Olympic Journal, The Wrap-up: No Stonehenge tributes

Posted Monday, Aug. 13, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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LONDON — The closing ceremonies of an Olympic Games have long been about the party, not the pomp and circumstance.

So what were you expecting Sunday night, an ode to Stonehenge?

This is what the artistic director of the ceremony, Kim Gavin himself, said:

“After 16 days of competition, we wanted to host a celebration of all that’s good about London, British people, our music and our culture.”

How Russell Brand got into the show, therefore, I don’t know.

The rest of the guest list, though, was memorable — Queen, The Who, Ray Davies, Pet Shop Boys, a Spice Girls reunion, and on and on.

The tone of these Games was struck 17 days ago, when Her Majesty the Queen somehow let director Danny Boyle talk her into “jumping” from James Bonds’ helicopter as her royal entrance.

After that gag, Gavin couldn’t exactly have Macbeth murder Duncan again, could he?

As the music unfolded in front of my ears — Davies singing “Waterloo Sunset,” John Lennon on film doing “Imagine,” etc. — I realized that this may well be Great Britain’s most enduring gift to the world.

Its music.

From the Beatles to Pete Townshend, from Freddie Mercury to ELO, we’ve been listening to British pop music since Ed Sullivan brought it into our living rooms. For anyone who grew up in the ’60s, it’s the soundtrack of our lives.

Was it all a bit too much Sunday? Maybe a little, but if you rather had seen A Tribute to Cursive Printing, you might want to pop your Beijing 2008 DVD back into the machine.

Hanging with the royals, sort of

If nightly visits to the Olympic Stadium for the track and field taught me anything, it was where to try to sit for the closing ceremonies.

Media seating was unreserved. Thus, I carefully made my way down the line of portals on the lower deck until I came to entry M09.

Bingo. If they played real football there, I would have been on about the home team’s 40-yard line.

The VIP section was right next to us.

The men in the seats directly adjoining our section were all wearing suits. The women were in high heels.

We, of course, hadn’t ironed anything for three weeks.

But I brought binoculars and my camera. And there, during the playing of one anthem or another, maybe the Greek, His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales — Prince Harry, as his adoring subjects call him — and his beautiful sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, rose to their feet and I was able to snap their picture.

Sort of. The light was dim. The shutter speed was dicey. (Check today’s photos for the result. Disclaimer: I’m not a trained professional.)

The binoculars were much better, trust me. I could see Prince Harry singing along to “God Save the Queen” (God Save My Grandma?), and Kate Middleton’s teeth gleaming in the stadium lights.

Clearly, it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being royalty.

On with the show

Things I wrote on my note pad about the closing ceremonies:

The show started with a final-minute countdown accompanied by the opening bars of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” If you’re under the age of 30, you probably incorrectly think the title of that song is “Teenage Wasteland” . . .

The unmistakable chimes of Big Ben (recorded) signaled that it was 9 o’clock and time to start the ceremony . . .

I had never heard of Emeli Sande before these Olympics, but she sang in the opening ceremonies and again Sunday night. The haunting song “Read All About It” was sung while the stadium video boards showed a montage of the most emotional moments from the previous 16 days.

Very powerful . . .

The actor who played Winston Churchill, emerging from the top of Big Ben, was Timothy Spall, who also played Sir Winston in the Academy Award-winning “The King’s English” . . .

Saw many strange hats during the three weeks, but none stranger than the Heckle and Jeckle headgear on the cyclists that pedaled alongside the Pet Shop Boys . . .

“Waterloo Sunset,” sung Sunday night by Ray Davies, was first released by Davies and the Kinks (gulp) 45 years ago. It’s a veritable London anthem, and the stadium crowd lustily sang along . . .

Officials set aside 14 minutes for the entry of the athletes. It had to take twice that long.

You can’t herd athletes. They’re like cats . . .

When the voice of John Lennon joined the voices of the children’s choir to sing Imagine, it sent chills. The Lennon classic never had a more fitting setting . . .

Lots of great old music, but a fair amount of it was covered by more contemporary artists because a lot of the original performers are, you know, dead.

Organizers mistakenly sent an invitation to perform to The Who’s Keith Moon, who died in 1978 . . .

Annie Lennox, riding on a ghost Spanish galleon? Didn’t work . . .

Can’t understand the global fascination (or Katy Perry’s) with Russell Brand. Him singing “I Am the Walrus”? Heresy . . .

The big cars used in the ceremony appeared to be Rolls-Royces . . .

The Spice Girls clearly are no longer girls. Instead of Sporty, Baby, Ginger, Scary and Posh Spice, they looked more like Grumpy, Sneezy, etc . . .

The human cannonball skit. They had to work a Monty Python reference in at some point, right?

This was classic. Eric Idle started singing the Monty Python classic, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” but the number quickly went downhill as Idle was surrounded by Scottish bagpipers, rollerskating nuns, Roman gladiators and Bollywood dancers. Greatness . . .

The Freddie Mercury tribute. Mercury was supposed to perform his hit Barcelona at the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Olympics, but he died eight months before the Games . . .

Can’t imagine that the eight minutes allotted to the Rio 2016 introduction inspired everyone to go out and book airline tickets. The stadium crowd showed its age by not recognizing Pele . . .

As Lord Sebastian Coe said in his closing remarks, “When our time came, Britain, we did it right.” That is so true . . .

IOC president Jacques Rogge: “These were happy and glorious Games.” True to the anthem, they indeed were . . .

The show ended with The Who performing “See Me, Feel Me” and the very appropriate “Listening to You.” Pete Townshend windmilling on the guitar . . .

Followed by fireworks. And more fireworks.

Did you know the Chinese invented fireworks?

The British invented our music.

A final thanks

It’s easy to get nostalgic when you’ve been to 16 of these things and the London ceremonies people have just played a virtual playlist from your life, but I resisted the urge.

Instead, I waited a few minutes to let the crowd disperse. And as I walked to portal M09, standing right above it, talking with some woman, was the man in charge these past seven years, Sebastian Coe.

He looked toward me and impulsively I shouted, “Thank you, Seb Coe!”

“You are very, very welcome,” Lord Seb shouted back, waving.

“It was our pleasure.”

I have no doubt that he meant it.

It’s time to pack for home.

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