I’m interested in the reactions to the minor controversy that erupted when it became clear that the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their Superbowl half time show performance. Not because I think its so horrible and wrong to have faked a live music performance in this way, but that people seem okay with these faked performances, and don’t care so much if they are faked as long as other, kind of weird criteria are met like: did they admit to it? Did the performers at some pointactually play the music that was faked to, perhaps recording it the day before, or maybe they just slapped on an old record that they recorded in the ‘80s? I don’t know.
I do know however that you don’t care whether the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their Super Bowl half time performance or not. You think the Chili Peppers suck now anyway, even though when you saw them back in like ’84 for $3 at some dive bar they were good, but after that they climbed, or descended the long ladder of suckage, selling out, or whatever it was they did that you hate. Plus you think half time shows are dumb and don’t care about them either, or the Super Bowl or television or Bob Dylan on the car ad. There are plenty more important things to get riled up about: the snow, the wars, and all that.
But that’s why I’m here. To remind you not to give up so easily on everything goddamnit because each seemingly insignificant loss like this half time show fakery, adds another straw to the cracked and bending back of the poor pack animal that is our culture with its dwindling integrity, and if we keep not caring we will soon be subsumed in an unrecoverable mire of Orewellian barf.
It is the not caring, the “you’re reading too much into it” that has enabled our entertainments to backslide into the current pablum of mediocrity and has helped cover our world in the opposite of amazingly creative expressions of independent thought: slick, over-studied, designed-by-committee sell-messages that run roughshod over our lives. Let me tell you something people, you wanted, you needed to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing live on a stage during the single most watched television program in a year’s worth of crap; because they were one small hope that even the smallest crack in the armor of tight assed, boring corporate control would briefly let a light shine through a place where the lawyers and pollsters and reapers of all kinds couldn’t stop it. But it failed.
Why did it fail? Because we don’t care. We work within the system as Flea so painfully admitted in his contradictory apology after the fact. Because kids, we take what bone is thrown to us and would never, never jeopardize that bone because in the long run we risk being on the outside forever and out of a fucking job. And when we do that we think only of our careers and paychecks, Flea, and not making art or protesting or opening anyone’s eyes, as you say you will gladly do, just at some other time and venue, not at the Super Bowl.
If you never did contrary or inflammatory things as a performer, like Bruno Mars, or Beyonce, then there is no complaint. You sing a song, you put on a show, you get hired by the NFL and you do your job. Good stuff. Boring. But sufficient. ‘s why I don’t seek out or consume such music in my own narrow life. Does nothing for me. And just as I’d not attend a Bruno Mars concert or the tons of shit like it, because it bores me, I don’t also watch it on the television set if it happens to come on, including the Super Bowl halftime show. (For the skirblog, half times are for takin’ a break. Takin’ a piss, getting some air, letting your poor eyeballs retract back into their sockets for a few minutes. Every second of football need not be crammed with blazing lights and screaming and shouting. Fact is we didn’t even include such high end entertainment like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson into our Super Bowl halftimes until approx 1991, when after a succession of marching bands and crooners and people, somebody realized there was a giant 15 minute hole when a whole new spectacle could be inserted to gather up valuable missing Neilson points. So in ’91 they got Disney to lend out the New Kids on the Block for the first of many corporately disgusting fuck fests. The list is here for your amusement.)
But if you’re the Who (2010), or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you have a history of breaking the rules, and saying something contrary, then to my mind you are suddenly in the position to bring a little more to the table. You have uttered pronouncements of independence in your pasts, you have rattled people, you have screamed when you should have been quiet, you have played too loud, too long, said “fuck you” too many times. You have smashed your guitars, you have worn nothing but socks on your penises, you had our, or at least my attention. But when you were asked to get up on the biggest stage possible, you caved. You got scared. You settled. You did what you were told.
That’s problem number one.
Problem number two is the way in which you obeyed your masters makes no sense.
They asked you, a rock band, if you would “play” during the half time show. You said “of course, what? Do you think we’re crazy? Of course we will “play” during the single most watched bit of American television in a year’s history. Because even though we, the band you know as RHCP have been around for over 20 years, we have never had this much single exposure ever! Imagine the new markets, the new virgin potential fans who can now learn first hand of the legend of the RHCP! We will rip that stage apart we will! We will show America our patented brand of furious rock funk punk hip hop. And we probably won’t wear shirts either so suck on that America!
Yes! The NFL said. We’re hep. Do that, the shirts, everything, but one small detail: live sound in a stadium SUCKS! (sorry all you thousands who’ve seen the Who or the Chili Peppers in some stadium somewhere. You got ripped off dude!), you, we, nobody can quality control it, I mean sound and electricity flying around everywhere, its horrible, so if you don’t mind, we’re gonna axe you not to actually “play” in the traditional sense of the word, but play in the sense that we slap on an old CD of you guys playing and the one dude can sing if he wants to, but as a whole, its like 100% better if you don’t uh actually “play,” or plug any instruments into anything, and just, I don’t know, pretend to play but with like a ton of that crazy energy you all are known for. That sound ok?
RHCP: Well yup. I guess so.
The next day Flea wrote a sort of misguided explanation of the thing and oddly this didn’t seem like fakery or lying to most people. Most people went: yeah, ok, I see the point. No foul. Makes sense. And you know what? Kudos to you Flea for coming clean! We love you Flea! Case closed. Matter done. It was ages ago anyway by now. Move on. Deal.
But it is my job not to move on. For you gentle reader, I stay stuck.
Look, I love the Flea too. He’s an absurdly talented bass player and showman, and he often has interesting things to say about the world. But unfortunately this was not one of them. The truth is they did what they did and if anyone would be honest, it was nothing less than a massive betrayal and failure. But the larger problem has been around forever: image over content, style over substance. It’s more important to have everything look good than for anything to be good. Over the years we’ve had artists fight that war and even working within the system successes were had: think of a prime time TV show like All in the Family, and the other Norman Lear classics. They are radical compared to what people try to do in 2014. The 2010s have seen so much retrograde backsliding in so many areas (politics, treatment of women and minorities, lulls in art and popular music) precisely because there are fewer and fewer artists willing to risk a slap on the hand when given the chance to reach an extremely wide audience. Think Jim Morrison singing the word “higher” on the Ed Sullivan Show during “Light My Fire,” when the network expressly told him (ordered him) not to. And he famously said fuck you, antihero that he was.
Why the need for flawless perfection? That poor Olympic ring that didn’t open in the Sochi opening ceremony meant what?
That the Olympics suck and failed? That it everything is wrong with evil Russia? That humans can’t control everything even though they aim to do it? Isn’t it okay for a rock band to sound rough or raw? Wasn’t that initially the whole fucking point, especially of music born of the punk movement like the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I say yes. I say that if a band is on a live stage with instruments, they should be actually playing those instruments for better or for worse. If they are pretending to play those instruments and only tell us this after the fact, then they lied to us, and their apology means nothing. And if we still enjoyed the show knowing all this, then we enjoy lies, and enjoy being lied to, and are ridiculous pigs marching to the slaughter, because we allow and encourage the giant, monolithic Lie which assaults us on a daily basis. Somebody had a chance to throw even the tiniest wrench of integrity into a large, slick machine. But then they sadly, freely, gave it away.