As we come upon the time when exhaustive discussion of the Winter Olympics swamps out all other topics for a couple of weeks (with the sartorial and broadcasting stylings of Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir the only aspect of the spectacle worthy of attention), it seems an acceptable time to reflect on the greatest figure skating performance I ever witnessed.
It was 1997, during — the internet suggests — the Ladies Professional Figure Skating Championships. Josée Chouinard, a Canadian skater who was her country’s top champion three different years, took to the ice accompanied by music that was notably different than the usual co-opted movie scores that aligned the physical feats of the performance with orchestral swells. Instead, the arena speakers boomed out “The Sweater,” a spoken word pop nugget by Meryn Cadell which I knew well from my college radio days.
“The Sweater” recounts the teen tragicomic tale of a girl pining after a hunky lad, briefly claiming his toasty top with “that slightly goat-like smell which all teenage boys possess” as a prize of potential shared affection. The song is as well-crafted as an expert short story, marked by turns of fate, acute emotional observation, and a pitch perfect sense of humor.
When Chouinard skated to the song, she adhered to its narrative and acted out different key beats. She plays to the details of the lyrics without sacrificing any of the needs of the athletic performance, placing her various jumps and spins with cunning skill. And she does it all while wearing the garment of the song’s title, which is as floppy and oversized as the lyrics suggest, giving Chouinard an entire other element that could easily throw off her critical balance.
It’s inventive and charming, showing that a figure skating performance can have a whole other level of wit and style than is normally the case. I have only the most marginal interest in figure skating, and I adore Chouinard’s piece. Let everyone else be rapt before the NBC-trumpeted new ice battles. I’ll stick with this twenty year old marvel, thanks.
Listen or download —> Meryn Cadell, “The Sweater”
(Disclaimer: As best as I can tell, Angel Food for Thought, the album that’s home to “The Sweater,” is out of print, at least as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. It may have turned up elsewhere — it is a bit of a cult hit — but my meager, half-hearted detective work turned up no such placement. The track is shared here with the belief that my fair use impedes no fair commerce. If the album can be bought, do nab it. I’ll finally note that I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)