Friday, November 13, 2009
Writing this blog gives me a lot of time to contemplate not only the multitudes of things that suck, but also the nature of suckiness itself. Many things suck, but they do not suck equally, or even in the same ways. Some things, like machine guns and Battlefield Earth, sucked from the moment of their conception onward. Others begin their existences suck-free and decline over time, like American democracy or Michael Jackson. Much of the time, transitions into suckitude occur so gradually the naked eye cannot observe them. It's only a few times every year we are priviledged enough to witness the transformation of a once respected, even revered, person or institution into a sorry, senile, sucktastic mess. It's a beautiful moment, or at least it's the exact opposite of a beautiful moment.
I'm referring, of course, to the sorta-announcement that The Who (or at least the last two geriatric members of The Who) will be playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl this year.
The Super Bowl halftime show is an inexplicable, unliked tradition that nevertheless serves a vital function: it lets us know when a band has turned the last corner of their careers and become officially irrelevent. The Super Bowl is the most mainstream, most popularly accepted television event in existence, and any band they invite to play on a stage surrounded by fans with glowsticks will be almost universally liked—of course, if something is universally liked, that's the signal that it should be taken out and shot.
The Who used to be an awesome band. They made a huge amount of noise, broke equipment, lit things on fire, did drugs, and got people pissed off. They hoped they died before they got old (two out of four ain't bad, I guess). They were definitely not the kind of band you wanted to bring out before Middle America, if you were looking for an uncontroversial, “safe” choice.
Now? Well, now they're two old men playing rock music that has been approved for consumption by the advertisers of the United States of America. Nothing will be set on fire unless the fireworks malfunction.
For bands, the Super Bowl halftime show is like the Tonight Show, only exactly the opposite. You play the Tonight Show when you've released your first hit single, when the mainstream is just getting used to you or getting introduced to your first major album. You play the Tonight Show around the time hipsters accuse you of “selling out.” By the time you get to that bizarre stage in the middle of a football field witht the horrible acoustics, no one is accusing you of “selling out” because everyone already knows that you've sold out, if only in the sense that you've made a shitton of money and won't be coming out with any more interesting music. The only career anyone can have after putting on a short set bookended by a overhyped football contest that is now basically an interruption between commercials is a zombie career, the kind of career the Stones have now. You tour, you play your motheaten hits, you may even release albums to keep up the illusion you're still a vibrant musical force, but you are no longer cool. In fact, you kind of suck after a Super Bowl.
Everyone knows this, which is why a lot of people are shocked when the Super Bowl books an act that they actually enjoy, like Springsteen a couple of years ago. Springsteen fans were excited to see him on that big stage, but some of them also got a worried feeling in their guts—Bruce's best work is behind him, isn't it?
Yes it is, and The Who's best work is even farther behind them. At least their halftime performance (if the Internet rumors are right about this) won't take away their old stuff, which definitely did not suck. Here's a clip from back when The Who were still dangerous in a very literal way that few rock bands ever are:
The Who to Perform at Super Bowl (Sports Illustrated)