I watched parts of two sporting events this weekend, both of which featured (naturally) the playing/singing of the U.S. national anthem before they started. And it struck me again just how much of a raw deal we've gotten with the ol' Star Spangled Banner.
I don't mean the words. The words are fine, and hey, I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free (except for my phone lines and e-mail messages). But the music itself is lame, lame, lame. I'd give it 1.5 stars out of fifty.
I know Broadway didn't exist, at least in anything resembling its current form, when Francis Scott Key composed the Star Spangled Banner in 1812. But I'm telling you, that melody is right out of some schmaltzy Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. It needs to be sung by somebody with a tophat and a cane. It is, of course, also notoriously difficult to sing. Countless great singers, such as Ashley Simpson and Justin Timberlake, have been needlessly embarrassed because they simply couldn't hit the high notes. I've honestly only heard one person (Jimi Hendrix) do it well. And that was great only because of the amazing guitar feedback.
This dire situation becomes painfully obvious whenever other national anthems are played. The Italian national anthem, which I heard several times during the recent Winter Olympics, sounded like an operatic aria. Puccini or Verdi would have been proud, and those Italians went at it with gusto and antipasto and other formidably Latin-sounding terms, just belting it out as if they were Pavarotti singing to the back row of the balcony. Then the American national anthem would be played, and I'd be ready to break into a tap dance, which you don't want to see.
We've been saddled with this thing for almost two hundred years now, and I say it's time to update the drab musical furniture. We need something more contemporary, more relevant, less prone to smarmy ridicule. I'd like to nominate Neil Young's "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World." I know Neil's Canadian, but really, we're about ready to annex those pesky Canucks anyway, so it should work out okay. Anyody else have any other suggestions?