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The Who on ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’

Of all the complaints hurled since Super Bowl Sunday at Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry for calling themselves The Who, doing a scary-uncle karaoke act to the music of their youth, and walking away with a hefty contribution to their overdue retirements, the one that baffles me most is the charge that they didn’t belong there, that they are too old and irrelevant to deserve the most coveted slot on the most popular entertainment show in America. My son Jake, who, as a teenager a few years ago, so revered the anarchic hedonism of The Who (and its greatest exemplar, the band’s late drummer Keith Moon) that he used Mooniac for his screen name, called me after the halftime show and said, “They shouldn’t have done it--they’re embarrassing now. They could have played at Super Bowl I!” He has the dates right: By 1967 (to Super Bowl fans, XLIII years ago), the Who had been performing for three years and were established rock hit-makers. They had already released three albums--most recently, The Who Sells Out--and they had already begun to turn their notorious, theatrically destructive stage act into a kind of semi-ironic self-parody. Indeed, The Who sold out three decades before the 2010 Super Bowl, on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” As we see in the YouTube clips, the band takes part in some scripted TV schtick with Tommy Smothers, lip-synchs and stage-plays “My Generation,” and ends with the once-shocking smashing of instruments. Rock and roll legend has it that the explosion at the end was the result of a prank by Keith Moon, who supposedly bribed a stage hand to amp up the planned smoke effects with more combustibles, and Townshend later said that his progressive hearing loss began with that boom. Forty-three years later, “My Generation” is the title of a PBS “lifestyle” program for people over fifty, which happened to air in many markets on the same Sunday night that the Who showed why they are an absolutely ideal act for the Super Bowl: slick as a bank commercial, synthetically bombastic, and essentially unchanged since 1967.

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