Saturday Singles Nos. 85 & 86

Originally posted August 9, 2008

So the Olympic games began in China yesterday, at eight p.m. local time on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the millennium. I’m not feeling particularly Olympiccy, to coin a bad word. I imagine I’ll watch some of the proceedings in the next few weeks, but I won’t be as invested in the games as I have been some other years.

I don’t think my lack of interest has anything to do with any of the political considerations that surround this edition of the Olympic games. I do admit to wondering since the games were awarded to China if the Chinese government and the international Olympic movement would eventually come to regret their partnership. I’m not predicting anything dire, just thinking to myself that societies that try to maintain tight control are finding it increasingly difficult to do so, especially when the entire world is looking into their windows, so to speak.

I guess I haven’t really watched the summer Olympic games with much joy since, oh, the Munich games of 1972. That date provides a dividing line in a number of ways: By 1976 and the Montreal games, I was deep into my college studies, even during summertime, and the games that followed that – Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984 and all the rest since – found me even more entrenched in adult concerns. The Munich games were the last ones that found me unencumbered by adult responsibilities.

Any thought of the Munich games also carries with it a sense of sorrow, too, and that certainly colors my attitude toward the quadrennial games that came after.

I also find these days that I tend to watch the winter Olympics more closely. There are more sports that interest me, a good number of the athletes usually come from Minnesota, and the winter games don’t yet seem to be the overblown spectacle that the summer games have become.

And while I have – since 1972 – no striking memories of the Olympic games themselves, yesterday’s beginnings in China reminded me of something. In 1984, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, and the route of the ceremonial Olympic torch – making its way from Olympia, Greece, to Los Angeles – followed Interstate 70 across the state from St. Louis to Kansas City, right through Columbia. I was going to graduate school and working at a newspaper, and I recall wondering idly if I should head out to the north edge of town to see the torch as it went past.

I didn’t. If I recall correctly, the torch made its way along the north edge of Columbia sometime shortly after sunrise, about 7 a.m. I didn’t bother to get up and drive across town to see it. And that evening when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the torch being carried past the crowds along the highway, I regretted staying home. I looked at the photo and thought, “Well, that was a once in a lifetime thing. I should have gone.”

Fast-forward twelve years to the summer of 1996. The summer games that year were in Atlanta, and again, I’d paid little attention to the gathering momentum as the games approached.

But one Saturday morning, I opened the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and saw that the Olympic torch would be making its way through Minneapolis that evening. Its route would bring it along Thirty-Sixth Street South, three houses away from my apartment building.

I was there that evening, in a large crowd of my neighbors, watching and applauding with them as a local volunteer carried the torch down the middle of the street. I don’t recall any wellspring of emotion. I just watched the runner carry the torch, and then I went to the neighborhood coffee house with a few people. But as I wrote to a close friend in the next few days, “What I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime event turned out not to be so, and that amazes me a little. How often do any of us get a second chance at something so rare?”

Here are two songs that were on the charts at those times, songs that remind me of those summers, one from 1984 when I let the torch pass unnoticed and one from 1996 when I took advantage of my second chance.

Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face” (Chrysalis 42786) peaked at No. 4 in 1984 and was at No. 11 on August 4 as the Los Angeles games were halfway done. And twelve years later, Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” (Reprise 17621) was featured in the soundtrack to the film Phenomenon and peaked at No. 5. It was at No. 6 on August 3, 1996, as the Atlanta games were less than a week from their closing ceremonies.

And those songs are today’s Saturday Singles.

Billy Idol – “Eyes Without A Face” [1984]

Eric Clapton – “Change the World” [1996]

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.

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