From the Sublime to the Ridiculous in 17 Days

March 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm 4 comments

Slam poetry to blow-up beavers; kd lang’s Hallelujah to Michael Bublé’s Mountie striptease. Eccentric Muse shares some final thoughts on the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

My friend Lynne asked me if I was going to write a follow-up piece on the Vancouver Winter Olympics closing ceremony as a kind of bookend to my Valentine To Canada.

I’ve been thinking about it (the closing ceremony, the Olympics in general, what they meant to Canada, blah blah blah) and reading/hearing a lot of commentary on it.  Yes, I agree they have heralded in a new spirit of Canadian patriotism, but like someone else said (I think perhaps it was Lloyd Robertson, grandpère of Canadian news broadcasting), there has been a gradual build to it.  It may have blossomed and borne fruit over the past 17 days, becoming more tangible and more focused, but it has roots going further back (much further back, given many Canadians’ dislike of their current government, which many–including me–do not see as facilitating that burgeoning sense of pride but rather eroding it).

And yes, as others have mentioned, this newfound spirit of national pride will likely fade again.  Maybe not to levels as faint as they were before, when we were consumed with penis envy of our bigger, brasher, bolder and more bragalicious U.S. neighbours.  When, no matter how much we aimed for self-definition that was a positive and not a negative (read that as a visual metaphor, not an emotional one), we came up–ahem–short.

Probing the sub-text of the opening ceremonies, we even came up short in Shane Koyczan’s poem.  As much as I love it and him (more on that below), and as much as I’d point to that as the true highlight of the opening ceremonies–the big surprise, the flaunting of the very best of our idiosyncratic and oft-unheard art & culture–the performance of We Are More (generously, edited; cynically, censored) was still riddled with images that define us against the stereotypes commonly held of Canada and especially the differences between Canada and the U.S.

But all that aside, the opening ceremonies, although criticized for containing hackneyed Canadian images, appropriating and stereotyping native culture, excluding Eastern/Quebec content (oh, please … get your heads out of your asses, Ontario and Québec), I thought set exactly the right tone for the opening of the Games.  Artistic, but accessible.  Symbolically powerful, emotionally resonant, meaningful and aspirational.  Enough “we’re likeable-don’t you like us? You like us, you really like us!” head-puffing and heartlifting emotional triggers to satisfy the sternest cynic and quell the qualms of the most insecure citizen.

The opening ceremony was not the time to be too shocking or controversial.  We needed to be welcoming, not weird.  Nor was it the time to be self-deprecating–a trait that is woefully misunderstood, much like irony, these days.  Self-deprecation is the true mark of the Canadian character.  Not a lack of self-confidence, or a lack of self-definition.  Not a confused and wavering sense of self-identity, rather the opposite.  So much confidence and the courage of our convictions about who and what we are that, yes, we are able to make fun of ourselves.

The closing ceremonies were, however, that time.  The time to do something a little more revolutionary and even more self-definitional–with humour but also with that closeted Canadian delight in over-performing after being underestimated.  They shot for it, but they did not score.

Instead of satire, we got silliness.  Instead of edgy and progressive, we got amateur and hokey.

Perhaps everything, simply everything, would be a disappointment after the singularly spectacular, nationally-unifying moment on the ice a mere three hours earlier. Thank God for the mercy of having clasped that men’s hockey gold medal to our collective breasts that afternoon.  (I am of the ilk who believes that of all the medals we won, including the record-breaking golden 14, that was the only one that truly mattered. )

If we had been forced to endure the travesty of those closing ceremonies after suffering the unthinkable disappointment of losing the gold in our national game, well … there would not have been enough beer in Canada to cry into.

It started well.  Mocking and rectifying the failure of the fourth phallus, err, cauldron arm, to rise was a stroke of genius.  William Shatner, Mary Catharine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox hit the right balance between spoof and sincerity.

Still…still…leaving aside the expectedly stilted speeches and sad hand-off to Sochi, the inexplicably surreal blow-up moose and beavers (I’d actually put that in the “plus” column, simply for sheer absurdity and strangeness), it was the musical acts that were the greatest disappointment.  No, no … not Neil Young.   He was beautiful, standing in stark relief against the burning flame (better to burn out than to fade away), strumming Long May You Run. Brought just the right homey hootenanny feel to it.

Can we pretend that the entire high-school musical episode, replete with a bumbling Bublé, walking canoes and 30-foot cardboard Mounties, never happened?  Please?

After Neil, things went downhill even faster.  With the exception of the French Canadian bands, there were too many commercial acts who are too well-known…and too well-known as Canadian.  Presenting the best of Canada’s commercial music scene, already recognized and rewarded on the world stage, was a tactic for the opening ceremonies, not for the closing ones.  The closing ceremonies should have presented the rest of the best of Canada.

Also, choosing some camera angles that didn’t emphasize the thinning crowds and empty seats would have helped.

I suppose I should be grateful that we didn’t have to suffer through Céline.  My heart really could not have gone on.

Canada’s indie music scene is a national treasure.  We keep it to ourselves and we don’t export it, much like the French do with their best wines.  In fact, as soon as it’s exported, it becomes, by definition, mass market and infinitely less interesting.

After the jump, I present the musical line-up as Eccentric Muse would have done it, plus a special surprise from Shane Koyczan.  Enjoy the show.

These are in no particular order, but here’s who and what I would have loved to have heard (with snippets of lyrics, where I feel it’s appropriate):

Rufus Wainwright:  Rules & Regulations

I don’t like his Hallelujah nearly as much as kd’s, but I do like his other covers almost as much as his original stuff.  This one I present just for the gender-bending fun of the vid.

Martha Wainwright:  Factory

There are millions and millions of people around
On my TV, walking my streets, making sounds
And I can walk with them I love them I need their love
There are others I have known as poor souls, sores exposed
The the run-of-the-mill, the destitute, and the cold
Sores exposed to the blisters and shards
Where any kind of kindness is as far as the sun, the sun

Okay, a little bleak … true.  But beautiful and haunting.

Having Rufus and his sister Martha do Heart Like A Wheel, in honour of their recently passed mom, Kate McGarrigle, would have been PERFECT.  Here they are all together,  Kate, Anna, Rufus and Martha, with an hilariously funny intro by Rufus.  What a talented family.

Great Lakes Swimmers: Your Rocky Spine

I’ve posted this before — love the metaphor, totally Canadian.

Crash Parallel:  Rain Delays

The environmentalist anthem World We Know would be the obvious choice, but this song speaks so much to a different but common Canadian experience.

The Constantines:  New King or Trans Canada

Absolutely my fave indie Canadian band, from Guelph ON.  I’d choose New King (sorry, that clip is extremely elusive) or else Trans Canada.  Actually, I’d have them do an entire set, and they would have blown Nickelback all the way back to L.A., where they are welcome to stay.

There’s no short cut
And no straight line
How am I to find the sleeping country?
Ghost horse in my head keeping time
Wandering lines

Trans Canada

Hot dice keep rolling
Try to lose our nothin’
Now familiar, now forgotten
To get the prize
Forget the song
We’re here and gone

Trans Canada

Bedouin Soundclash:  Walls Fall Down

Of course this reggae-tinged hit is a good choice, but I also love Santa Monica even though it wouldn’t have worked thematically.

The New Pornographers:  Challengers

Would have loved to hear the name of this band ringing through the 60,000-seat BC Place and potentially censored by NBC, but I’m just juvenile that way.

Arcade Fire:  Wake Up

I’m not a huge fan, but it would be remiss to be focusing on the Canadian indie music scene and not include them.

I’d have kept k-os and Alanis Morrisette in the line-up, and Neil Young of course.  I’d have ditched Avril Lavigne and Nickelback.  Maybe added Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies and Feist.  And WHERE WAS JONI?!?!?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!???

Just before the finale (everyone all together singing something suitably uniting), I’d have brought out Leonard Cohen in the flesh.  He would have recited a poem or sung a song (same thing, really)–doesn’t matter which one–then he would have handed the mic to Shayne Koyczan, thereby symbolically passing the baton to him as Canada’s new poet laureate (do we even have a poet laureate? we should).  Shane could have written a new slam poem for the occasion, or perhaps dipped in to one of his older works (and there are TONS on youtube…make sure to check them out.)  Perhaps this one:

In 2005, he self-published a book called Visiting Hours.  I’ve got it on order, and I’ll do a review of it here or at goodreads once I’ve devoured it.  I expect (hope) that it will have a resurgence in sales, although I have to say that Koyczan’s form is the spoken word poem, and while they are good on the page, they are simply astonishing when heard.  Do yourself a favour and look him up on youtube, you won’t be sorry.  Here’s a great interview/backgrounder on Koyczan at Quill & Quire from way back in 2006.

And with that, the Games according to Eccentric Muse are officially closed. 🙂


Entry filed under: 1, Books, Music, Personal Musings.

Takin’ A Break… Reflections On An Oil Spill

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Annie  |  March 3, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    There was an extremely touching piece done on Gander. The town and the airport. How they rallied around 7000 passengers stranded there because of 9/11.

    I enjoyed the Olympics in total and did cheer on your team. How patriotic of me. In many of the sports, I cheered on the Canadians as fervently and sometimes more so than the Americans. I won’t comment on Apolo Ohno and the touch/shove?? I would have had to been in those skates.

    Living so close to your border. I’ve met both sides of the coin. I lived in AZ and traveled many times to the border towns. That allowed me to see both sides of that coin too.

    As with all countries and peoples, there is the shiny side and the tarnished side of every coin. We also have a tarnished side.

    I’m very glad I know you. I’ve met quite a few shiny Canadians but IMO, your light burns bright.

  • 2. Eccentric Muse  |  March 3, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I remember that, Gander and 9/11. Good folk out there on the rock. Funny as hell, too–not a stereotype, the honest truth.

    I really want one of those blow-up moose to float from my balcony. Think I could get a slightly used one on eBay? LOL Wonder what the condo association would think of that. hahahaha

    (((Annie))) your light shines pretty darn bright too.

  • 3. Annie  |  March 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Shhhh. Don’t be saying anything to Steve about Moose. He collects them. Especially Christmas Moose. I believe he’s up to 63. I do know they take up two HUGE totes. That’s not counting all his moose ornaments for the tree. If he finds out there’s a blown up one. No, I don’t want to think about it.

  • 4. Eccentric Muse  |  March 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Please tell Steve not, under any circumstances, to look at the picture at the top of this post (which I just replaced). LOL


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