Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: Super Bowl

Springsteen's Autobiography

At various points while reading Bruce Springsteen’s recently published autobiography, Born to Run, I wanted to tell The Boss to relax. It’s only rock and roll.

Not to Springsteen. Rock and roll isn’t just his career – it’s his passion, his religion and path to salvation and redemption. When it comes to his music, he analyzes, he ruminates, he wrestles with, he composes and discards and rewrites and exerts energy that would exhaust a normal human being. Springsteen’s commitment to his music is inexhaustible, his drive indefatigable, his work ethic bordering on the obsessive, and he fully admits in his 500+ page book that his musical pursuits kept him from living a life for much of his first four decades. For Springsteen, his blessing is also a curse.

Not so for his fans, who now get to enjoy a book that benefits from the same commitment Springsteen applies to his music. There are two things about this book that make it stand out from among so many other musician biographies: first, the guy can write. No ghost writer required for this biopic. Springsteen effectively changes tenses, alternates between story and insight, offers a fairly chronological account of his life while still assembling topical chapters and is just self-deprecating enough to keep the reader rooting for him. (e.g., “I know I’m good but I’m also a poser. That’s artistic balance!”)

Second, Springsteen is an extremely curious person, eager to analyze his past, his surroundings, his parents, his bandmates, his storytelling, what music means to our society, etc., and as such opens up much more than many other musicians are willing to while never falling into the tell-all abyss. He doesn’t shy away from confrontations and weaknesses, but he’s also careful not to say too much. His well-known grievances with manager Mike Appel are mentioned but not dwelled upon, his at-times difficult relationship with Steve Van Zandt and Danny Federici are addressed without going into detail, and his first marriage’s demise is handled deftly and respectably.

Unlike, say, Keith Richard’s entertaining but shallow Life, or Elvis Costello’s coy, self-indulgent and muddled Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Born to Run is both an exercise in good writing and in reflection. Consider the following description of how a snowstorm can make you feel. Where others might have simply said, “I love a good snow,” Springsteen writes:

No work, no school, the world shutting its big mouth for a while; the dirtiest streets covered over in virgin whites, like all the missteps you’ve taken have been erased by nature.  You can’t run; you can only sit.  You open your door on a trackless world, your old path, your history, momentarily covered over by a landscape of forgiveness, a place where something new might happen.  It’s an illusion but it can stimulate the regenerative parts of your spirit to make good on God and nature’s suggestion.

Nicely done. Yes, there are times when Springsteen’s ruminations get a tad tiresome, but I’ll take a book with too much reflection than too little any day. And while much of his book is about his troubled relationship with his father and Bruce’s own path to overcome some of the traits he inherited (including a forthright revelation about his own mental illness), the book is a fairly effective balance between Springsteen’s music and his personal life. I would have preferred a few more anecdotes about recording and performing. I imagine he could devote an entire book to such an endeavor, and perhaps one day he will, but as a musician I’m often confounded with how little musicians write about…well, MUSIC. 

Oddly absent are any mention of Springsteen’s 1991 releases, Human Touch and Lucky Town.  Every other album is discussed in some detail, but for reasons unknown, he doesn’t even mention the album titles or the process of composing or recording for them. He does reveal how disappointed he was that 2011’s Wrecking Ball album didn’t reach the audience he’d hoped for, and concludes that “In the States, the power of rock music as a vehicle for [political] ideas had diminished.” That may be true, but probably more important was the fact that Wrecking Ball, as I’ve written before, was a bore. Bruce’s writing simply hasn’t progressed that way it has for, say, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne or Joe Jackson.

One high point of the book is a short chapter devoted to his performance at the 2009 Super Bowl, an event that makes even Springsteen nervous. “It’s not the usual preshow jitters or ‘butterflies’ I’ve had before. I’m talking about ‘five minutes to beach landing,’ Right Stuff, ‘Lord, don’t let me screw the pooch in front of a hundred million people’ kind of semiterror.” This chapter more than any other helps us see performing through Bruce’s eyes.

He writes, “It was a high point, a marker of some sort, and went up with the biggest shows of our work life. The NFL threw us an anniversary party the likes of which we’d never have thrown for ourselves.” The show was only two weeks after President Obama’s first inaugural address. The feelings of excitement, of rebirth and celebration were in the air. It’s hard to imagine this type of feeling emanating from any performer these days. Lady Gaga did a fine job last night at Super Bowl LI, but times look bleak, our capacity for celebration diminished.

In, 2009, Springsteen ended his Super Bowl performance with "Glory Days.”

Glory days, indeed.

MLB and NFL Parity

As the MLB playoffs roll on with the usual suspects, I’ve pondered what has often been passed for conventional wisdom when comparing professional baseball to professional football.  For years, the argument went like this: parity in NFL football allows for more teams to have a chance to win a Super Bowl, therefore generating greater fan interest, while MLB baseball has too many teams that are eliminated from a World Series hunt before the first ball is pitched in April.  I remember spouting this argument myself in the 1990s as my lowly Brewers were relegated to a perennial loser.  But a review of the champions and runners up of baseball and football since 1966 – the season of the first Super Bowl – tells a different story. 

Out of 30 MLB teams, 10 haven’t won a World Series since 1966, and of those, six are franchises that weren’t around that year (though all have been in existence for at least fifteen years):

Washington (1969, formerly called the Montreal Expos)

San Diego (1969)

Milwaukee (1969, formerly called the Seattle Pilots)

Seattle (1977)

Colorado (1993)

Tampa Bay (1998)

The other four teams are the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, Houston and Texas.

Although some recent teams haven’t yet won a World Series, many winners since 1966 have been from franchises that started after that year:  Kansas City in 1985, Florida in 1997 and 2003, Toronto in 1992 and 1993, and Arizona in 2001.

Of the ten teams who’ve not won a World Series since 1966, 7 have at least appeared in an October Classic.  The only three teams that have been excluded entirely from the World Series are the Chicago Cubs, Seattle and the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos franchise.

Compare that to the NFL.  Of thirty current NFL teams, 14 have never won a Super Bowl.  Of those, six weren’t around in 1966, though all are now at least eleven years old:

Carolina (1995)

Cincinnati (1968)

Houston (2002)

Jacksonville (1995)

Seattle (1976)

Cleveland (1999) – note: for the purposes of this analysis, I’m considering Cleveland an expansion team from 1999 even though they kept the franchise statistics from the Browns team that moved to Baltimore in 1996.

The other teams are Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, Arizona (formerly the St. Louis Cardinals), Philadelphia, Buffalo, Tennessee (formerly the Houston Oilers) and San Diego.

Only one team that didn’t exist in 1966 has won a Super Bowl – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.  Again, I’m not including the Ravens’ victories of 2000 and 2013 since they inherited the players from the Cleveland Browns in 1996, and therefore aren’t a true expansion team.

Of the fourteen teams who’ve not won a Super Bowl since 1966, all but four have at least appeared in a Super Bowl.  Those that have been excluded entirely are Cleveland, Jacksonville, Detroit, and the Houston Texans.  It should be noted that three of those four teams are relatively recent introductions in the NFL if you include Cleveland as an expansion team in 1999.

The following summarizes the above statistics:

SINCE 1966

 

MLB

NFL

% of teams not winning a championship

33%

47%

% of teams not appearing in a championship

10%

13%

 

Couple these stats with the fact that new franchises are more likely to win a World Series than a Super Bowl, and it might be tempting to disagree with the usual argument about parity between the leagues.  The World Series has actually been more inclusive than the Super Bowl.

What if we focus on the last 20 years?  After all, profit sharing and free agency changed dramatically since 1966, potentially affecting championships.  Let’s look at the same statistics for 1995 to 2012 (I’m choosing these years since there was no World Series in 1994.  Also, revenue sharing was first introduced to baseball in 1996).

SINCE 1995

 

MLB

NFL

% of teams not winning a championship

67%

60%

% of teams not appearing in a championship

40%

30%

 

Counter-intuitively, here the stats change to favor the NFL, though not dramatically.  If we shorten the timeline further and take into account only the past decade, which also coincides with the 2002 baseball negotiations when revenue sharing was fine-tuned, the MLB has 7 different winners plus an additional 5 who've appeared in a World Series  – a total of 12 teams out of a potential 20.  The NFL has 7 different winners plus an additional 6 teams who've appeared in a Super Bowl  –  a total of 13 out of a potential 20.

What conclusions can be drawn from this?  Perhaps nothing definitive, as you could continue to crunch numbers that help fine-tune or perhaps even contradict some of what the above reveals, but I think you can say that under current rules, parity within the leagues is about the same in the MLB as it is in the NFL.  What was surprising to me is how historically the MLB wasn’t as lopsidedly in favor of the big market teams as I originally thought, even before revenue sharing and playoff expansion.  Outside of the Yankees’ run in the 90s, there has been a good deal of turnover in the World Series, and expansion teams have had success, sometimes fairly quickly.

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