Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Super "SJI"

I don't know what to make of the fact that not a single person has mentioned to me that -- apparently -- "St. James Infirmary" was used in a Super Bowl ad this year!

I mean, I didn't watch the Super Bowl, or go to any of the web sites that archive all the ads, but, come on, it was one of the most-watched broadcasts in history. Wasn't there any overlap between Bowl watchers and No Notes loyalists?

Anyway, once I belatedly got wind of this, I looked into it. The ad in question was a spot for the NFL itself. Here is the spot.

According to this article, it ran with two minutes left in the game. It was one of those ads that was part of the trend this year of having "regular people" either pitch ad ideas, or simply make ads and submit them. The NFL had a contest in which fans pitched their ad concepts, and as of this writing at least, you can still check out a bunch of the pitches on this portion of the NFL's web site.

The guy who won is "Gino" (number 5) on that web page, so if you click on that you can hear his concept. But if you don't want to bother (and I don't blame you), I'll just tell you. He envisioned "a montage of sad fans," as that article linked above puts it, doing things that humorously convey their over-the-top enthusiasm for football, and the pathos of the season being over two minutes hence: A guy morosely putting away his big, foam Number 1 finger, that kind of thing. Gino's idea was that the soundtrack would be "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," by Boyz II Men. And the tagline would be something along the lines of "It's hard to say goodbye." (A footnote: Although all these ad contests were hyped as being chances for plain ol' folks to have a shot ad-making, Gino is described as a man who "works for a marketing firm in Portland, Maine.")

To actually execute the ad, the NFL brought in a very famous advertising director. And some things got tweaked. The most notable tweak from my point of view, of course, is the change from a Boyz II Men song to, yes, an instrumental passage from "St. James Infirmary."

It's actually a fascinating choice. As you know, the song is, in fact, partly about the difficulty of saying goodbye -- in the song's case, saying goodbye to a dead lover, stretched out on a long white table. She ain't coming back next season, of course. Because she's dead.

While "St. James Infirmary" and its predecessors and descendents are open to a variety of interpretations, the baseline subject matter is mortality. And although wordless, the snippet they chose for the ad definitely has a dirge-like quality to it, one of the moments early in a jazz funeral before celebration has begun. Indeed, the ad seems to suggest a jazz funeral, as it begins with a shot of some slow-parading musicians.

It's a weird note to hit, don't you think, sports fans?

Of course, most Bowl watchers are probably not quite as tuned into the meaning of "St. James Infirmary" as I am. In fact, judging by how long it took for this news to reach me in the first place, I'm guessing that when it comes to people knowing what the song was about and finding its placement a little strange, the NFL had nothing to worry about.