun Life Stadium (the naming rights a steal at a mere $4 million (US) per annum for four years and so no reason to worry about your insurance premiums rising) which is situated somewhere in the humid metroplex now known as South Florida.

In 2009 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made a rare PR misstep by releasing a Wal-Mart exclusive best of CD in conjunction with their halftime performance. The Boss had made a deal with ‘the man’ by joining Sam’s club. If you scroll through Springsteen’s catalogue on his web site, you skip straight from ‘Magic’ to ‘Working On a Dream’ with nothing in between. That Super Bowl disc has disappeared into night and fog.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers reissued their 1993 ‘Greatest Hits’ in 2008 just in time for their Super Bowl appearance. The album was reconfigured. A loving cover of Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something In the Air’ was dropped in favour of the Petty-penned ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.’ No point spreading those spiked football royalties around either.

This is not to vilify these artists for looking to cash in, especially in these strange and formatless days when the CD appears to be diving after the 8-track into certain oblivion. You’d have to be certifiably insane not to leverage the hell out of the exposure a Super Bowl gig provides. It’s right up there with dying young as far as good career moves go. Maybe the only rocker in the world who wouldn’t give a damn about the pseudo prestige and such a potentially massive windfall is Keith Richards. The same could not be said about his glimmering partner in crime.

What remains wildly disconcerting about the big game and all its surrounding pomp is that its recent roster of halftime talent, the Who, Petty, Springsteen, the Stones, Prince and Paul McCartney, while past their primes but not yet in their dotages, are still among the biggest acts in the world. And yet they trod upon a trail blazed by the Grambling State University Band and Up with People.

Let’s drop a capital letter for a little context. Super Bowl XIV (MCMLXXX), the Steelers are looking for their fourth consecutive championship. Player’s butts and roaches in the ashtray, beer bottles everywhere, waiting for the third quarter gun as Up with People presents instantly forgettable, lame schlock on the portable colour TV: a Salute to the Big Band Era.†

At that moment in time, it’s preposterous, unfathomable, freaking psych ward delusional to even imagine for a single millisecond that there could be the remotest possibility that any act in your record collection would ever deem to play the Super Bowl as a sideshow attraction, let alone be asked to do so by the straight-laced, rich, old, white men’s club that is the NFL executive. As for XXV or XXX years down the road? All of rock’s heroes would be retired or deceased anyway, right?

(Best ever song about football ? Perhaps the only song about football? Steve Earle’s ‘No. 29’ off Exit 0. [ED:I like Fountains of Wayne ‘All Kinds of Time’ myself.])

*All figures The Associated Press

†Wikipedia

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Geoff Moore is an author who lives in Calgary, Alberta.  Don’t steal his favourite chair when the game’s on, m’kay?