Stuck in Time: The Ancient English Band The WHO Is Playing at Half Time at the Super Bowl
When I heard that the ancient English band, The Who, was playing the Super Bowl halftime show, I cringed. I just don't want to see 64-year-old Peter Townshend singing "Pinball Wizard," jumping in the air, and executing his patent whirlybird arm swing. It would be embarrassing. As football fan Ravenworld posted on NFL.com:
I'M TIRED OF THESE BULL S.H.I.T. SUPER BOWL HALFTIMES NOW.... THE OLD TIMERS HAD THEIR TIME... GET SOME UP TO DATE MUSIC... THATS WHY NO ONE WATCHES THE HALFTIME ANYMORE... THATS WHEN I GO AND TAKE A S.H.I.T.
CNBC's Darren Rovell chimed in with the headline, "Is Super Bowl Halftime Act Too Old?"
So yes, this coming Sunday, February 7, in Miami, The Who will appear with its two remaining original members: Townshend, the brainy one, and former stud Roger Daltrey, the unbrainy one. (Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978.) The Who will become the latest classic-rock act to play football’s big event. Others have included Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Prince and Tom Petty.
Why or how they could have picked The Who over U2, or any number of more current big talents, is bizarre. Also, could Super Bowl talent, year after year, be any whiter? With exceptions such as Prince, the little guy from Minneapolis, and Janet Jackson (during the infamous nipple slip), the halftime show doesn’t remotely reflect the diversity of the game, nor, I bet, its audience.
For the record, I want to establish a couple of relevant bona fides. First, I'm a football fan who has watched the playoffs with great enthusiasm; I even played the sport in college. Second, I'm a boomer. While I’m not as old as Townshend, I’m close enough. The Who is designed to appeal to me; their music was omnipresent at a key moment in my coming of age. And I was a big fan of The Who. The rock opera Tommy was genius, and 'Who's Next" is a great, iconic rock album.
BUT THAT WAS 40 YEARS AGO. Jeez. These guys should be on the beach with their Mai Tais, enjoying retirement, instead of making us all feel so old.
My music philosophy is: that was then, this is now. There is fantastic contemporary musical talent with powerful echoes of the rock-and-roll past. I love today's music -- and the last decade's, for that matter. I do not listen to nostalgia bands, except on special occasions. I feel bad that many of my boomer cohorts would still rather listen to the Eagles' greatest hits than My Morning Jacket or Radiohead. I am appalled that the touring combo of Elton John and Billy Joel was the third highest grossing touring band in 2009, making $88 million in 31 appearances. I'm sorry. I'd rather hear Coldplay or Arcade Fire, any day of the year.
Of course, U2 and Bruce Springsteen are noteworthy exceptions to the "classic rock" tag, because they are still making new and compelling music. The Rolling Stones and Prince, not so much. Tom Petty? I'm not sure how he got to play at the Super Bowl. And Paul McCartney ... well, suffice it to say I was a John Lennon guy and I joined the vigil outside the Dakota on the night he died.
The Overwhelming Whiteness
A big question for CBS is this: Why give all the airtime to the antiquated English whiteness The Who symbolizes? How about some diversity, to be in tune with the sport? Many NFL players are African American, as is the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University says, “The league has 78 percent African-American players,” and no doubt a huge slice of black America will be watching the Super Bowl.
I’m not suggesting all African Americans would agree, but how about a lineup featuring Beyoncé, coming off a great night at the Grammys, and Jay-Z for starters? The people who put on the show might actually still be playing it conservative because of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake moment. (Remember how Jackson was scapegoated, while Timberlake was not?)
Is CBS Courting Bad Vibes with The Who?
There are some odd vibes behind CBS's choice of The Who for the Super Bowl. The network already has a strong commercial link to The Who. While older fans will be treated to some classic music from their youth, younger football fans may think they have stumbled into the opening of a "CSI" episode -- three of CBS’s "CSI" series use The Who tracks ("Who Are You,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again" and “Baba O’ Riley") as their theme songs. And sure enough, we'll be hearing them
Townshend told Billboard: "We're kinda doing a mashup of stuff...A bit of 'Baba O'Riley,' a bit of 'Pinball Wizard,' a bit of the close of 'Tommy,' a bit of 'Who Are You,' and a bit of 'Won't Get Fooled Again.' It works -- it's quite a saga. A lot of the stuff that we do has that kind of celebratory vibe about it -- we've always tried to make music that allows the audience to go a bit wild if they want to. Hopefully it will hit the spot."
It remains to be seen if the beer-drinking boomer set still has it in them to "get a bit wild."
Perhaps more disturbing is the confusion floating around the question of why Townshend was in the UK's sex offender registry. A child-abuse prevention organization says Pete Townshend should not be allowed to perform with The Who at the Super Bowl halftime show because of his 2003 child-pornography arrest, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. In 2003, Townsend, 64, was arrested after visiting child porn Web sites. He denied being a pedophile, claiming he was visiting the sites to research his autobiography. Subsequent evidence showed he had not downloaded any images and had contacted child protection agencies beforehand. It's all a little fuzzy.
And adding a little more of the macabre, this year is the 30th anniversary of The Who concert in Cincinnati, where eight people died, crushed while trying to get into a concert.
In the end, showcasing The Who sends a collective message that the old white guys still rule, if not in the presidency, at least in the Super Bowl. And their approach is to play it extremely safe to the point of irrelevance. Maybe that’s why U2, the most popular band in the world, will not be up there. They might say something about human rights. There is no chance anything like that will come out of Pete Townshend’s mouth. If you want to go nostalgic, why not have Stevie Wonder, who has a great fan in Barack Obama?
So, like Ravenworld, I may very well take a walk at halftime, or put on some music that suggests we have grown up and don't need to hang out in the past.