Da deedle-ee dum dum.
It's the song of the year, the anthem of '80s uplift, the synthesizer soundtrack for Reaganomic resurgence, whenever that might happen to be. It is, in short, the theme from the movie "Chariots of Fire," and it's pumping out of car radios, clattering through apartment walls, and cluttering up television sound tracks during the New York Marathon and the space shuttle landing with Muzak sure to be next, filling elevators and airports with glorious optimism.
Enough, already. How much triumph and transcendence can we take? The album is No. 1 on the Billboard magazine hit list, it's on radio stations from easy-listening to hard rock, the hit of the year, instantly identifiable from the drone of the very first synthesized notes of it, MWEEERRAAUUNGGG . . . and then, da deedle-ee dum dum, it's impossible to keep it from reverberating through the synapses all day.
I say, give us a break. I've been saying it since I saw the movie. I'm now going crazy with this music, and the unmitigated nobility of it all.
The problem, I think, began with the first minutes of the film, which I initially mistook for an underwear ad, all those guys running down the beach in identical white shorts. I figured the Munsingwear Corp. was buying ad time at the Tenley Circle theater, to reach the art-house/jogger/anglophile crowd with a pitch for boxer shorts.
Other people hear the theme and they think of glory. I think of underpants. That and dental problems. After I got over the underwear misapprehension, I began to think that the movie was about two guys who figure out that you can run faster if you run with your mouth wide open, gaping, as if you've got a toothache and you're chasing the dentist around the golf course, trying to get him to check it out. Every race the two heroes run, you're looking at molars when they cross the finish line.
The effect here is compounded by the synthesizer sound of the music which sounds like a dentist's drill when you're semi-comatose on nitrous oxide, and noises become strange cosmic abstractions for a few happy moments before the pain sets in.
Which describes this music perfectly.
At best, listening to it is like eating Triscuits--never quite as good as you remembered, but you keep on waiting for some kind of ultimate rush.
At worst, it's dangerous. We thought we'd stamped this kind of thing out with a quarter-century of rock 'n' roll, and its snarling, cavilling, slump-shouldered, drug-crazed complaints of being misunderstood. The theme from "Chariots" is not only cheerful but uplifting, a moral sermon, a reminder that triumph comes from being good for goodness' sake. It's the kind of thing they'd sing (yes, there's a vocal version now, too, sung by Melissa Manchester) if another Crusade was announced--an anthem.
What if this is just the first of hundreds of hymns to integrity and perseverance? What if this is a movement that relegates rock to the dusty corner of history that also houses swing and crooning? Maybe all the style and flash of discos will be replaced by the triumphal virtues of herds of people trampling up and down beaches in their underpants. Will everybody have their mouths gaping open or just the people in front?
HWARREEEANNGGG da deedle-ee dum dum. As "Feelings" was to the Me Generation and "You Light Up My Life" was to the born-again types, so "Chariots of Fire" may be to whatever we're stuck with being in the early '80s. It's no doubt already wending its way into Las Vegas lounge acts, and surely there's a place for it in Wayne Newton's repertoire--maybe right behind "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast."
I take comfort in the fact that my natural cynicism and Irish despair have been assailed unsuccessfully for years by anthems of uplift and optimism, and I reflect, as I have often reflected, while listening to jukeboxes in out-of-the-way bars through the years, that if we could survive Sgt. Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" and "God Bless America," as sung by Connie Francis, we can make it through anything.