Cambridge SoundWorks
by Kevin M. Harvey

I still can recall my reaction to the first one: Who the hell named this thing, a seven year old? Oh, it’s the biggest! It’s the best!  It’s SUPER!  (I suppose if it were starting up today, we’d call it the Awesome Bowl, but that’s a whole other lump of limited language wax.)  It felt pathetic, lame, and sure to be changed. Of course, I was 19 and you know what that means.  For
a couple of years it managed to remain a game, to resist becoming a metaphor for tasteless excess, a secular holy day, as people are happy to point out; but then Joe Willie, who really was cool - so cool in fact that he made a bad biker movie with Ann Margaret, (unlike Joe Pepitone who merely posed in PLAYGIRL, showing the world why he couldn’t hit, let alone run) stepped up and changed things forever.  Until Joe Willie, it was just a game. Two teams played a black and white half, some crappy band strutted around as if it were a college game, and then they played a second black and white half, proving that the old guard NFL was vastly superior to the AFC newcomers…and then Joe Willie pulled off the football equivalent of the first Clay-Liston fight, beating the Colts, and the world changed.  Maybe that was when someone made the decision to bring in Carol Channing.

Carol Channing played the fourth Super Bowl. Picture that today: All the hand-picked model-people are dancing and screaming at the greatest Spring Weekend Parade Blow Out ever, fireworks are lighting the skies, everyone is completely faux-nuts, things pause, and there, center stage, Carol Channing breaks into Hello, Dolly! Well, the only thing that might possibly top this would be Dylan opening his mouth and NOTHING coming out.  Anyway, they quickly returned in Bowl number 5 to the Southeast Missouri Band. (Remember: America will support anything that will lead to a parade!) The next year Carol returned with Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hirt, and the Marine Drill Team. The names and bands begin to pile up now:  Judy Mallet (Miss Texas 1973!) on fiddle! Up With People three times! Tops in Blue, whatever that was.  George Burns and Mickey Rooney- and one I regret missing: Chubby Checker and 88 grand pianos; Elvis Presto; Doug Kershaw; New Kids on the Block…and here you can sense the change in the air, the turning of a corner, because next year , for the first time, a single performer will own the show. It’s 1993 and it’s Michael Jackson.  I’ll say no more, because overlooking the smorgasbord of swill that gave us Aerosmith, N’Sync, and Britney Spears on the same evening, we can skip to the turning point in half-time horror. I don’t have to say anything about Janet’s performance - other than that I was alone in the room when it happened and went out to the kitchen to tell people that I thought Janet Jackson had just performed a nipple-flash, but I wasn’t sure…but this extraordinary moment froze the NFL powers dead in their tracks. (Was it too late to bring Channing back? What if all the Up With People dancers grabbed their crotches at once? ) They went Old Guard.  Elvis being unreachable - wouldn’t that have been AWESOME - it was up to McCartney to save the day - and he did - because even if he’s begun to look like a drawing of himself, he is still Paul McCartney and that was more than enough. Next the Stones would blunt their show with a crappy middle song from an album no one wanted to hear ; Prince would follow with the best half-time show in the history of the gig; Petty  would be Petty and then Springsteen would play it working class obvious and now, this year, god help us, The Who.

I have problems with The Who: I used to love them, but I don’t think they’ve existed since Keith Moon died, let alone the magnificent John Entwhistle.  The band that performs under the name today (WHO’S LEFT?) is worse than a parody: it is merely two old guys willing to pin their brand name on anything, be it Super Bowl caps or the 20th repackaging of their greatest hits.  (Has anyone this side of the blameless Elvis ever repackaged the same dozen tracks more often or more shamelessly? At least Elvis’ hits were actual hits!) Daltry and Townsend are two karaoke weirdos who have NOTHING to do with contemporary music, such as it is. Roger hasn’t caught his swinging microphone cleanly in years and I once saw Pete on television wearing slippers and whacking away at an acoustic guitar.  I thought it was Paul Stookey having some kind of show biz break down.  Ok, so they were surprisingly effective in New York when they played the 9-11 show, perhaps even the best act of the night, but that was nearly a decade ago and TIME has been rough on the Who. I’m guessing Pete wears some kind of funny beanie and Rog has practiced catching his microphone all week, but still…

Which brings us to our latest Half-Time Show:  I’ll be blunt. There is nothing one can say about it:  The lighting was great; it was loud, Pete looked goofy; Roger wears reading glasses, half the band is dead, and they played the exact set everyone on the planet knew they’d play.  Some part of me says it was dreadful, another part says it was Super Bowl perfect. They’re down now to Don McClean and Mellencamp and perhaps John Fogerty…or perhaps Ted Nugent and the Tea Party Brigade Dancers.  Elton John would be perfect, especially if the Jets win. I don’t know. I do know that Charles Coplin, the league’s Vice President for Programming, says the half time show has become “the Ed Sullivan Show of its time.”  Perhaps he’s right. I’m not sure. I am certain that I’ve never missed Seňor Wences more.

                                                                                               Kevin M. Harvey
A Quick One While They're Away:
A Brief History of Super Bowl Half-Time Shows
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