Runnin Spotify playlist
I have a hard time getting excited about the Olympics. Perhaps it's the dubious economics, or the irresponsible environmental impact, or the antics of out-of-control, privileged white kids. Hard to say. That said, exceptional athleticism is like any work of art—a spectacle filled with inherent thrills and beauty. The Nation's sports editor Dave Zirin shared a concise crash course on this love-hate relationship on Hari Kondabolu and W. Kamau Bell's Politically Reactive podcast. Check that out.
So, this sense of aesthetic wonder is what buoyed much of the evening. Sometimes the beauty was in the style. Ray Barretto and Ray Charles sound jocular swinging beats with the greatest of ease. Sometimes the beauty is unexpected and iconoclastic. Like Arthur Russell baking ideas in a railroaded kitchen/bathroom. And sometimes the beauty is nostalgic and juvenile. That's Loudon Wainwright III proud and fearless once upon a time.
Being the Olympics, we had to validate our champions with that most holy dookie chain. Didn't Ezekiel say something about gold and silver not appeasing the Big Homie? Well, that book ain't my book, so don't ask me. Instead, I let Joe and Toots share their ideas on the truest treasures in life. Spoiler alert: hoarding a ton of the precious isn't a good look!
Best to focus on the literal mechanics. R.E.M. may not medal with that leisurely "Nightswimming," so we throw some hot sauce on the Georgian quartet and have us some Fatback Band "Backstrokin'" instead. DLR's fantastically chemical vocal take on "Runnin' With the Devil" should inspire anyone to be first off the blocks. Sly was likely similarly enhanced while recording "Runnin' Away," but feels more like a Bolt victory lap.
The modern Olympics are a multimedia spectacle complete with a programmed soundtrack. The songs are generally meh. Every once in a while, something exceptional slips through. Kudos to whomever pitched Icelandic artist Björk's "Oceania" for the 2004 Olympics in London. Medúlla found her in a full Meredith Monk state of mind at the time. Pairing this with the capitalist swagger of contemporary Western European pomp is like mwah. Whitney's "One Moment in Time" feels far more simpatico to the proceedings, what with its '80s syrup and melodrama (it's got a Be My Baby beat, for crying out loud). Except it's Whitney in her prime and Whitney in her prime is a supernova, so stfu.
Our opening and closing themes required a slightly deeper dig—in my case, an accidental discovery. Visions of Eight is a compilation film by eight filmmakers, containing eight short vignettes about the 1972 Munich Olympics. Yes, that one. Only one of the filmmakers overtly acknowledges the terrorist kidnapping and mass killing, so it's accurate to call this an awkward film. That said, it has a Mancini score filled with period thrills and leisure suit muzak. His take on Olympian pomp feels accurate and less manufacture. So in the spirit of the Olympics' supposed championing of athletics, we bookended the session with Hank's horns.