Stones say they were censored at Super Bowl


February 8, 2006


Did the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band meekly censor itself during the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday?

Or were the Rolling Stones silenced by "the man" in the form of network broadcasters and NFL officials still reeling from the notorious "Nipplegate" incident during Janet Jackson's performance in 2004?

On Tuesday, the lost lyrics remained as controversial as some of the referees' calls, and it was difficult to tell who did what to whom and when.

During the Stones' three-song set at Super Bowl XL, Mick Jagger suddenly went mute during the last word of a line in their opening number, "Start Me Up," which uses a crude euphemism for sex.

In the next tune, "Rough Justice," from the band's recent album "A Bigger Bang," the same thing happened during the last word of the first verse, which is built upon a rather hoary blues metaphor about roosters, baby chickens and foxes.

In everyday conversation, the two words are completely non-controversial. But in these particular lyrics, context is everything.

In my review of the show on Monday, I noted Jagger refrained from singing the words, and I made the comparison to the group changing the lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together" when it appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1967. During that performance, Jagger changed the chorus to "Let's spend some time together," but he looked into the camera and rolled his eyes in disgust.

Tuesday, the band's spokeswoman, Fran Curtis, launched a PR campaign to convince fans that the Stones had not censored themselves at the Super Bowl.

"Mick sang all the lyrics," Curtis said. "NFL/ABC censored them. The Rolling Stones thought the censorship of their songs by the NFL/ABC was absolutely ridiculous and completely unnecessary."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy responded that the group knew in advance that the more than 90 million viewers wouldn't hear Jagger sing those two words.

"The plan all along was for the NFL to simply lower the [volume of Jagger's] mike at those two particular moments," McCarthy said. "That was something that the Stones were aware of as it was discussed in the week leading up to the Super Bowl."

Retorted Curtis: "The band objected strenuously, thought the censorship was absurd, but in a very tense situation decided to go ahead with the show." Pressed for details about exactly how the band objected and when the decision to go ahead occurred, Curtis did not respond by deadline.

Asked specifically whether the Stones objected to the plan to mute the two allegedly offensive words, McCarthy said, "If they had a problem or not, that's something you should talk to [them about]. But they were aware that it was going to happen."

One thing is certain: ABC had nothing to do with any of this. A network official said that while the halftime show was on a five-second delay, it wasn't utilized during the show. And in any event, ABC wasn't responsible for the show; it was all a production of the NFL.

Several questions linger. Can the Stones legitimately complain about censorship if they knew in advance that they would be censored and chose to perform anyway? And does the NFL think that another controversy is warranted for two non-curse words used as dumb double entendres familiar to every sixth-grade boy in America?

Don't ask me: I'm still trying to figure out why there was such a big fuss about a two-second glimpse of Jackson's right nipple.