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No Medals for Olympics Opener | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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No Medals for Olympics Opener

Not to be too tough on the organizers of the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics, but how come someone else had to sing the Leonard Cohen song?

Of course, there was going to be a performance of "Hallelujah," the passable Cohen song that has achieved iconic status thanks to cover versions by Jeff Buckley and so many others.

But why have k.d. lang sing it?

Why not Cohen?

After all, if the Olympics opening ceremonies are about anything akin to cultural authenticity -- a suggestion that organizers take seriously, even if savvy critics find it amusing -- then any not have the writer and original singer (and the man who, upon his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was aptly described by Lou Reed as having entered "highest and most influential echelon of songwriters") of the song perform. True, Cohen is 75 and he's got an ailing back, but something tells me he could have made it to Vancouver for this show.

His performance, perhaps as a duo with lang (a longtime Cohen fan whose performance Friday night was riveting), would have been far more powerful than what we got.

And what of the obligatory version of "O Canada"? Was it really necessary to have a talented young artist, June Award-winning jazz stylist Nikki Yanofsky," mutate the national anthem into a cringe-worthy power ballad. If the organizers really thought the song needed to be punched up, they should have just gone for it and had Rush perform. (A note here: The full band, not just Geddy Lee.)

Better yet, have Joni Mitchell perform "A Case of You" and then break into "O Canada" where her lyrics reference the song.

Even better, how about War Party morphing their aboriginal hip-hop anthem "This Land Was Ours" into "O Canada"?

That's probably too political for this Olympics, which is too bad. The cultural highlight of the 2000 Olympics was Midnight Oil's performance of "Beds Are Burning," their condemnation of land grabs for the Australia's aboriginal people, which declares: "The time has come to say: 'fair's fair,' to pay the rent, to pay our share..." The band members performed in sweatshirts emblazoned with the word: "Sorry."

For a moment, the Olympic stage was being used to make a statement that was rooted in the history of the host country but meaningful to the whole world.

The question is whether this Olympics will speak with equal authority and power.

There's still time.

There's a good case to be made that no songwriter has captured Canada all its strengths, all its failings -- better over the years than Bruce Cockburn. His "Stolen Land" offers a powerful echo of Midnight Oil's "Times Has Come," with a suitably international twist.

Cockburn's song asks the right questions:

 

If you're like me you'd like to think we've learned from our mistakes

 

Enough to know we can't play god with others' lives at stake

So now we've all discovered the world wasn't only made for whites

What step are you gonna take to try and set things right

In this stolen land

 

And it offers an answer: "we're not through yet."

We're not through with the Vancouver Olympics yet.

The Olympic Organizers would do well to recognize that they still an opportunity to highlight the most powerful artistry of Canadian songwriters who have so much more to say to the world than what we saw at the opening ceremony.

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