Saturday, January 31, 2009

Springsteen Belongs in Daytona, Not Tampa Bay

Who isn’t lost in the flood of hype about Bruce Springsteen performing at the Super Bowl halftime show?

But it’s all wrong. The Boss should be playing two weeks later, across the state at a much bigger live event, The Daytona 500. This great American rocker is made for The Great American Race.

It's simple. Bruce is a car guy. His songs take place on Rattlesnake Speedways in the Utah desert, not football stadiums. He sings of wrecks on the highway, not fumbles in the end zone. His honey is working it in the back of a pink Cadillac, not the sidelines of Lambeau Field.

Springsteen wants you to strap your hands cross his engine, not his shoulder pads. He’s never written about flea flickers and high ankle sprains. He’s asking you to crawl into his ambulance, not a golf cart headed to the locker room following a helmet-to-helmet collision. He wrote a song called "Stolen Car," not “We Illegally Taped Your Practice.”

The Boss's own heart is disconnected from this Super Bowl. He says he knows nothing about football. Whereas the inaugural ball performance of “The Rising” was pitch perfect in performance and context, the 12-minute halftime show isn't fully relevant to the Boss. He admits a strict marketing play.

Some fans are crying “sell out,” but that’s harsh.

In this iTunes era, to have a successful release an artist has to basically shut out the struggling corner music store and sell his exclusive soul to a big box retailer (which Springsteen did, with great regrets in placing a recent Greatest Hits disc). The Boss admitted he brought the band to Tampa Bay only to do “something big” and draw attention to his new CD, "Working on a Dream."

Springsteen is rock’s most enduring and legendary performer, an indefatigable showman still giving sweat-drenched three-hour plus acts at 59 years old. (In fact, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have been to a Springsteen show and the uninitiated.) To know and appreciate Springsteen is to experience him live. The Boss will play to, what, 80,000 people at the NFL championship? Tickets for this game, and the crap shoot of whether the fourth quarter will even matter, will run fans the rough equivalent of the GDP of Honduras.

The "Big Game" -- the sport refered to is known without even mentioning it -- is one of the world's great sports spectacles. But in the grandstands on Sunday, it's doubtful there will be very few of the common, working class folks inspiring the Boss's songs and accounting for millions of his album sales.

Had Bruce waited two weeks, at Daytona International Speedway, he and the E Street Band would be playing to nearly 200,000 hard-working Americans more worthy of his amazing blue-collar energy and durable songs about the redemptive power of the automobile. A $55 ticket to the Great American Race can be had for about 1/20th the price of the cheaper seats at the Super Bowl.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll tune in and crank it up. I had the black and gold jacket as a kid on Long Island and will be pulling for the Steelers. But half time is what's attracting me to this game. While the prospect of seeing McCartney, the Stones and Tom Petty on the world’s biggest TV stage since four mop tops from Liverpool brought their glorious “yeah yeah yeahs” to the Ed Sullivan Show had been pretty cool, the Boss brings the whole halftime rock show concept to new levels.

In fact, many people are more psyched for Bruce's mini-concert than the game itself. The brief song lineup is shrouded in complete secrecy. Odds-makers had to shut down a site taking bets on the song selections, so many people had flooded it.

On a grand stage, when the Steelers and Cardinals take a break, it will be 12 unforgettable minutes of the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But the Boss, car guy at heart on a last chance power drive, should have chosen Daytona on February 15, where he wouldn’t be the only hot rod angel rumbling to the promised land.

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