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Stones, Who, queen and others simply rock the house in London

The Olympic cauldris lit during spectacular opening ceremony Friday London. | Mark Baker~AP

The Olympic cauldron is lit during the spectacular opening ceremony Friday in London. | Mark Baker~AP

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Updated: August 29, 2012 6:04AM

LONDON — I’m still trying to reconcile the serenity of an English meadow scene from a few centuries ago with “God Save the Queen’’ by the Sex Pistols.

Can anybody explain what happened here? And by “here,’’ I mean Olympic Stadium on Friday and, more broadly, England over the last 300 years or so? One minute, actors in peasant clothing are pretending to play an old-timey game of soccer and the next Johnny Rotten’s voice is sawing through the night.

That’s England, and all of its many facets were on display at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The English are famous for their reserve, but for one night, they shed themselves of their inhibitions, twirled it over their heads and tossed it aside.

The countries that are still largely agrarian probably saw some of themselves in the farm scene inside Olympic Stadium. But when they heard the Who’s “My Generation’’ or the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’’ piped in through the public-address system, they must have been wondering, “Is this what happens if we stay on this path?’’

It wouldn’t be a bad thing for some of them, and here I’m thinking specifically of North Korea. A little decadence has been known to tear down the thickest walls.

All in all, it was a spectacular night for London. Even the Industrial Revolution’s sootiness looked like a fashion statement by the time Danny Boyle’s production was done with it.

There were very few secrets leading into the ceremony. Many of the details already had been leaked. But it didn’t matter. What no one could leak was the spirit of the thing. You could feel the grit and coal dust of the workers. You could see the advance of a civilization.

They know how to do stars here. Not Hollywood stars like we do, but literary ones like Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling. It’s OK to put the two of them in the same sentence and in the same opening ceremony. And even Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond, looks craggier than your average leading man in the States. He and the queen played their roles perfectly in a video shown on the big screens.

At one point, an army of Mary Poppins floated down from the sky and scared away a slew of fictional nightmares, including Lord Voldemort, with their umbrellas. Why do I get the feeling that the Kardashians would chase away Snooki with superior breast enhancements in the American version?

Were there mistakes? A big one. This year is the 40th anniversary of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Games, and the IOC refused to acknowledge it in any way.

It did, however, commemorate the two world wars and other conflicts Great Britain participated in.  It also held a moment of silence for some of the people who had passed away while London readied for the Games.

“We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” IOC president Jacques Rogge had said earlier in the week.

A moment of silence would have drowned out the many drums that rattled throughout the stadium and, more important, would have honored those who had died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. It would have been so easy to do and so right. But the IOC has been tone-deaf for as long as there has been sound, so no surprise. Just a lost opportunity.

The show went on. When the nations and athletes finally started circling the stadium, then it felt like the Games could begin. For the first time, every country had at least one woman and one man on its team. That’s progress on our planet.

All the thoughts of security worries felt far away. The rain that fell early in the ceremony finally played nice and went away.

Nothing could stop the uniforms the Americans wore from making us look like a bunch of snooty yachtsmen. I think that’s what we think we’re supposed to look like in front of the British, if we want to keep up.

But this wasn’t about us. This was about an island nation showing the world what it’s all about. When a select group of British athletes lit the cauldron, it sent shivers up and down the length of the country. And then an entire stadium sang “Hey Jude’’ along with Paul McCartney.

“I’ve never been so proud to be English,’’ Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Organizing Committee, had said several moments earlier.

On a wonderful English night, you could understand why.

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