This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … bashing Bruce Springsteen.
Can the middle-aged nostalgia freaks please stop bemoaning the fact that Bruce Springsteen played the Super Bowl halftime show? He didn’t “sell out” for a big payout. He did that years ago, and to that I say “Fuckin’ A, Boss!” A guy gets into rock ‘n’ roll for one thing: chicks. Well, after banging out half of America’s pussy for ten years, Springsteen concocted the brilliantly commercial “Born in the U.S.A.” and went from cultish rock God to America’s rock God. If you followed his career for the last 25 years, playing the Super Bowl was pure Bruce.
But some alleged superfans are still in denial about what the Bossman represents. Sperm whale of a comedian Artie Lange (one funny motherfucker) has been bitching about Super Bowl Bruce since his halftime show was only a rumor. Longtime Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke, usually a voice of reason, wrote a lengthy magazine piece for Sunday’s Post in which she pouted like a freshman school girl who got jilted at the big fall dance. Have they been paying any attention at all over the past two decades, or did their sad nostalgia glasses skew Springsteen reality?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ripping the Boss. I’m a superfan and have been for, well, the exact number of years is too depressing to commit to this page. I stuck with him when he went commercial, and I didn’t bail on him when he got all experimental. I even found a few listenable tunes on those early 90’s love letters to his wife. (But just a few. Whew.)
I just can’t figure out why this image of Bruce as Cult Rocker still exists. Springsteen, to his eternal credit, didn’t spend the last 20-30 years rewriting Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. I’m sure this would have satisfied a huge segment of fans, the same fans who keep three classic rock radio stations flourishing in every big American city. But as he aged, he kept growing and changing, and his music reflects that. These complainers who long for old Bruce apparently want him to go all Bon Jovi and Aerosmith on our glory days-seeking asses, churning out the same catchy, meaningless pop-rock dreck that made those formulaic phonies rich in the first place.
The main thing these Bruce bashers don’t seem to understand is that unlike most rock stars, Springsteen has never been about exlusion. He has never wanted his act to be an Us vs. Them thing. His whole shtick has been inclusion. He has never been one of those rockers who dupes fans into thinking they are onto something that the uncool or unsmart people just don’t get. Springsteen has always gone out of his way to welcome every fan. That’s why playing the Super Bowl makes so much sense.
(And no, my hard-on for Springsteen doesn’t cloud my terminal cynicism. I know that his main motivation for his 12 minutes of choreographed halftime glory was mainly to beef up those already Artie Lange-fat coffers. I mean, the man didn’t exactly volunteer his time on Sunday. But back to the essence of his live shows …)
Those who have been to a slew of his concerts over the years, and we are a legion, have to know that he sends this inclusion message every night. It’s never, “Hey man, we’re all on to something special, but let’s just keep it between us and we can feel cool!” No, it’s more like, “I’m throwing the best three to four and a half hour party you can find tonight, and I don’t care who you are or what you believe in. Tonight you can believe in the redemptive power of rock. If you can lay out the scratch for a ticket (and hopefully a CD, two shirts and a poster, ka-ching!), well, come on in and let’s rock this fucking roof off. I will sweat until I have no more sweat, I will bleed, I will tear up my joints and vocal chords, I will play until you are as exhausted as I am … and I’ll even slam my big Bruce balls into a camera like I did during the Super Bowl stage slide.”
What also makes sense about him playing the Super Bowl is that he himself has always said that he got into rock to be accepted, not to the cool outsider, the anti-“everything mainstream.” His goal when he started playing music was to get people to like him, the more the better. (Of course, that soon meant “The more people that like me, the more records I’ll sell, which means more poon and more money, which means I can marry some ridiculously cute Hollywood piece of B-list quiff and then dump her shortly after for my much harder-core tambourine player, which will provide fodder for another successful album, which will bring in more bucks … and now here’s a song about a car.”)
So chill out on how your idol has let you down in some way. Liking Bruce never made you a rebel or counter-anything. In fact, quite the opposite. If you were not a fan of either team and you still watched the Super Bowl, you’re one of every three Americans who feels compelled to participate in a common television experience because you’re afraid of missing out this big common television experience that everyone will be talking about the next day. That means you aren’t that cool or original, which means that you like everyman entertainment and have rather pedestrian tastes, which means you like Bruce Springsteen. And that’s fine. Embrace it and embrace his hokey act, because no one does it better.
If you have to rue anything about the halftime show, rue the fact that you had a ball. Two of them actually, speeding right toward your singing-along face in glorious hi-def stage dive.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at email@example.com.