All Darren Jackson wanted to do was rock. Preferably in a tracksuit. And so to facilitate that dream, he and his buddy Erik Appelwick decided to form a band, but were having severe trouble settling on an appropriate name. They eventually went with the Olympic Hopefuls, partially because most wannabe Olympians spend large portions of their days in tracksuits, but also because they just couldn't think of anything better to call themselves.
"We had finished our record, and we didn't have a name, so we were playing the brainstorming-for-band-name game," Jackson explained. "And when I was least expecting it, I started talking about a friend of mine who lives in Duluth, Minnesota, who's an Olympic hopeful in cross-country skiing. And lights went off, buzzers, flashers. That was it."
And so the Olympic Hopefuls — who in addition to Jackson and Appelwick also include bassist Heath Henjum, drummer Eric Fawcett and multi-instrumentalist John Hermanson — began playing clubs in and around their native Minneapolis. For the better part of a year, everything was fine. Until one day in late June, when their manager/lawyer received a rather nasty letter from the United States Olympic Committee, informing him that the band's name was in violation of federal copyright law.
Seems back in 1950, Congress trademarked the word "Olympic," and by law, the USOC is required to protect the word from misuse. It's the same sort of situation that Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard ran into with his side project the Postal Service and the actual United States Postal Service (see "Postal Service Album Keeps On Delivering" ).
But unlike the Postal Service/ USPS flap, which was resolved through a compromise (the Postal Service performed at the USPS's national convention, and the band's album is now sold through the USPS's Web site), the USOC was in no mood to make a deal with the Olympic Hopefuls (or to speak about the matter; calls to the organization were not returned).
"Our initial thought was like, 'Well, what if we offer to play at every Olympics for free?' But they didn't think that was too funny," Jackson said. "Then we considered legal action, but we dropped it pretty quickly when our lawyer told us the law was very clear-cut and we were clearly in the wrong."
So the Olympic Hopefuls were forced to shed the "Olympic" from their moniker, and press on as just "the Hopefuls." While Jackson is a bit bummed out by the sudden change, he pledged that he'll continue to keep at least one aspect of his Olympic past alive: For the immediate future, the band will continue to perform in its tracksuits. And the whole ordeal has earned him and his band a brief moment in the national spotlight, so at the end of the day, Jackson can't complain.
"I'd rather we became known for our music, not because of some minor little incident like this," Jackson laughed. "I don't know, the whole thing is pretty funny. Like, the USOC allowed us to sell our old merchandise, which was pretty cool. And I never, ever thought I'd be saying a sentence like that. Who knows, maybe next time, I'll name my band Coca-Cola or something."