Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Rolling Stones gather moss after all.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Rolling Stones. I think they cast a bigger shadow over Rock music than any other group or artist. That's saying a lot, but it's true. The Rolling Stones brought that raunchy edge to Rock that was sorely lacking before they hit the scene. Sure, there were people who pushed the envelope, but the Rolling Stones ripped it to shreds.

Sadly, it seems their best days are long behind them. Let's face it. These guys aren't the best musicians in the world. Their claim to fame has never been their musical prowess. It's the total package that made them special. There was a time when the Rolling Stones would have happily performed the Super Bowl Halftime show for no other reason than to shock its audience. We're talking about a band that stunned the entire world with its audacity in releasing songs that featured not so subtle euphemisms about sex and drugs. The once wild stallions that made the Stones bigger than they had any right to be are now impotent geldings. What makes the Stones utterly frustrating is the fact that they have not become better musicians with age.

Let's face it. Aerosmith started out as a mediocre band that caught lightning in a bottle with a few strong riffs and couple of drug-induced hooks. What makes Aerosmith different is the fact that they improved musically. Ok, Steve has resorted to his falsetto shriek full time, but the rest of the band has honed their skills and manages to stay relevant by crafting solid musical arrangements. Joe Perry has become one of the better guitar players in the business in spite of starting out as a very average axe hack. Such a transformation is typically the rule rather than the exception. You get better with experience.

The Stones have not. They haven't laid down truly original track in 20 years and the limited success they have enjoyed has been spurred by hyper-nostalgic baby boomers desperately clinging to that vicarious vitality that that Stones supposedly exude. As long as people are willing to drop two hundred books a ticket to watch Mick and the boys rehash their classics with all the flair and heartfelt dedication of an over-the-hill tribute band, there's no need to develop from a musical perspective. This year's halftime music act proved that the Stones just don't cut it. Worst concert ever. Maybe the soundman didn't get his board tuned; maybe the hookups were fouled. Perhaps it's time for these geezers to call it a career. It's been a great ride fellas, thanks for the memories.

Of course, the Stones aren't alone in their geriatric mediocrity. Aaron Neville couldn't deliver his iconic falsetto through his third of the National Anthem and Aretha Franklin, in typical diva fashion, seemed intent on proving that she could sing higher than Aaron and failed miserably. Roseanne Barr stirred the self-righteous dignity of our nation's weekend patriots when she offered up a poorly conceived rendition of our nation's anthem, but at least Rosie was consistent and stayed within herself. Aretha and Aaron fell to pieces. They couldn't hit the high notes and failed to carry the strong ones. It was one of the lamest performances I have ever heard. I would have rather listened to Dr. John sing the anthem in his trademark Bourbon Street rasp.

Ironically I watched a special high lighting Super Bowl moments earlier that day and one of the moments discussed was Whitney Houston's powerful National Anthem performance back in 1991. I typically dismiss it as a fraud since it has been disclosed that Whitney lip-synced over a carefully edited tape she had made weeks earlier. After last night I think that it might be time to consider the benefits of a lip-synced performance. A DJ beats the socks off a band at a wedding, maybe the same holds true for Super Bowl musical acts. Yes, a DJ beats a band every time. Bands might be classier but I haven't seen a wedding band that can follow up a cover of YMCA with Outkast's Hey Ya! Even a very good band lacks the versatility a DJ brings to the table. It's worth noting that if you don't want me to come to your wedding but you still want to send an invitation to obligate me for a gift just disclose that you'll be having a band perform. I'll RSVP that I can't make it. Cable guy's coming.

Personally I think the problem is that the networks sink their hooks into the entertainment and it gets too complicated. These pinhead executives think that they have to set the world on fire as though a musical guest is suddenly going to capture the attention of the six people in the world who don't watch the Super Bowl. Some of the best Anthem renditions are performed during regular season games by acts booked by the teams. Sometimes it's a local talent, other times it might be a guest who's in town for another event. The lesser known acts do better with the Anthem because they don't have enough arrogance to assume they have the right to alter the character of the song. Aretha was guilty of that. Instead of delivering the song straight up and hitting the notes Francis Scott Key originally penned the lyrics to, she delved into her own interpretation. It didn't work.

In the future, sports leagues and network executives would do well to leave the event planning up to the hosting city. I still remember how insulting it was to see NBC trot out Lea Thompson to sing the National Anthem when the Cleveland Indians hosted game four of the World Series in 1997. Cleveland's not necessarily an entertainment mecca, but it does provide a home to the Rock-n-Roll hall of fame. Surely there was somebody better to sing the National Anthem, but Lea Thompson was the lead actress on a foundering show and NBC decided it was OK to cram her down our throats. Commercial oppression at it's best. The thing I hate about Lea Thompson is that she was really famous for a while but not talented enough to get away with not doing any gratuitous nude scenes. How did that happen? I've seen Kathy Bates naked, but not Lea Thompson. Of course I've heard her sing...somehow I think I got hosed.

Let's stop over thinking these things. Big stars already get too much face time. Why not simplify the process and give some lesser-known people the opportunity to shine? In fact, promise viewers a 20-minute block of the most outrageous and entertaining commercials ever produced and you'll get better ratings. People obsess over Super Bowl Commercials. They sell themselves. Who needs a game? It's not like we had a good one this time around.

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