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Apparently This Matters: Phelps and Phish

Was NBC's use of a Phish song in a Michael Phelps highlight reel a subtle reference to Phelps' past indiscretions?

Story highlights

  • "Apparently This Matters" is CNN Tech's skewed weekly look at trending social media topics
  • Phish's "Tweezer Reprise" played during a Phelps highlights reel on NBC
  • "Tweezer Reprise" started to trend afterward
  • NBC removed the song from the online version of the package

Editor's note: Each week in "Apparently This Matters," CNN's Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media.

It must have been a full 18 minutes since I'd last seen a Michael Phelps segment on TV during the Olympics, and I started to worry. Was Ryan Seacrest in danger? Was Bob Costas locked in the bathroom? And where in the world was Matt Lauer?

These are the things that keep me up at night. That, and self doubt.

But soon I was distracted by Phelps and team USA winning gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay, a lengthy event covering an impressive combined distance. It takes about seven minutes to complete, whereas I would have drowned in the prerace shower. I'm not that strong a swimmer.

Of course, you certainly can't say the same for these guys. And now the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time has officially won his 20th medal. I assume when it's all over he'll celebrate by eating the entire contents of a Kroger.

"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

"Grrrrr. Must. Have. Calories."

    So, Phelps earned yet another gold, and moments after the big achievement NBC aired a well-produced highlight reel of every medal he'd won (so far) in Athens, Beijing and London.

    Hurrah! A new Phelps segment! All was right in the world. Balance was restored to the universe. Finally, I could end my personal hunger strike.

    (Worst. Eighteen minutes. Ever.)

    Then I heard something familiar. A guitar riff. As the Phelps segment moved from his triumphs in Athens to his dominance in Beijing, the music changed to the song "Tweezer Reprise" from the band Phish.

    And that, my friends, is why we're here.

    Now, you may be thinking this is astonishingly unimportant. And you're right.

    NBC's use of one particular song means literally nothing. It's not supposed to. But this is Phish. Which, to a very specific group of individuals, makes it the most important thing that's ever happened in the history of the world. Save for, say, the invention of glow sticks.

    Like it or not, this was going to matter.

    So, after I watched the segment I walked over to my laptop to confirm on Twitter that, yes, at 11:52 p.m. EST on Tuesday, July 31, "Tweezer Reprise" was one of the most talked about things in America. And there you have it. The kids are all right.

    @sarahjanelane wrote: So cool that #nbc used "Tweezer Reprise" by #Phish for the Michael Phelps #Olympics medal montage.

    @mkm1616 added: no escaping us. phish fans are everywhere.! twitter blowing up over tweezer reprise!

    And @m_shafer21 shared: It's only fitting that @nbc plays Tweezer Reprise when showing all the Phelps highlights #Phish #Olympics2012

    "Only fitting." That was an interesting thing to suggest. Why would a Phish song have anything to do with Michael Phelps?

    Perhaps it's just that the word Phish (read: fish) refers to the way Phelps moves through the water. It's a reasonable explanation ... so long as you actually need a reasonable explanation.

    However, a small handful of people online began alluding to the suggestions that maybe somebody at NBC cheekily chose this song because of the connotations the tune and the band have to weed -- that "Tweezer Reprise" was secretly paying homage to 2009 when a photo emerged of Phelps taking a huge bong hit.

    Of course, not all Phish fans smoke pot. But there is that perception. And, to be fair, the song "Tweezer" -- from which we get "Tweezer Reprise" -- might actually be about smoking weed. I don't really know. I stopped trying to fully understand Phish songs a long time ago. There's limited space in my brain, and most of it is filled with "Simpsons" trivia.

    But maybe (just maybe) there's no connection at all. Maybe (just maybe) "Tweezer Reprise" is simply a really cool riff. Maybe. Just maybe.

    Ah, but why, then, did NBC remove the song from the online version of the package? A writer at the sports website Gunaxin.com theorized, "Apparently, NBC execs weren't too proud of their connection to Phish."

    Conspiracy!

    So, on Thursday I contacted NBC. Clearly I had nothing better to do with my time, and thought, "Why not deprive somebody else of theirs?"

    I eventually spoke to one executive who wasn't really sure why the song was removed, but theorized what I was already assuming -- that their licensing of the song didn't include Internet use. It's a completely fair and plausible explanation.

    So in the end, maybe it all means nothing.

    Maybe. Just maybe.

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