Friday, January 30, 2009

Springsteen Promises ‘12-Minute Party’ at Halftime

The New York Times
January 29, 2009

(Click on story title to see the press conference)

TAMPA, Fla. — The halftime show at the Super Bowl is just one more big gig for Bruce Springsteen. The Boss has rocked Giants Stadium 19 times. That is more than a full regular season of Giants and Jets home games combined.

So when Springsteen and the E Street Band perform Sunday night during the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, the only new wrinkle will be the size of the television audience.

Up to 90 million viewers of NBC might watch New Jersey’s best-known musical act since Frank Sinatra, another superstar whose career spanned decades. Springsteen will perform for about 12 minutes, enough time for three or four songs, the titles of which will not be announced beforehand.

If Springsteen is nervous about the size of the audience, he said it would not compare to playing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington before Barack Obama’s inauguration as president.

“You’ll have a lot of crazy football fans,” Springsteen said Thursday at a news conference. “But you won’t have Lincoln staring over your shoulder. That takes some of the pressure off.”

As for football, Springsteen said, “I don’t know anything about it.” Later, he said: “I did play the game in my backyard around the summer of 1958. I haven’t played a lot since. I’ll date myself. When I hear Steelers, I think Terry Bradshaw.”

Bradshaw was the Steelers’ quarterback in the 1970s. Springsteen acknowledged that he had been asked before to play the Super Bowl, but had turned down the invitation. “It was sort of a novelty,” he said. “It didn’t feel quite right.”

He said the production values of recent shows have impressed him. And there are other considerations. “We have a new album coming out,” he said. “We have our mercenary reasons, of course.” Then, in a mock formal tone, he added, “Besides our deep love of football, blah-blah-blah.”

His set should start about 8 p.m. Eastern, an hour that is historically significant for rock music on American television. In the 1950s and 1960s, before cable fragmented the audience and expanded viewer choice, 8 p.m. was the start of “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS.

Now, as then, that hour draws large audiences, especially in winter. So Sullivan’s variety show provided a little of everything for everyone in the family, including major exposure for rock ’n’ roll acts like Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, reflected on the cultural change in TV this week. “Without Sullivan around anymore, there is no place for you to see in prime time a good musical performance,” he said.

In general, Ebersol said, music causes some viewers to change channels because not every act appeals to all age groups and tastes. That is why “Saturday Night Live” allows no music until the second half-hour, he said.

But the Super Bowl is an exception, Ebersol said, because it draws a varied demographic, much like an audience for Springsteen, who is 59. In that way, Ebersol said, Springsteen draws the same kind of multigenerational audience that Sinatra did.

“A lot of gray hair, but a whole new generation of young people,” Ebersol said of the typical audience at a Springsteen show. “He’s one of the very few people like that. His fan base has expanded.”

When someone asked Springsteen on Thursday about his cross-generational appeal, he said his fan base “sort of skipped a generation: last two tours, we’ve noticed a large influx of young people.”

As for the song list, Springsteen said: “Who decides? The Boss decides. People suggest, hint. They cajole.” One option might be “Glory Days,” which is often played in sports arenas after championships are won.

The theme of the song is sometimes overlooked. Rather than celebrate victory, the lyrics in part sketch a former athlete boring a companion with tales of youthful baseball triumphs amid the complicated realities of middle age.

Springsteen will perform free, said Charles Coplin, vice president for programming for the N.F.L. “We don’t pay for the acts,” Coplin said. “We produce the show and pay for the production costs, but there’s no fee for appearing.”

The payoff comes from the exposure. Coplin said recent Super Bowl acts like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney measured increases in music sales after their appearances.

“It’s probably no secret that we’ve been trying to get Bruce and the E Street Band to do the show for many, many years,” Coplin said. “This year there was an overture by them. But, rest assured, had they not called us, we would have called them again.”

The modern musical era for the Super Bowl began in 1993, Ebersol said, when Michael Jackson appeared in the Rose Bowl. The biggest gaffe in this era was the wardrobe malfunction of Jackson’s sister, Janet, in 2004.

Among the few Americans unable to observe the performance are the players in the game. Ben Roethlisberger (the Steelers’ current quarterback) said: “Yeah, I wish I could watch it. He’s a rocker.”

Defensive end Brett Keisel said: “I love the Boss. Saw the Boss in Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. When we found out that the Boss was going to be playing, we felt we had a good chance to come down here. He’s a lucky charm. Hopefully, I can meet him.”

Keisel said that if someone leaves the locker room door open, “hopefully I can jam out a little bit” before the coaches start yelling at the players.

Springsteen said Sunday’s show would be “a 12-minute party” that would be like what would happen if a concert fan showed up at Giants Stadium 2 hours 48 minutes late because of traffic and other problems on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Hines Ward, the wide receiver of the Steelers, said, “I love Bruce,” and hoped he would sing “Born in the U.S.A.” “He’s got a lot of swag about himself, he’s very confident,” Ward said. “When he’s up there performing, it’s all about him.”

But Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith said he did not care for his music. “I never really grew up listening to Springsteen, no,” Smith said. “You might have to find someone a little older than me, probably.”

And how old is Smith?

“I’m 32,” he said.

At the Half, It’s B-r-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-c-e

The New York Times
January 30, 2009
Tampa, Fla.

Scott Audette/Reuters

Bruce Springsteen, speaking, and members of the E Street Band on Thursday during their first news conference since 1987.

A Super Bowl week that has been largely devoid of excitement and news got a shot of New Jersey adrenalin — reminiscent of last year — when Bruce Springsteen stepped onto a stage Thursday and announced, “If there are going to be a lot of questions about football, this is going to be the shortest press conference, because I don’t know anything about it.”

That’s quite all right; neither do many of those who produce, cover or watch it. But Super Bowl Sunday and all the trimmings is an institutional custom you eventually can’t avoid, or resist, even when you have held yourself to a higher standard than the crass commercialism occasionally mixed with patriotic pandering that has long been the nation’s most-watched sporting event.

So after long dismissing a gig he described as “playing where the cheerleaders usually go,” Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will finally do the 12-minute halftime show of Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, almost two weeks after the politicized rocker reveled in the departure of the 43rd president of the United States.

Springsteen celebrated Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House by singing at the inauguration concert, and that was pressure, he said, with “Lincoln staring over your shoulder.”

The Super Bowl is just a phalanx of pseudo fans running onto the field and waving on cue. It’s an unabashed hard sell, as Springsteen was at least decent enough to note.

“We have a new album coming out,” he said. “We have our mercenary reasons, of course.”

What the heck, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney — icons of the band’s youth, according to Steven Van Zandt — have already done the halftime show, in back-to-back years. And while I’d like to think that John Lennon would have been a holdout for life, I’m probably kidding myself. Everyone wants to hawk their work before the granddaddy of television audiences, stay relevant in the new media world.

As Springsteen, 59, said: “One of the nice things about the Super Bowl is that it’s a place where you go. ...” He didn’t finish that thought, just connected it to another. “We’ve been on the road awhile; we’re some old soldiers.”

During a news conference that was billed as the band’s first since 1987 and was nothing short of hilarious, the Boss reminded the guitarist Nils Lofgren (I can admit to owning one of his distant solo albums, the vinyl kind) that he was not supposed to say that as a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., he will be rooting for the Cardinals to beat the Steelers.

Not in the contract, Springsteen said with deft comic timing. But who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and there will be at least one bold moment Sunday night when Springsteen goes rogue and rails against — oh, I don’t know — offensive Wall Street bonuses, $18.4 billion worth.

Go ahead, Bruce, make those corporate fat cats squirm on their sofas. It’s a one-time forum — make a lasting impression. One thing is certain: whatever he may say, he is capable of something far more disquieting than the disrobing of the woman in his band, even if Patti Scialfa happens to be his wife.

I’ve always thought the Super Bowl and especially its halftime show was, with rare exceptions, a waste of the country’s rapt attention. But politics and paychecks aside, give the N.F.L. some credit for getting the right band for a moment in America when everyone could use some impassioned and lyrical reminding of what Springsteen writes beautifully of — daily life struggles.

When the Boss got a reluctant Van Zandt to take the microphone, Silvio of “The Sopranos” said, “I think one of the things that we’re kind of proud of is that there’s a certain inspirational quality to what we do, and that’s because of when we grew up, we had the high standards of the ’60s.”

Say what you will about the flaws of that decade, at least it generated longstanding ideals more resonant than ever as of two weeks ago. And after a news conference in which normally skeptical reporters sat at the edge of their seats and took cellphone photos of Springsteen and the other seven members of the band, it occurred to me that this was a pretty good match after all.

While the saxophonist Clarence Clemons played football in school (which, according to Springsteen, explained his cane), the Boss last recalled having a fling in his backyard “around the summer of 1958.” Not a problem; his band has been a long-running dynasty in its own right, together almost 40 years, with its most junior members, Lofgren and Scialfa, in for the last 25.

“Imagine you’re working alongside the same people you were with in high school, for 40 years or so and keeping that together,” Springsteen said. “It’s the long, long ride — that’s what it’s all about.”

Sounds like a speech a Super Bowl coach would want to deliver Sunday evening in the pregame locker room after months of surviving the brutal N.F.L. season. Mercenaries, deliver your messages!


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