Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Ranking the best Super Bowl halftime shows is a subjective and predictable (and pointless) exercise. But let’s do it anyway. Just as the Super Bowl game on the field has changed over the years and gotten bigger (and sometimes better), so too has the halftime show.

In the early days, when the league and game itself were not as big as they are today, the halftime shows were simple marching-band extensions of regular football games. As the years passed, they added occasional singers like Ella Fitzgerald and such pop celebrities as Carol Channing (twice). The Super Bowl Halftime Show as we know it today was not quite a “thing” yet.

As late as the 1980s, it was still just marching bands and Up With People performing salutes to random themes. (According to one of the great first lines on all of Wikipedia, “Up with People is an education organization whose stated mission is to bridge cultural barriers and create global understanding through service and a musical show.”) One year it was a “Salute to the Stars of the Silver Screen.” Just three years later, the theme was “Salute to the 100th Anniversary of Hollywood” (with George Burns, Mickey Rooney, and Disney characters). Other years they would salute the big-band era and “the 1960s and Motown.” In fact, they would even haphazardly combine tributes, as if some board-room decision had ended in a tie:  the 1990 theme was “Salute to New Orleans and the 40th Anniversary of Peanuts.”

Then Michael Jackson and, 11 years later, Janet Jackson changed how we view the Super Bowl halftime show.

10.) JANET JACKSON (w/ JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)
SB XXXVIII – Feb 1, 2004 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Unfortunately, nothing written about Super Bowl halftime shows is complete without mentioning perhaps the most famous, or infamous, halftime show. Sadly its pop-culture significance will keep it on lists like this forever. Oh, you don’t remember this one? At the end of the performance, Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Janet’s, uh, wardrobe and revealed most of her bare breast. This was called “nipplegate” even though Miss Jackson made sure her nipple was covered. She showed about the same amount of her body as an average beer commercial by an Official NFL Beer Sponsor. But it was such an outrage to see that for 2 seconds on live TV that all the news and media outlets spent at least a week editorializing on just how awful and classless it was… all while showing a still photo of said exposed breast. This led to several years of only aging male classic rockers performing at the Super Bowl.

9.) DIANA ROSS
SB XXX – Jan 28, 1996 – Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, AZ)
Underrated and possibly forgotten performance, but Diana Ross was up to the task and capably worked through a medley of 10 (ten!) hits. Don’t sleep on the classics.

8.) BRUNO MARS (w/ RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS)
SB XLVIII – Feb 2, 2014 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Okay, younger artist with some hits but not quite the household name with some older viewers. By any measure, Bruno Mars nailed his performance. He can sing, he can dance, he can open the show with a drum solo, he brings a horn section, and then he has the Chili Peppers pop out of the stage floor to “givitaway givitaway give it away now.” Exhilarating and professional performance.

7.) ROLLING STONES
SB XL – Feb 5, 2006 – Ford Field (Detroit, MI)
At this point, the Rolling Stones are just game managers. Rock royalty just needs to show up, play a few hits, and fill the stadium with classic riffs. Oh, and do it on a stage shaped like the Stones’ lips/tongue logo.

6.) TOM PETTY & the HEARTBREAKERS
SB XLII – Feb 3, 2008 – University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
Sandwiched around Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers solid (if unspectacular) performance of hits was the Patriots-Giants “Helmet Catch” game: a truly great Super Bowl, as well as a huge upset of an undefeated team. We don’t need always need guest rappers or genre-bending collaborations. (Aerosmith-Britney-N’Sync? No thanks.) Petty and his underrated band have been a radio staple for decades. Capable rock bands with good songs are like balanced football teams with good offensive lines.

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The Anniversary Re-Issue of My Top 10 List

Working in a record store back in 1987, we got the first Beatles CDs shipped to us and excitedly opened the boxes after hours as they would go on sale the next day to coincide with the 20 anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. Obviously I understood the leap to the new format, but was a little surprised at the hype of this “new” release that was really just a reselling of old music everyone already had.

And in true Beatles fashion, of course they predicted all of this and put it on record. In fact the first line of that legendary Sgt. Pepper album is “It was 20 years ago today…” and a tagline was born. The Beatles making it to compact discs in the late 80s wasn’t the first or last “anniversary reissue” but it rang in a new era of nostalgia culture along with what the Box Set craze was doing for what was once known as “The Record Industry.”

As our media and culture and news cycles continued to speed up as technology advanced, so too did our nostalgia rates. The 1990s saw a resurgence (recycling) of the 1960s…. and soon enough we couldn’t wait to re-celebrate the 70s and shout I LOVE THE 80s and by the dawn of the 21st century it seemed we were already “looking back” on a 90s decade that just ended. This hyperwarp eventually ate itself and now we just spend each day, week, and year looking back at the great things that already happened 10, 20, and 25 years ago.

Usually we are nudged into this by some not-so-coincidental reissues… anniversary edition remasters of the classic albums we already know and love. And in the digital age where selling any music, especially hard copy CDs, is next to impossible, it’s a lot easier to (re)sell us stuff everyone knows is good (especially with added goodies and updated artwork or notes). It’s easy to have a hit with a hit.

In the “rock is dead” era, we didn’t need the Strokes or the White Stripes to be saviors of rock, we just exhumed the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin to do it again. It’s almost comical that the recent remastered reissues (expanded 2-disc versions!) of the Zeppelin catalogue rolled out exactly 20 years after the 1994 remasters. Can a shark jump the shark?

Anniversary culture gives us an excuse to tell the world which albums changed our lives and how. We gather in the town square (Facebook/Twitter) and remind our friends that A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory came out 24 years ago. We make our high school buddies feel old by telling them Van Halen’s 1984 is 31 YEARS OLD while websites gather clicks by offering us info on the whereabouts of the woman from the “Hot For Teacher” video. Obviously seminal albums like the Stones Exile on Main St get lavish remastered reissues, and so do lesser-known but still critically acclaimed efforts like Bob Mould’s Workbook, but soon enough there’s a niche within the niche and we’re “celebrating” albums that weren’t so great the first time around. Or maybe the album might be worthy, but we don’t wanna wait for the 20th or 25th anniversaries, so now just “It was 10 years ago today” is good enough.

best_double_albums_3203775bInstead of listing every album that’s had an anniversary reissue, it would be easier to list the ones that haven’t. As for which ones are worthy of buying a second or third time… this brings us from the nostalgia phenomenon to our other favorite rock pastime: Top 10 Lists. From the dawn of the first day spent on that hypothetical desert island, we’ve been making our personal Top 10 lists. Once everyone and their former record-store coworkers had blogs, rock fans everywhere were raging against the tastemakers and righting all the wrongs unjustly handed down by the gatekeepers at Rolling Stone or SPIN or the Grammy voters and anyone else who gets it wrong when trying to tell us what’s good.

It’s a way to make sense of a senseless world in which Bob Marley never won a Grammy and Ziggy Marley’s career is already longer than Bob’s. Continue reading →

Fantasy Rock Band

Just stare at that chart in all its trivial rock’n’roll glory.

As arbitrary as the chosen musicians and their corresponding “salaries” might be, and countless arguments can be made about who’s missing and who’s under/overpriced, I’m still fascinated by this! [We could make 5 or 10 different salary charts based on this same concept, but as you can see, @MattNorlander made this one, so credit to him and send him any of your complaints.]

A few things are keeping me from making a final decision on a line up. Should I just try to make the salary work under the $25 cap, or also consider how the styles/playing fits together? Just like in sports, perhaps more so, chemistry can be as important as talent. But, this is fantasy. I think it’s safe to assume we are getting each of these guys at their peak, and not current (and in some cases, dead) state. Is it a requirement of this pointless fictional game to spend the full $25? What about getting credit/points for spending less?

My day is shot.

One inherent flaw is the idea of strictly defining the guitarists as either “Lead” or “Rhythm” guitarists. Sure, guys like Keith Richards and Neil Young are more known for riffage than shredding, but that’s not all they can do. Jimmy Page is listed as Rhythm but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of playing Lead. On the flipside, the top Lead Guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, but he’s more than capable of playing a Rhythm role as well. Same for George Harrison (listed as the cheapest “Lead” option, perhaps because we often think of him as a peaceful strum-along type).

So that leads (LEADS, see what I did there?) to more questions: should I pick 2 very versatile guitarists so they each fill both rhythm and lead duties? Or go for a more defined rhythm-lead combo? We’ll play with some lineup options later, but thought it should be noted that the guitar slots are tougher to define than Drums or Bass.

“Frontman” seems easily defined, but there’s some basic flaws with that slot too. Are women eligible? (In fact, there are no women anywhere on this chart, so that’s another general complaint to be launched elsewhere on behalf of Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Chrissie Hynde, and Ann & Nancy Wilson.) And are we judging/choosing our Frontman on vocal abilities alone or does stage presence play into it? Again, chemistry comes into play, how will a given Frontman’s voice sound with a given supergroup of musicians? If you choose some hard-rockin metal-leaning musicians, then Axl Rose might be a better choice than, say, Bono or Mick Jagger. But I’d trust Bono and Jagger to actually show up to the gigs and perform on time, and in general I don’t think I’d want Axl Rose in any band I was putting together.

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Over Three Decades of Springsteen

As a young teen, one of my earliest musical influences (by a non-musician) was by the classic “Sister’s college boyfriend.” Darryl Walter, delivered to me by fate via Kent State University, is the one who first turned me on to Bruce Springsteen with his vinyl bootlegs of legendary E Street Band shows from the Agora in Cleveland and Winterland in San Francisco. As those same fates, and perhaps Springsteen himself, would have it, we are still friends. So who better to serve as a guest contributor, reviewing the recent Bruce Springsteen concert in DC. 

By DARRYL WALTER

We’re guessing our correspondent paid more than $10.50 per ticket to see Bruce Springsteen this year.

Back on October 6, 1980, when many readers of this blog weren’t even alive yet, I saw my first Bruce Springsteen concert at the Coliseum, built in the lovely cornfields between Cleveland and Akron. As a 16-year-old rock and roller growing up with the greatest radio station ever, WMMS, I had a great appreciation and knowledge of music and, outside of the 1-95 corridor, Cleveland was the first city to embrace Springsteen.

Fast forward to September 14, 2012 and I am attending yet another Springsteen concert. Between that first show in 1980 and the show I witnessed last night, I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Springsteen. I would guess it is around 25-30 range. For some that is a low number, for others that is bordering on fanatic.

So, who would have guessed that 32 years ago, when I arrived at the concert in a rusted Datsun B210 I would now be driving my wife’s Mercedes Benz R-350 (wow does that make me sound like a total dick) with my wife and three kids. The cool thing (at least for me) is that my daughter Hannah was wearing my Springsteen baseball style concert shirt from the 1980 River Tour and that my other daughter was wearing a black Springsteen T-shirt from the same tour when he returned in June 1981. My son Kyle had a bootleg T-shirt that I bought outside of Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium following a concert in the summer of 1985 Born in the USA Tour. My wife Jane had on a long sleeve jersey she got from The Rising Tour, and I was wearing a Vote for Change Tour Shirt from 2004. Jane and I went to the Vote for Change shows in Cleveland and Washington, great shows but awful election results.

At the 1980 concert, Bruce opened with “Prove It All Night” and last night, he again opened it with the “Prove It,” but with the ’78 intro. I still remember the 1980 concert with Clarence hollowing on that first solo and last night his nephew Jake didn’t let him down.

Following “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” Bruce played two songs from The River, “The Ties That Bind” and “Hungry Heart.” I am sure the folks coming down from Baltimore were happy to hear the shout-out for Charm City.

Next came a trifecta from Wrecking Ball: “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Death to My Hometown.” Bruce then went old school with with “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded By the Light.” With “Spirit,” as he was sitting on the edge of the stage with Jake, he had a momentarily lapse and had to remember what verse he was on.

The horn section really shined on “Johnny 99.” Using the same horn arrangement that they played during Jazz Fest back in April, the E Street Horns transferred Nationals Park back to the Fairgrounds in New Orleans.

At this point, the concert was kicking into high gear. “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” one of my favorites from The Rising followed “Shackled and Drawn.” Following “Waitin’” was the inspirational “The Promised Land.”

Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land

On a side note, that line from my Rabbi Bruce Springsteen was used when I gave a speech to my son at his Bar Mitzvah.

Next was “Racing in the Street.” Bruce gave a shout-out to wounded warriors from Walter Reed Hospital that he was hosting. As I told my son, it seemed a lot more sincere than when the Nationals do it during a baseball game.

This is what it looked like during the show.

“The Rising,” “Badlands,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” concluded the set. Following a brief moment, the E Street Band returned for their encore with “We Are Alive” and “Thunder Road.” The lights slowly came on during “Born to Run” and then came one of my favorites, “Detroit Medley.” While I would have preferred the longer ’78 version circa Winterland, this version rocked the house. “Dancing in the Dark,” probably my least liked Springsteen song ever recorded was next. I realize it was a pop hit, I guess that is my problem with the song, it is such a pop hit.

During “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” when it came to the part where “the Big Man joined the band,” the crowd cheered for a few minutes as a photo montage of Clarence was displayed. The night concluded with “American Land” and donning a sailors cap, Bruce did an Isley Brothers-style “Twist and Shout.”

Leaving the 3-1/2 hour concert, I told my twin 14-year-old daughters that I have ruined their concert-going experience. Nothing they ever see will top what they just witnessed.

Finding the Great American Rock Album


When record stores still existed, they were not just the place to buy music, they were one of the few places to discover new albums (besides friends’ houses and cars). Radio gave us new songs (and sometimes full-album previews at midnight), but you could walk into a record store and end up taking home something you’d never heard before you’d wandered in.

So now you just walked in and we’re playing a great new album called Temple Beautiful by Chuck Prophet.

Who? Longtime music fanatics might know of him from his days in the band Green On Red and his critically acclaimed solo catalog. But he’s far from a household name and, at age 48 and without controversy (or tits), he’s not exactly generating lots of pop-culture buzz. You can read up on him at AllMusic or Wikipedia if you’re so inclined, I won’t waste time rehashing his career.

Temple Beautiful, described by Prophet as “made in San Francisco by San Franciscans, about San Francisco,” comes off as a west-coast version of Lou Reed’s New York album: gritty and full of character and characters. Prophet calls it “an unsentimental (though loving) tour of San Francisco. My effort to tap into the history, the weirdness, the energy and spontaneity that brought me here in the first place.” Thus the comparison’s to Reed’s New York are obvious, but there are other more subtle references. Track 2 of Temple Beautiful is “Castro Halloween,” featuring “men in skirts and heels marching on…” while New York featured “Halloween Parade,” an ode to the impact of AIDS, in that same second song slot. And on the boisterous title track, the shout of “2 guitars, bass, and drums” sounds like a nod to the closing line of Reed’s liner notes for New York: “Can’t beat 2 guitars, bass, drums.”

Certain tracks are reminiscent of the sound and quality of Tom Petty’s finer works, but Prophet probably has more in common with Petty’s right-hand man guitarist Mike Campbell, as there are plenty of riffs and hooks to go along with Prophet’s at-times fierce guitar work. Similarly, instead of sounding like Bruce Springsteen he manages to invoke the garage-band authenticity and pop sensibilities of Bruce’s sidekick Steven Van Zandt. And at times, the album sounds not like Dylan, but more like his son Jakob, most of all on the Wallflowers-type grooves of “Willie Mays Is Up at Bat” and “He Came From So Far Away (Red Man Speaks).”

Prophet, far from the legendary status of Reed, Petty, or Springsteen, comes off as a relative unknown (despite this being his 12th solo album) and it gives this album a likable underdog quality. And while parts of this record have been called “Dylanesque,” and rightfully so, it has more in common with the best albums by other medium-well known underdogs like Graham Parker, John Hiatt, or even Steve Earle, Ray Davies, Warren Zevon, or Paul Westerberg.

Occasional harmonica blasts and tambourines keep the sound organic, but Chuck’s guitar and songwriting are the show here. Catchy and rocking in some spots, brooding and poetic in others, Temple Beautiful is very much an album for album lovers. A cohesive collection of songs greater than the sum of their parts. There’s a natural analog vibe, a timeless sound, and just the right pacing and length to be appreciated as a complete work of art.

Temple Beautiful takes its name from a now-defunct San Francisco rock club, but the sweaty crowds and life-affirming music could be booming out of any little stage in the country. And this out-of-the-blue stunner of an album throws me back to the record stores (also almost all now defunct), where we first found the Great American Novel in musical form and to the dirty bars where we’d later blast them out. While Prophet might not quite be Kerouac with a guitar, it’s nice to know that in 2012, after so many of our beautiful temples are long gone, we can still discover yet another Great American Rock Album.

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CLICK HERE to listen to the whole album streaming free.

Visit Chuck’s official site.

In-Depth Political Analysis of the New Bruce Springsteen Song

In a world where, on the day when parts of the internet went dark to protest potential government censorship, Rob Lowe of all people tweeted the “scoop” that Peyton Manning is retiring (he’s not) and Mark Wahlberg claimed he would have prevented 9/11 (he didn’t), it’s not too silly for me to look way too far into the new Bruce Springsteen song that suddenly dropped at midnight.

In the music community, Bruce Springsteen is the stuff of rock legend: he’s certainly one of the greatest live acts of all time and among the most respected American songwriters south of Bob Dylan. But culturally, like his hero Dylan, Bruce has essentially become a political football.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps tiring of being punted back and forth, Bruce jumped off the sidelines (where he’d watched his song “Born in the USA” get co-opted as a patriotic anthem by Ronald Reagan and others) and jumped into the game by campaigning for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.

By early 2009, the guy who once used to shun any specific political affiliation and refuse TV appearances was now at the Presidential Inauguration and then the Super Bowl singing his latest jingle/anthem, “Working on a Dream.” That was an optimistic time, and the song was a hollow attempt to bring us all together for some kumba-ya call to roll up our sleeves and fix all that had broken in the Bush years. There was even some whistling in the song. Whistling.

Anyway, I didn’t like the song and thought the album was one of Springsteen’s worst ever. I’m a Bruce fanatic, but I’m not a total homer.

So now  Bruce is coming back with what’s being described as his “angriest” album in a long time. Guess he woke up from that dream. The new single “We Take Care of Our Own,” is from the forthcoming March release Wrecking Ball. The title track was originally written to mark the closing of the old Giants Stadium in New Jersey, but the title fits as a symbol of destruction for an album that we’re told addresses the current economic strife. The cover art, with Bruce and his signature Fender guitar behind the scrawled lettering of the title, evokes a “This Machine Kills Fascists” vibe, perhaps a nod to his other hero Woody Guthrie.

On first listen, “We Take Care of Our Own” chugs its way down E Street like most catchy Bruce songs. On the surface, it sounds like just a trite anthem: “Wherever this flag is flown,” he dares to sing as an echo to the “We take care of our own” refrain. The guy has been misunderstood as a jingoistic flag-waver for the last 25 years and now he’s gonna literally fly a flag right there in the hook of his new hit single? Really?

Ah, we forget (and some don’t realize) how sly Bruce can be. He knows his songs will be scrutinized and examined through a sociopolitical lens, and possibly co-opted yet again in an election year. So while the title and the flag imagery sound like a rah-rah yay America platitudes about how awesome we are…. Listen closely and you’ll hear the everyman rocker bearing witness to every man for himself; really wondering why we don’t actually take care of our own. And the only ones doing so are the politicians and the corporations that own them. They’re certainly taking care of their own (each other) while the rest of us are left to whistle while we work on a dream.

On 1980’s The River, Bruce asked “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?” Well 2012 Bruce isn’t quite ready to overtly call out President Obama as a liar (at least on this track), but he does sing “I’ve been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone, those good intentions have gone dry as a bone” in the first verse.

The track starts with pounding drums and high-pitched guitar noise. Compared to the safe pop/schlock of “Working on a Dream,” this sounds like battle drums and sirens. As it settles into that first verse, there’s a subtle percussion shuffling akin to a Simon & Garfunkel track almost buried in the mix. Once the song kicks in and the guitars get a little heavier, Bruce knifes through America, not the right or left, but slicing right down the center: “From Chicago to New Orleans/From the muscle to the bone.”

The very next lines get specific, as he reminds us “From the shotgun shack to the Superdome, we needed help but the cavalry stayed home.” He’s invoking Katrina, 2005, but the next line updates the message and generalizes it to apply to our tone-deaf politicians who only take care of themselves and the special interests who pay their way into office while the economic storm floods us all out of our homes: “There aint no one hearing the bugle blowin’.”

A generation ago, Springsteen followed the optimism of “pulling out of here to win” in “Thunder Road” by writing a gloomy response called “The Promise” (and what happens when it’s broken). This time he follows the hope of “Working on a Dream” with a line that repeats “Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” The everyman rocker winces at every man for himself. Again he toys with patriotic language to essentially ask “What the fuck happened to the American dream? Where’s the promise?” Just like he used the pride of chanting “Born in the USA” to wonder why people who were born here and fought in Vietnam were abandoned upon their return.

That’s what I mean about Bruce being sly. He’s dressing up this new song with lines like “wherever this flag is flown” and “sea to shining sea,” this time knowing and expecting that it will be misunderstood. And if/when some politician tries to play this at a rally or make this anthem their own, they’ll end up admitting the obvious: “We Take Care of Our Own.”

Musically, this is classic (even if somewhat generic) Springsteen from the standpoint of the piano/glockenspiel sound tinkling atop the pulsing guitars and drums. It’s got a bounce not unlike “Badlands” and “The Rising,” but with the late Clarence Clemons’ saxophone noticeably absent.

If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen, there’s plenty here not to like: the usual Bruce-isms like the la-la’s in the outro tailor-made to be echoed in concert arenas, the aforementioned flag imagery and faux patriotism, and that rich-man-in-a-poor-mans-shirt shtick he’s been riding for most of his career. But for Bruce fans from the fanatic to the casual, it’s a welcome return to respectability and perhaps a sign that he might have one more great album left in him.

Happy Birthday Uncle Bruce!

Bruce Springsteen is my uncle. Well, not real direct uncle like a sibling of one of my parents. Just a cousin that we all call “Uncle.” Or maybe my mom just used to joke about inviting “Uncle Bruce” to my birthday parties because she knew I had a possibly unhealthy obsession with Bruce Springsteen.

Being a Bruce fan is an odd place sometimes. A lot of my closest friends and band mates weren’t/aren’t Bruce fans. (I’m sure most of them, especially my cohorts here at Bums Logic, are rolling their eyes realizing it was only a matter of time before Todd used this space to idolize his Boss once again.) As popular and worldwide famous and critically acclaimed as Springsteen might be, there’s a certain uncoolness about being a Bruce fanatic. And I guess that fits the narrative of Young Bruce feeling alienated and alone and discovering through Elvis and the Beatles that rock’n’roll could not only save you, but it was your only hope.

I was turned on to Bruce Springsteen and his mighty E Street Band in the early 80’s by my sister’s college boyfriend. He had vinyl bootlegs of the legendary Winterland show as well as the one from the Agora in Cleveland, both from the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in 1978. I taped them from his albums to my hand-labeled cassettes and was on my way.

Soon after, Born in the U.S.A. was released and “my guy” was suddenly the biggest rock star on the planet. I saw him at the Capitol Centre in Largo, MD, the month I turned 14. Perhaps that vulnerable age mixed with the power of those legendary live shows and I was doomed (blessed?) to be cemented for life as a Bruce Fan, I don’t know. But I still feel like that night I found out that there really was a circus to run away with. I’d be reminded again, by everyone from the Grateful Dead to The Roots and by Springsteen 11 more times over the years.

So Uncle Bruce turns 62 today. Which makes it seem like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Stones must be in their 80s. Love him, hate him, or respect him with indifference, but may everyone be lucky enough to still have his energy when they reach that age. Or at least be saved by rock’n’roll.