Monday, August 13, 2012

2012 Olympic Closing Ceremonies (NBC, August 12, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After having dodged the entire 2012 London Olympics Charles and I ended up watching the closing ceremonies and an 80-minute wrap-up that preceded it of all the great moments of the previous 16 days — including Michael Phelps’ last hurrah, the U.S. women’s track relay team (all four of them were African-American and one of them is married to a football player who’s been in the Super Bowl at least twice — she did an interview in which she joked about which one would be the glory hog, though frankly in this country it’s no contest: if she got all high-and-mighty about having won an Olympic gold medal, someone who knew who her husband was would probably say something like, “Well, at least your husband plays a sport most Americans have heard of!”), the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team (the U.S. women did considerably better in the medals race than the U.S. men!) and how well the host country did. The closing ceremony was over several tops, complete with huge stage sets that looked like giant blowups of tabloid newspaper pages but were really filled with quotes from famous British authors (mostly the most famous one of all, Shakespeare) and a wide-ranging musical program focused mostly on pop-rock, which as Charles pointed out has been one of Britain’s key exports since the Beatles.

One of the groups represented was One Direction, whom I’d barely heard of before but whose signature hit “Beautiful” was … well, beautiful: no one expects a group of five teenage boys who look well below the age where they could either drink alcohol or have sex legally to do anything other than lightweight pop, but at least this is good lightweight pop, probably the most appealing boy-band song I’ve heard since Hanson’s “mmm-Bop” and with much the same sort of infectious power. (I also liked the fact that their lead singer was clearly made up to look like the young Mick Jagger — though Charles joked, “Their fans are too young even to have heard of Mick Jagger!”) After One Direction, the much-ballyhooed reunion of the Spice Girls seemed even more lame than it would have otherwise! There were a number of British pop-rock stars, including a few with genuinely serious reputations, like Annie Lennox (if I heard her record of the song she sang last night I’d probably like it, but she was stuck in the middle of a faux pirate ship and the accompaniment, poor miking and lots of ambient noise made her damned hard to hear) and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, doing the song “Wish You Were Here” (from the 1975 album that was the immediate follow-up to The Dark Side of the Moon, and the title track and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” were both tributes to Floyd’s founding member Syd Barrett, who’d been dropped from the band after its first album when he fried his brain on acid and spent the remaining 30 years of his life as a crazy recluse — though, ironically, he showed up when Pink Floyd were recording “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and tried to play guitar on the track, and the remaining Floydsters escorted him out — which seems rather churlish to me: they should have let him record a track, since with modern mixing and editing techniques they could always have edited it out if it were unusable, and if they had let him contribute it might have been what he needed to break out of his shell) with the lead being sung by a short but appealingly gnomish singer in an orange jacket (he’d be good casting for one of the Hobbits if they ever do The Lord of the Rings: The Musical).

The show droned on and on and on, one big spectacular number after another — including an oddly tame tribute to Rio de Janeiro, who’s hosting the games in 2016, and two of the biggest ovations all night came for currently deceased singers who were included in the show via film clips: John Lennon singing part of “Imagine” and Freddie Mercury singing something about Rio that led into a live performance of “We Will Rock You” (not “We Are the Champions”?) with the other principal Queenster, Brian May (he was their co-leader, lead guitarist, and he wrote half their songs — including some of their biggest hits — but he’s virtually forgotten now, ironically, because he’s the one who’s still alive) and a dance diva named Jessie J taking the vocal — and doing it spectacularly well, suggesting that if Queen wants to make a comeback as a major attraction maybe what they need to do is replace Freddie Mercury with a woman (the way Big Brother and the Holding Company replaced Janis Joplin with a man, Nick Gravenites) — earlier she, another female dance diva and a Black soul-rap singer had come out each inside a sun-roofed car (and the cars looked like Jaguars but had their steering wheels on the left side, as you’d expect in the U.S. but not in Britain) — the Black artist’s song was a big enough hit on this side of the pond I recognized it but the two white girls, as impressive as they looked in their skin-tight see-through costumes, were pretty bland; but when Jessie J (whom I joked was driving around the Olympic stadium looking for the rest of her last name) got to sing with the surviving members of Queen and belt out one of their legendary rock hits, she sounded beautiful and soulful.

There were older musicians there who were less impressive, including George Michael (he sang “Freedom” right after the clip of John Lennon singing “Imagine” — a hard enough act to follow under any circumstances — and he seemed lost on stage among all his Black backup singers; I joked to Charles that you’d know who George Michael was because he was the only white person on stage for that number!) and the Pet Shop Boys (it was nice to know that their big breakthrough hit “West End Girls” actually does contain more lyrics than just “the East End boys, the West End girls,” but I’m still less than impressed even though Charles actually saw Neil Tennant once in London and that made me look a bit more fondly on them than I had before — that and they once put out a CD whose cover was a piece of orange plastic that looked like it came from a road sign); the Los Angeles Times reported that Ray Davies performed (that I would have liked to see; I always had a soft spot for the Kinks because out of all the British Invasion bands, they were the one that was the most defiantly British: they inserted more British cultural references than any of their Invasion-era rivals and they — deliberately, Davies said in a recent interview — sang with their authentic British accents instead of trying to adopt American ones like the Beatles and the Stones did) but he didn’t appear on the NBC telecast, and with the night getting late and both of us having early appointments the next day, we turned off the show at 11 p.m. and didn’t get to see the final performance by the Who (well, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey with whomever they’ve been able to scare up on bass and drums, anyway), who reportedly did four songs of which the last was “My Generation” (and yes, it’s odd for people in their 60’s to be singing a song whose most famous line is “Hope I die before I get old”!), which for some strange reason only the “suits” at NBC could explain was separated from the rest by local news shows and an allegedly commercial-free preview of what seemed like a decidedly unfunny “comedy” that takes place in a veterinary hospital. NBC was doing a major promo to the effect that “comedy is coming back” to the Peacock Network … well, judging from the clips they showed of their alleged “comedy” shows, that is definitely a matter of opinion!