I'm not one for getting excited for Olympics opening ceremonies, but when Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire is artistic director and grand poobah, I had to check it out. There was talk of a meadow in the middle of the Olympic Stadium, with real goats and a cricket match and Mary Poppins duking it out with Voldemoort, so there was talk that perhaps Boyle had gone nuts. In short I had no choice but to watch, so I did (also I had to work in the morning so it was kind of a school night), and in doing so found myself having my mind blown repeatedly by Danny Boyle, thousands of British folks including the Queen of England and an army of Mary Poppins, and the vision of England they presented. And there was music. So much music. Arctic Monkeys, Mike Oldfield, Paul McCartney live, and an audio visual overload that honored the entirety of British pop music that actually worked while maintaining a tasteful edge.
Three days later (as I write this) they are still talking about it all over the world, and not just about the Queen of England and James Bond bit. Conservatives on both sides of the pond griped about the ode to the National Health Service and the general leftiness of the whole enterprise. Some folks pined for the military precision that made the Beijing Opening Ceremonies memorable, objecting to the persistent and pointed surreal trippiness infused into almost every aspect of the London ceremony. London's efforts of course were the antithesis of Beijing; whereas China is a police state able to enforce said precision, London's was an expression of freedom and joy. Those people genuinely wanted to be doing what they were doing and they joyfully expressed it, whether they were a bloke wearing a stove pipe hat and pantomiming the creation of the Industrial Revolution, honoring a suffragette, or dancing around dressed like Ziggy Stardust.
Freedom was the thing, and none more so than during the extended segment honoring British pop music, youth culture, and the World Wide Web. Having succesfully pulled off a bit honoring their single payer health system that included Mike Oldfield jamming on "Tubular Bells," a reading by JK Rowling, and a battle between the villains of British fantasy literature and an army of Mary Poppins', a history of British rock and pop could have been yet another minefield for Boyle to blow himself up, but again he pulled it off, this time by choosing lyricism and intense fidelity to their inspirations over shmaltz. Framing it with a fairy tale teen love story centered on a lost cellphone, Boyle went for broke, honoring a remarkable chunk of British pop music history. You could play "name the song" and "name that band:" The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, "My Boy Lollipop," Led Zeppelin, Bowie, The Jam, The Clash, The Specials, New Order, The Eurythmics, and so many others. I was momentarily indignant by the omission of Pink Floyd, but then they used the entirely of "Eclipse" (the climax of Dark Side of the Moon) for the entirety of the climactic fireworks display after the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, with the videoboards blasting a very, very Pink Floyd-esque series of Olympic images at the audience, and all was right with the world.
But the musical segment about the young love wasn't over yet. The 80's and 90's were dutifully represented (Duran Duran, OMD, The Happy Mondays, The Verve, Radiohead) before the whole thing morphed into a rave and a live performance by UK rapper Dizzee Rascal as Boyle honored Britain's impact on youth culture and electronic dance music (Underworld, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers), and revelling in the multicultural country England has become in the modern era, multiculturalism that literally drove some Torys nuts because of it's intense matter of fact-ness. A history of British pop music that climaxed with a rapper from the East End of London with Ghanian and Nigerian roots?!? 3 generations of folks of different colors living under one room in a suburb?!? Inconceivable! Conservative Tory's left and right were driven to distraction and controversy as Boyle celebrated a vision of England they reject. The fact that the British music segment climaxed with a multicultural rave and current UK sensation Dizzee Rascal was an interesting statement, and one that I ultimately had to agree with even though I'm not a raver.
Hell, even the usually painful Parade of Nations was cool because the Brits not only used uptempo music throughout to keep the marching athletes marching at a fast clip (particularly memorable were the representatives from Fiji strutting in to the strains of "Staying Alive" by the Bee Gees), they triumphantly entered to Bowie's "Heroes." By this point Boyle and his cohorts could do no wrong: the Arctic Monkeys rocked out; the torch entered the stadium surrounded by an honor guard made up of the construction workers who built the Olympic stadium and other facilities throughout London's East End; the surreal Olympic cauldron was lit; the aforementioned fireworks display and Pink Floyd freakout dazzled the audience; all followed by Sir Paul McCartney to close the show. I'm sorry, but it was brilliant. It had an edge and a viewpoint that didn't please everybody but spoke across international borders. It was emotionally and intellectually satisfying will being whimsical and downright trippy. It was mindblowing and deeply emotional; a celebration of music, art, joy, life, human endeavour, living with one another, and freedom; and that's why it really was the best ____ ever.