music essay by Brad Efford


Our brief time in the world—
like a breast just popped from a dress


while the tipsy bride shimmies.


– Steve Scafidi


7:15 p.m. – Mark Roberts

You are missing the end of the first half of the thirty-eighth Super Bowl, excusing yourself soundlessly from your seat just as John Kasay kicks a fifty-footer for Carolina and both teams head to the locker room with fourteen and ten on the board. It had been twenty-seven minutes and fifty-five seconds before either team put any points up at all—a Super Bowl record, if record is the right word—but you’ve existed solely in the calming rhythms of your own head for the past two quarters. Seeing the clock wind down now to the drowned-out buzzer of a scoreboard tired of waiting, you collect yourself and head to the john.

7:19 p.m. – Justin Timberlake

You stand quiet, focused, in khakis, a green tee, and a black canvas jacket, your head newly shaved, your beard meticulous stubble. Yesterday, you turned twenty-three. From the wings of Reliant Stadium you watch Janet Jackson—an idol’s kin, herself an inspiration—emerge on the massive stage made of LEDs and metal spreading outward like a rash from the fifty-yard line. Janet’s become as close as one could become to a friend of yours over the course of weeks of rehearsal. She half-sings-half-dances “All for You,” a track by now nearly three years old but still charting thanks to the half-dozen writers it took to pen, herself listed only as a formality. It’s a savvy tune, a slick amalgamation of the Tom Tom Club, Auto-Tune, and M.J. You crack your knuckles and rub your eyes and try to remember the new choreography she took you through just this afternoon, mostly variations, a few extra steps thrown in at the end. You head into the tunnel connecting the wings of the field to the halftime platform, the lights sinking into darkness as you descend.

7:27 p.m. – Sean Combs

You move onstage in a huddle of dancers and piped music dialed up so loud you can’t begin to discern its beat. Lights echo off the audience like bats speaking their silent secret language, and you fake like you’re rapping and tough and having a good time. You’re the third on, after Janet and Kid Rock, and New England’s only up by four and you’ve got plenty of calls to return and high profile appointments later in the week. Your dark glasses hide the twitch your left eye has acquired; you give the audience a spin and swagger from one end of the stage to the other. Twenty more minutes and you can relax and watch the Pats bring it home for the second time in three years. You flub a line, accidentally rap over Nelly; no one notices from all the cheering.

7:38 p.m. – Our Author & His Father

Yours is an undemanding relationship. You watch the game together too loud and shovel junk in by the handful. You are newly-sixteen. This year’s halftime show is for the first time run by MTV—it is boring, overly flashy, and your father mostly doesn’t care to know who these people are anyway. Everyone is young and smooth and incomprehensible; your father grabs a beer from the adjoining kitchen. Justin Timberlake sidles around Janet Jackson, who grinds in awkward spurts against him, the difference in their ages a topic the network has no interest in discussing. J.T. promises to have his friend naked before the song has ended, and he makes good on it, exposing her breast from her leather bodice. Even years later, it will remind you of ripping the sharp top from a can of tuna. The camera cuts to an aerial of the stadium; you ask each other if what just happened is indeed what you thought just happened. You laugh, forget, watch commercials.

7:39 p.m. – Janet Jackson

At thirty-seven, you are the oldest on stage, though the studded bustier and torn red lace brassiere beneath work to mask it. You clutch your right breast in your left hand, the bitter air of February working its way through the webbing of your fingers to the exposed flesh beneath. You’re too stunned to cry, wrapped suddenly in a towel and led down the stage’s back set of stairs and across the darkened field. The clamor of the crowd is deafening, even through your headset and earplugs. In the wings of the stadium, finally off the turf, a handler you have never seen before wraps a larger blanket around your shoulders and mumbles something incomprehensible into a squawking walkie-talkie. You thank her and make for your makeshift dressing room, eyes lowered, makeup shot. You want to find Justin, to say, I’m sorry. It was an accident—I’m so sorry.

7:41 p.m. – Bob Ritchie

You’re a little drunk on Bud and adrenaline and exhausted from performing, though it was only a three-minute medley. You’ve been asking for your poncho, the one made from an American flag, but now news is coming in regarding Justin and Janet. There’s a tinge in you that does not care. You spent years pushing bootlegs straight from your Grand Am, what seems like whole weeks at a time waking up still stoned with your wallet gone, nobody picking up when you would call. All you got to sing tonight were two songs from a six-year-old record—your first two hits, at that—in rapid sudden succession. You think of how, at thirty-three, you may as well be a granddaddy of popular music, Timberlake’s perfect face everything you drove across Detroit pushing against until you broke through. There’s that pause before the human reaction, the sudden urge to find Janet and ask what happened. You barely know her but something about tonight feels bonding, universal, a ghostly coat of cooling sweat—your hair sticking to the middle of your back, and thinning.

7:43 p.m. – Mark Roberts

You stride with something close to a nervous confidence through the halls of the stadium, heading for the field. Wearing—down to the white cleats—the uniform of an official NFL referee, the black cap pulled low over your eyes. There is no reason for anyone to stop you. The two helmeted, hulking teams have already lined up on the field, waiting for the second half to begin. You’ve spent all afternoon working yourself into a steely confidence. You are fearless, you are wily—it’s how you’ve attained, and kept, your Most Prolific Streaker title. You hit the far-side end zone at a comfortable stride, football in hand, looking like you belong, feeling like an important piece of the puzzle. But just a few yards in, you give it up, stripping in one quick jerk and then another, harder one, your referee shirt and snap-button pants. The quick movement reveals a plush football strategically placed and strapped around your waist with packaging tape. Even now, completely naked but for your hat, shoes, socks, and the makeshift codpiece, you move as though under no amount of pressure: at a leisurely jog you bring the ball to the tee sitting in wait on the thirty-yard line and secure it in the tool’s crook. In a calculated, choreographed bit of showmanship you perform a quick dance around the pigskin, face set in determination, the humorless straightness of a man looking only for a laugh. You jig a few more loops and, sensing security heading your way, take off running—a casual gallop, a jaunt through an English park. Before long, Pats linebacker Matt Chatham floors you, suddenly windless, with an elbow.

7:46 p.m. – Justin Timberlake

You’re ushered quickly through the tunnels of Reliant and into the tiny private parking deck. A limousine waits with tinted windows, engine already going. Your breathing comes labored and stilted as you move, flanked solidly by your guards, large squares of shave-headed men. An ET reporter scurries after. You ask for a phone to call Janet. Fuck, you hear yourself whispering. Fuck.

8:17 p.m. – Les Moonves

You’ve been ignoring the phones for awhile, alternately wiping your face with your hands and placing them on your hips in a battle-stance. Someone in a headset, talking fast, is trying to hand you what must be the ninth draft of a canned apology. The third quarter is winding to a slow burn of a close, no new points thrown up. This is what you, now, as president of CBS, as head of Viacom, must bring closure to: a massive mammary scorched into the memory of a nation still in love with its purity, children with their innocence razed in a flash, women sure of sinister hidden means. You are a wealthy, hapless man. Your twenty-six-year marriage is ending nastily, and your new job, what was so promising, has just hit its first kink. You loosen your lips with raspberries, grab the apology and scan the edits, close your eyes and wait for the scoreless quarter to end.

10:14 p.m. – Our Author

High school continues tomorrow and you feign brushing your teeth before saying goodnight to the crowded house you live in. Tonight’s victory for New England was hard-won, climactic, but the biggest sensation was the breast, that forgettable event, a brief glint of skin not worth harping on. You go to work skimming a chapter in your American History textbook, not knowing of the effect of the nervous on those around them. The re-election of an unpopular president, the temporary shaming of a rising star, the legacy of a woman shrunken to a single nipple, its brown expanse cold and jeweled. When you sleep you dream of a man running naked across a field bathed in spotlights; when you wake you will forget everything you’ve dreamt, the images erased, fresh paint bleeding in the rain.



Brad Efford