Bruce/Superbowl Article from SI.com
- From: fearless freep <dntroad64@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2009 11:57:34 -0800 (PST)
Sports Illustrated weighs in on Bruce at the Superbowl. Nice
commentary by Nils.
Coming to terms with Bruce Springsteen playing the Super Bowl
Many Bruce Springsteen fans don't understand why he's playing at the
Springsteen never liked playing stadiums because he couldn't connect
Maybe it's ego, pride or an opportunity to reach more fans. Who really
By Joe Posnanski, SI.com
I have friends, close friends, who are having a hard time with this,
really struggling with it. They don't understand why Bruce Springsteen
is playing halftime of the Super Bowl. One friend calls it "a soul-
crushing betrayal." Another calls it "the ultimate sellout." It should
be added that these friends are all football fans as well as Bruce
Springsteen fans -- well, aren't all football fans Springsteen fans?
They simply aren't feeling it.
Normally, I have no use for people who cry sellout; they tend be the
same people who want their artists starving, their actors doing
Shakespeare in the Park, their favorite athletes signing for less than
market value. But my friends have a point. For 20 years, maybe longer,
Bruce Springsteen flatly turned down the Super Bowl. They asked him to
perform at halftime every year. Every year he said no. It became a fun
little joke for members of his E Street Band.
"Hey Bruce, we doing the Super Bowl this year?"
"Nah, not this year."
True, Springsteen made concessions with his music over the last 40
years. He always said he would never play big arenas, but then he sold
lots of records, and people couldn't squeeze into the union halls
anymore, it had to be Madison Square Garden. He always insisted that
he would never play the football stadiums, no, he could not connect
with an audience that large. Then he became world famous.
"Bruce really struggled with stadiums," says Nils Lofgren, who plays
guitar in the E-Street Band. "He wanted to maintain the same intimacy
he had with 20,000 people in an arena, and it isn't easy to do in a
stadium. He really had a problem with it. But then he decided you make
music to share, and all of a sudden millions and tens of millions of
people wanted to share in the music. That's the whole point. Share the
So, Springsteen gave in. We all give in sometimes. But Bruce also held
on, he made his honest stand, he didn't do the late night talk shows,
he spoke out for what he believed in, and he played his heart out
night after night after night, didn't matter if it was Greensboro or
L.A., St. Louis or London, he gave it all. I saw him in Charlotte, not
long after his organist Danny Federici died, and it was at the end of
a long tour, and it was in one of those new arenas that have all the
amenities and none of the soul. It was another night in another town,
only I watched Bruce when he played "Born to Run." He wrote that song
some 35 years ago, and he has probably performed it live, what, five
thousand times? Ten thousand? It's a song with words that meant
everything to him when he was 25 years old, but what can words like "I
wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight/in an everlasting
kiss," mean to a man who is almost 60, a husband, a father, an icon, a
friend, an American, a millionaire. The Boss.
Only he played it that night like it was new, like he was hearing the
music for the first time, and as he sweated and wailed and reached,
and you don't play music like that for money or cheers or fame or to
push a new record.
So, of course Bruce Springsteen kept saying no to the Super Bowl.
Only this year, suddenly, unexpectedly, Springsteen said yes. He did
not say why. He still has not said why. Perhaps he will explain at his
press conference in Tampa on Thursday. Like I said, I have friends who
are having a hard time with it. And I didn't know it until this very
second. But I guess I'm having a hard time with it too.
Liz Clarke is one of those haunted friends. Liz is a sportswriter at
the Washington Post, and she is so bothered by Bruce playing the Super
Bowl that she found herself writing a very personal story about her
relationship with Bruce and his music for the Washington Post
Magazine. It will run Super Bowl Sunday.
Liz began following Springsteen around in the late 1970s, and she has
seen him perform more than 100 times. In so many ways, Liz is a
perfectly sensible soul, someone who would never get caught up in hero
worship. "I wasn't looking for a hero," she says. "I had no need for a
hero, until I heard his music."
Bruce Springsteen cut his first record, with a band called the
Castiles about six months before the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay
Packers played in Super Bowl I. It wasn't officially called the Super
Bowl then, though Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt had already suggested the
name (based, famously, on his daughter's red, white and blue super
ball). NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle did not like the name "Super
Bowl" -- even Hunt saw it as a weak idea -- and so for a while the
league officially went with the catchy "AFL-NFL Championship Game."
While the AFL-NFL Championship Game was becoming the Super Bowl,
Springsteen played the bars and clubs and union halls. From the start,
his best music was always live. There was something transcendent in
performance that did not necessarily translate to his records, some
sort of energy that he could only create live. He was like football in
that way: Everyone knows how well the NFL translates on television
because you get replays and analysis and different camera angles and
high definition. But on television you never appreciate how hard they
"The thing about Bruce is that he was not some Rock God playing above
the audience," Liz says. "He was playing with the audience. There was
interplay, we were together, it was dynamic. He would give so much and
you would feel like he would have to be taken off in a stretcher if
you didn't yell, if you weren't with him. He wasn't playing music. He
was MAKING music."
This gets to the heart of why Liz feels betrayed, because the Super
Bowl is not a place to make music. It is the great American Hailstorm.
There are more parties on Super Bowl Sunday than New Year's Eve. There
are fewer weddings in America on Super Bowl weekend than any other
weekend and yet, according to various sources, more strippers make
house calls. Every year, Super Bowl officials proudly trot out mind-
bending statistics about how many people will watch the game, how many
toilets will flush at halftime (90 million last year according to some
sources, though nobody really knows), how much commercials cost ($3
million per 30 seconds this year), how much money will be gambled
(incalculable), how much food will be consumed (15,000 tons of chips,
4,000 tons of popcorn, 12 million pounds of avocado, etc). The Super
Bowl, like World Wars and Rocky movies, charts time in Roman Numerals.
"I'm taking it very hard," Liz says. "I know people will think I'm
being silly. If you asked 10 people why this upsets me, all 10 would
get it wrong. It's hard for me to put into words. But if Bruce
personally came to my door and said he wanted to explain why, well, I
don't think there's anything he could say that would really change my
She pauses for a moment.
"And," Liz says, "Bruce doesn't even LIKE football."
Nils Lofgren has a rarity. He has a Bruce Springsteen football story.
As Liz rightly points out, Springsteen is not a football fan. Baseball
is his thing, even if he made that regrettable "speedball" word choice
in his song "Glory Days." Lofgren, though, remembers watching Super
Bowl XXII with Bruce. They were at some party, Lofgren doesn't even
remember who hosted it. What he does remember is that it was
Washington playing Denver, and everyone in the room except Nils was
rooting for the Broncos. Nils grew up in Washington, and he remains a
fanatical Redskins fan. He's such a big football fan that, for years,
he played the music for John Madden's "All-Madden Team" show.
Well, you might remember, Denver led that Super Bowl 10-0 after the
first quarter. Everyone was ripping Lofgren. They were all trying to
get him to make bets. And then, all of a sudden, Bruce spoke up.
"Bruce was on the fence, you know?" Lofgren says. "He was just there
for the party, he's a nosh and beer guy. But everyone was destroying
me, they all wanted to make a bet. And Bruce watches all this, and all
of a sudden he says, 'I'll tell you what, I'm with Nils. We'll take
Washington scored 35 points in the second quarter and went on to
"It's Bruce," Lofgren says gratefully. "Anything he touches ..."
So yes, Lofgren is thrilled to be playing the Super Bowl. He is
thrilled that Springsteen, after all these years, finally decided to
take on that challenge.
"I guess it was last year," he says, "and we were rehearsing for the
Magic tour. And I remember we were all standing on stage together, and
we were talking about what a great job Tom Petty did at the Super
"Listen, we're all pros. I've been on the road for 40 years. Clarence
[Clemons, the Big Man] has got even more time. We're grizzled
veterans. And the unsaid elephant in the room was, hey ... you know,
we've got the best band, and we could have played for 150 million
people, and we didn't. Just by all of us talking about that, talking
about how well Tom Petty came across, I think that might have helped
Bruce come to this."
Lofgren appreciates why Springsteen had never played the Super Bowl
before. Let's be honest: Super Bowl halftime used to represent
something horrifying. You have Janet Jackson's clothing malfunction,
and Paul McCartney implausibly shouting out "Hello Super Bowl!" and 88
Grand Pianos around Chubby Checker and the Rockettes and the "It's a
Small World" Disney thing. And Up With People. Three times.
My personal favorite halftime show -- one of my favorite Super Bowl
moments, period -- was the 1989 halftime show, called "Be Bop
Bamboozled." The show, in keeping with the 80s, was a mishmash of
about 50 different things that had nothing to do with each other.
Dancers. Doo wop. Primitive computer graphics. OF COURSE, there was an
Elvis impersonator, "Elvis Presto," who, in a rather bold break from
the genre, did not actually sing. He performed magic. He tried to pull
off the world's biggest card stunt.
But, this being the Super Bowl, all of that was a prelude ... to a
commercial. Coca Cola was featuring a 3-D commercial -- they had been
handing out glasses for weeks -- and this led to the moment when Bob
Costas, who in my opinion is the most thoughtful and honest sports
broadcaster ever, had to introduce the commercial by putting on the
He looked at the camera and said, deadpan: "I want you to do know this
is the single proudest moment of my life."
"Thank you SO much for reminding me of that," Costas says now,
That was the Super Bowl. In so many ways, that IS the Super Bowl.
"I know all the things Bruce doesn't like about it," Lofgren says.
"There's the corporate thing, and you only get 12 minutes, you have
chop up the songs, it's made for TV and all that. But, hey, if you're
good at what you do, you want to do it. And God Bless Bruce, we have a
new album coming out, so at this point, why don't we just go and do
that, turn on some existing fans and find a few new ones?"
Steve Sabol thinks the match -- Springsteen and the Super Bowl -- is
perfect. Sabol is president of NFL Films and he has been there since
the beginning, since the first NFL Championship in 1962. He has a
great eye, of course, and a great sense of what makes football
dramatic. He also has a connection to Springsteen, as you will see.
"You can't get anything more American than football," Sabol says. "And
as far as performers go, you can't get anything more American than
Bruce Springsteen. I think they both speak to the same thing: Being a
part of something bigger than yourself, hard work, teamwork,
sacrificing for what you believe in."
Sabol is one of a handful of people who has been to every Super Bowl,
and he finds himself stunned every year when he sees what it has
become. His favorite halftime show was when they restaged the battle
of New Orleans back in 1970. There was so much smoke, as Sabol says,
"it was the first time that the British actually won." He remembers
the first Super Bowl, when the most important thing was making sure
they had enough balloons. "Pete Rozelle loved balloons," he says.
But now, it's so big, there's so much spectacle, there is so much
surrounding the game that Sabol finds himself in awe.
"I was at one Super Bowl, it might have been in Tampa," Sabol says. "I
remember going out on the field on Saturday, to check our positions.
And then I was in the tunnel, and I heard someone say something that
captured the Super Bowl. The guy was saying, 'Well, what are we going
to put on the elephants' feet so they don't tear up the field.
"That's what it has become. People worry about what to put on the
elephants' feet. It's amazing."
But Sabol also believes that underneath it all, there's something
real. That's where the Springsteen connection comes in. About 20 years
ago, Bruce hired NFL Films to film several of his videos, including
his concert video for "Born to Run."
"We covered his concerts like they were football games," Sabol says.
"We didn't overcut, we didn't have that frantic camera movement, we
didn't have any mindless graphics or special effects. We just sent our
cameras out there, and we told our guys: OK, cover this like you would
cover the Super Bowl.
"That's what Bruce wanted. I remember he told me, each song is a
story, like a football game, and he wanted to be sure we were able to
capture the energy and interaction and the environment. And he said,
'I know you can do that because you do it for football games. This is
the same thing.'"
Same thing? The Super Bowl? Bruce Springsteen? Well, it's hard for
many people who have followed Bruce all these years to see that.
"People are really, really upset," says Caryn Rose, who sometimes
writes for Backstreets and sometimes writes her MetsGrrl.com blog
focusing on the New York Mets. "Or if they're not upset at the Super
Bowl performance, they're upset that the NFL is promoting it or that
they played a snippet of a song as a 'World Premier' behind the
halftime report on Monday Night Football."
Caryn is not upset about it. She figures that after Tom Petty
performed at the Super Bowl, the whole idea of a Super Bowl halftime
show changed. "Tom is one stubborn guy, who also is no slouch on the
credibility front," she says. "I mean, so what? It's a football game.
People watch it. People get excited about it. It's a party. Bruce is
playing the party."
Also, Caryn says, there's something else. Bruce Springsteen turns 60
later this year. Two of his closest friends -- Federici and his
longtime assistant Terry McGovern -- have died in the last two years.
Time chases you like a linebacker in football and in rock and roll.
And sooner or later, it sacks you.
"It's 2009 and none of us are getting any younger," Rose says. "He
doesn't just belong to me. He belongs to everyone."
It's funny, I wrote this essay many different ways, and always ended
with this notion that I understand why Bruce Springsteen is doing the
Super Bowl. He's doing it for love. He's doing it because he needs
people and the Super Bowl has the most people. He's doing it because
he believes in his music and wants to reach the largest audience. He's
doing it because he's getting older and there aren't that many Super
Bowls left, not for any of us. He's doing it because it sounds fun.
He's doing it for the money, for the fame, for the attention. He's
doing it to promote a record. Is there anything wrong with that?
But, in the end I realize I don't know. It could be any of those
reasons. It could be all of them. It could be something down in his
soul. He was asked about retirement when he was in London last year.
He said he has no plans for it.
Springsteen said: "I've got a big ego and enjoy the attention. My son
has a word: Attention whore. ... When it comes down to it, I like the
way it makes me feel. And the way that I can make you feel when I do
it. ... It thrills me, excites me, it gives me meaning, it gives me
I have spent more than half of my life rooting for Bruce Springsteen.
He has been like my favorite sports teams, only he has won more than
he has lost, and he has given me as much as I gave him, and, well, he
actually made it to the Super Bowl. I have to keep rooting for him.
Sure, maybe this is a sign of his age. Maybe this is a sign of
Or maybe ... two years ago, Prince performed Purple Rain in the Miami
rain. Early in the week, Prince held a Super Bowl press conference.
"Contrary to what you've heard," Prince told us journalists. "I'd like
to take a few questions."
Yes, it was contrary to what we had heard. A reporter raised his hand
to ask a question of Prince -- who was allowing people to call him
Prince at that time rather than referring to him by a former name or
having to draw a symbol to address him. He asked Prince the obvious
question: How do you feel about playing the Super Bowl?
Prince opened his mouth, like he planned to answer it. And then, he
picked up his guitar and launched into one of the most familiar
openings in rock and roll history. He sang: "Way down in Louisiana,
down in New Orleans, way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
there stood a log cabin made of earth and wood, where lived a country
boy named Johnny B. Goode."
And that was his answer. Maybe there are no answers. Maybe it's just
rock and roll.
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