Britain calls on artists to help close its Games

08/13/2012 12:00 AM

08/13/2012 10:08 AM

LONDON – Britain bid a lyrical farewell to the Olympics on Sunday in a manner reflective of the way the host country embraced these Games for the past two weeks: With a bit of self-deprecation, an exhibition of national pride and a genuine desire to show the world a good time.

With performances from the Who, Muse, George Michael, One Direction and a reunited Spice Girls, London aimed to celebrate the idea that music has been one of Britain's greatest exports during the last century. Even deceased legends such as John Lennon and Freddie Mercury led singalongs via massive video screens.

The British government earmarked an extra $64.3 million to double the budget for the Opening and Closing Ceremony in the weeks leading up the Games, a move officials justified by saying the events would give the United Kingdom "a once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to promote itself.

At the very least, it will boost iTunes sales.

The Spice Girls drew the evening's biggest response – particularly from camera phone-wielding members of Team USA – performing their hit "Spice Up Your Life" as they rolled around Olympic Park atop London cabs. The Who ended the night with a medley of hits, including "Baba O'Riley," "See Me, Feel Me" and "My Generation."

Opening ceremonies often are likened to weddings because of their long-held traditions, solemn oaths and promised possibilities.

If that's the case, London's Closing Ceremony was the raucous reception in which everyone was encouraged to cut loose and each generation got a chance to play DJ.

One Direction, the Pet Shop Boys and Kinks frontman Ray Davies opened the show with songs meant to celebrate daily life in London.

Fatboy Slim, Annie Lennox and Jessie J all performed on a Union Jack-shaped stage surrounded by athletes.

In a nod to British humor, Monty Python's Eric Idle had the stadium whistling to a performance of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" that featured roller-skating nuns and a man being shot from a cannon.

And comedian Russell Brand was given the honor of covering the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" – though it was unclear whether it was meant to be a joke or a serious homage.

Yet for all the much-anticipated musical acts, it was the ceremony's use of classic lines from British literature that spoke to the heart of these Games.

Quotes from the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats appeared in various ways throughout the show, perfectly capturing an emotional fortnight in which Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt seemed immortal, South African runner Oscar Pistorius redefined the word "disability" and Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history.

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," read one prominently featured line from Samuel Johnson. "For there is in London all that life can afford."

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