Scene Selections: Winter Olympics Edition
Both the Olympic athletes in Pyeongchang and college students in South Bend are experiencing record-low, frigid temperatures. To celebrate, this week’s Scene Selections are songs inspired about the snow — or sports — or both. Snowy sports. You get the idea.
“Curling” — Speedy Ortiz
By Adam Ramos, Scene Editor
Unlike its summer counterpart, the winter Olympics is all about finesse and style. While athleticism is still an important aspect of the games, the fact that the majority of the medals are decided by a team of judges and not a scoreboard is telling. Yet, no sport embodies this ethos of skill over brute force quite like the sport of curling. Often referred to as “chess on ice,” curling is a sport that requires an intense amount of strategy and precision. For the uninitiated, (read: not Canadian) curling is played by sliding stones on ice into a target area of concentrated circles.
On their 2012 EP “Sports,” veteran indie rockers Speedy Ortiz attempted to utilize the unique sport of curling as pastiche in crafting a haunting little track told from the perspective of someone addressing an ex. “You said I deserved it all / Well honey, I’ve got the house,” croons lead vocalist Sadie Dupuis over lethargic guitar strums and a muted drum beat. It’s not exactly clear why the band chose to reference curling in the track’s title, but I would venture to say the band is using the image of a curler sending the stone on its way down the ice as a metaphor sending a lover packing — an image as cold as ice.
“She’s So Cold” — The Rolling Stones
By Owen Lane, Scene Writer
Okay, in reality, it is not actually that cold in Pyeonchang right now. However, athletes like U.S. snowboarder Chloe Kim certainly aren’t kicking back in front of the fire. On Monday, Kim leveled the competition to win gold in the women’s halfpipe event. If you watched her performance, you know that she was, like Mick Jagger once sang, “so cold.” On the Stones’ fast-paced bluesy rock track, Jagger sings in anguished frustration about a woman who has no patience for his signature charm.
I can’t speak for how this song sounded when it was released in 1980, but I know that in 2018 its taken on a unique appeal. Aside from being a tremendously fun rock song, which reached No. 26 on the U.S. charts, “She’s So Cold” tells an important story. Jagger is obviously beguiled by some woman’s cool, indifferent focus. “She’s So Cold” is a song for every woman who is too busy crushing it to consider dating Mick Jagger. That’s a pretty neat sentiment. Do you think someone like Chloe Kim spends time worrying about appealing to guys? Probably not. Because she’s cold. And now she has a gold medal to prove it.
“Blood Bank” — Bon Iver
By Nora McGreevy, Associate Scene Editor
You might be thinking, “Bon Iver? That dude has nothing to do with speed skating, or downhill skiing, or the one where they shoot guns and skate at the same time.”
To which I would respond, it’s called a biathlon, and it’s insane. Also, you’re right. Bon Iver’s song “Blood Bank” has nothing to do with the Winter Olympics. But I’d argue it has everything to do with the feeling of watching biathletes slice through the South Korean countryside while you’re nestled in a dorm room in northwestern Indiana. Snow is falling fast outside, and the flakes, fluffy and gently sparkling, cover sidewalks and pile up on windowsills. Bon Iver is caught outside in a blizzard too: “Then the snow started falling / we were stuck out in your car / You were rubbing both of my hands / Chewing on a candy bar,” he hums.
“Blood Bank” is a gentle song about discovering love in an unexpected place — like a blood bank somewhere in Wisconsin, Justin Vernon’s home state. It also takes an existential turn when the song swells and Vernon asks plaintively, “Ain’t it just like the present? / To be showing up like this?” The song ends in a cacophony of sounds, and leaves you with an aftertaste that’s hard to describe — kind of like the feeling of looking out of your window on a dark night, or looking up at a snowy sky as snowflakes bombard your face.
“Back in the U.S.S.R.” — The Beatles
By Charlie Kenney, Scene Writer
The U.S.S.R. isn’t in Pyeongchang right now, but from 1956 to 1988, they were present at every single Winter Olympics. And in the nine games they participated in, they accumulated a staggering 194 medals. The U.S.S.R., along with the United States and the nordic countries, were among the perennial powers in the Winter Olympics during that period. And although “Back in the U.S.S.R.” isn’t a song that is explicitly about the Soviet Union’s involvement and success in the Olympics, the mention of the union’s name in the song conjures up memories of Soviet dominance in figure skating, the U.S. versus Soviet “miracle on ice” game and many other number of events.
Although the Soviet Union was largely despised by the west when it existed, the Olympics was a time when its athletes were glorified for their talent instead of their communist tendencies. Similarly, “Back in the U.S.S.R” puts the Soviet Union on a pedestal, despite the song’s sarcasm.
The McCartney-Lennon collaborated lyrics constantly croon “I’m back in the U.S.S.R. / You don’t know how lucky you are boy.” The song may have been written at the height of the Cold War and those living in the U.S.S.R. probably shouldn’t be considered lucky, if there was any time where it was lucky to be a Soviet, it was at the Winter Olympics.
“Ski Vacation” — LVL UP
By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer
The snow falls — and so do you — off the unforeseen cliff and down the deceptively unforgiving piste. But you don’t care. Not one bit. The only thing on your mind is the infectiously melodic, ’90s indebted guitar riffage of LVL UP’s 2014 banger, “Ski Vacation.”
Granted, “Ski Vacation’s” protagonist isn’t actually skiing. He’s “home” with “nothing going on,” thinking obliquely about a mountain’s treacherous “sheer rock and evergreens,” just like the ones toward which you rapidly stumble. He’s probably relating a metaphor for some external struggle, but that kind of hippy nonsense won’t squash your spirit. Not so long as the catchy hook persists.
Oh golly, It’s another cliff! Mom did tell you to be careful, citing the dangers of “Holding and showing without completely knowing.” “[N]ot completely knowing” steals the show.
Trees and rocks win, leaving your body the consolation prize — a cozy slopeside hospital bed where you can spin “Ski Vacation’s” incisive riff over and over and over again.