I have to admit that I'm looking forward to the halftime show at tomorrow night's Super Bowl. Improbably, The Who is still around. Sure, half the original band died due to excess and drugs. Of the survivors, Pete Townshend is by most accounts deaf and Roger Daltrey doesn't quite have the wail he had forty years ago at Leeds. Both make more bank these days singing over the opening credits of tv shows (um, on the same station that airs the Super Bowl) than they do playing live.
So why anticipate the show? Even a mediocre rendition of "Substitute" or "I Can't Explain" defines rock and roll in three minutes: attitude, rebellion, youth. Yeah, youth. Townshend and Daltrey are pushing 70, but the lyrics and the licks of their greatest songs are full of youth. Confusion, angst, sticking it to the man (like Jack Black tells his students in "School of Rock"). Little wonder The Who provided such a great soundtrack to the tv show "Freaks and Geeks," notably the episode where the freaks all get tickets to see the band at the Silverdome and the concert becomes an event, complete with a magic bus and some impromptu guitar smashing.
Sure, critics call for the band to hang it up, suggest Townshend should let his body of work stand ("hope I die before I get old" anyone?) on its own and not defile the band's catalogue with poor performances. But watching the band and its career is like watching the Terminator movies. Even when they played Woodstock in 1969, the band looked kind of old next to its peers. There they were, a six-year-old-or-so British invasion band, next to the (slightly) younger hippie bands coming out of California. And that was forty years ago. As I worked in my home office this morning, I listened to the band's 1981 record Face Dances and heard the line, "I drink myself blind to the sounds of old T. Rex and 'Who's Next'," whistful and nostalgic references to rock from a decade earlier. And that was nostalgia being expressed nearly thirty years ago, a year before their first farewell tour.
I can't accept The Who as nothing but a dinosaur act. The music's too good. The tenacity too impressive. Even the punks appreciated The Who's embodiment of the great themes I mentioned earlier...and who was more critical of nostalgic dinosaurs than the punks? The Clash and David Johansen opened for The Who (what a line-up...why, God, was I only nine years old?!) during part of that 82 tour. The Sex Pistols covered "Substitute," though that was arguably because it's easy to play. The Who even returned the favor and covered "Pretty Vacant." So get the geriatric jokes out of the way and enjoy a halftime show that won't be as good as a Who show from the 70s, but will be better than the haters will have you believe. Rock on. And if you're taking requests, how about a little "Gettin' in Tune" or "Love Ain't for Keeping"?