Actually, The Who's on the fifty yard line, or will be for the Super Bowl halftime show later this evening. Some of you might not even know what The Who is or who The Who are. Those of us who came of age in the 1950s, '60s, or '70s probably recall the music and destructive guitar antics of Pete Townshend and crew, but do kids born in the 1980s or later really know or care about The Who? Do you?
Back in the day, I wasn't a huge fan, but The Who's music still evokes memories. During the mid-1970s, I worked as an editor for Guitar Player Magazine. I shared an office with Steve Caraway, the magazine's layout editor. Steve was obsessed with The Who. Every morning, he'd ask me, "Don't you think Pete Townshend is great? Seriously, don't you think he's the greatest living guitar player?" Every morning, the same urgent refrain. It wasn't enough that Steve worshipped Townshend. He needed me to affirm his devotion.
"I do think he's great, Steve," I would agree. To admit that I didn't believe Tommy was the greatest rock album ever made would have been tantamount to blasphemy in Steve's mind. It was easier to go along to get along. I lost touch with Steve ages ago, but I'm sure if he's still out there somewhere, he'll be watching tonight's halftime show. The question is, what will he see?
For one thing, half the band has passed on. Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle died in 2002. The remaining two members, guitarist Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey, have passed into old age—Townshend is 64 and Daltry 65, making them the oldest act to perform at the Super Bowl since 1987, when George Burns, then in his 80s, and Mickey Rooney, 66, led a halftime salute to Hollywood's 100th anniversary.
Despite the nostalgia factor, seeing old guys perform the rebellious, muscular music of my youth can be pretty depressing. I recently watched the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on television (the concert took place at Madison Square Garden and tickets sold for astronomical prices). Crosby, Stills & Nash hogged the stage for far too long, Aretha tried (and failed) to hit the high notes, and Springstein belted out his usual fare. Simon and Garfunkel looked over the hill, though they still had their harmonies down. Bono's voice seemed shot and when B.B. King sang "The Thrill Is Gone," the thrill really was gone.
They were all great artists in their day, but their time has passed. When I started watching the concert, I didn't expect to feel that way, but after a couple of hours, I'd had enough. So, I'm not anticipating a great performance from The Who this evening. Maybe they'll surprise me, though I'm not holding my breath. And I hope Pete Townshend doesn't smash up any perfectly good guitars.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Click on photos to enlarge.