Thursday, September 28, 2017

No wonder so many Americans won’t stand for the national anthem. It’s nearly un-singable. It’s warlike and un-aspirational. And it supports slavery and racism.

All right, Mr. Trump. In attacking the NFL and NBA players who one way or another refused to stand and put their hands on their hearts when The Star Spangled Banner was played, you’ve opened and then dumped the contents of a giant can of worms onto your own plate. Now it’s time for you to eat them.

Just to begin, athletes, like everyone else, are guaranteed freedom of expression by the U.S. Constitution, which is one of the things for which the American flag is a symbol. Thus, when you choose to deny them this freedom, Mr. Trump, it is you who is disrespecting the flag.

You have ignored the simple truth that the protest of these athletes is legitimate — that as people of color, they are regularly the victim of police brutality, documented so many times in recent years that you have to be willfully blind to claim it does not exist.

Since you’ve brought up the national anthem, let’s also deal with the question of why it deserves no respect and ought to be dumped in favor of some other song. The answer boils down to this: our great nation has one of the lousiest national anthems in the world. Consider:

The Star Spangled Banner is virtually un-singable. The clip of Roseanne Barr slaughtering it at the top of this post may have been Barr’s idea of a sendup, but it wasn’t very far from the truth. 

You can carry a tune and still, like million of Americans, you may not be able to credibly sing this unmusical, unlyrical song. It staggers over wide-ranging octaves like a careening drunk bouncing off walls. 

What’s more, the anthem’s lyrics are so ineptly out of meter with the music that singers need to insert syllables where none exist in the English language, disrespecting not only the dignity of our nation, but  our language as well. Example: (“And the star spangled ban-ner in tri-yi-yi-umph sha-all way-ave….”)

Speaking of drunks, the music was actually composed for a bunch of drunks with sex on their minds. It was a song written and boozily sung originally in England, not America, in the Eighteenth Century, by members of a drinking club, the Anacreontic Society.

But worse yet, the little-known and even less-sung final stanza of the Star Spangled Banner all but curses enslaved black men.

Here are the pertinent lines of the stanza:

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The "foul footsteps" to which Francis Scott Key refers are those of slaves in Maryland who fought on the side of the English when promised their freedom. So clearly Key, himself a slaveholder, didn’t not consider black people suitable citizens for either the land of the free or the home brave. 

No indeed. Instead he believed blacks were “a distinct and inferior race of people which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that affects a community.”   Little wonder he cursed them with the “gloom of the grave.” For that reason alone the song deserves to be stricken from opening ceremonies. It is not a patriotic song. It is anti-patriotic.

So what should we sing instead? Well before World War I, in Newark, New Jersey, a woman named Katherine Lee Bates and an Episcopal choirmaster named Samuel A. Ward wrote a beautiful, melodic, easy-to-sing and patriotic hymn. It was about our nation and its natural beauty, and brotherhood — and not about a battle and a curse on some of our people. Moreover, unlike the Star Spangled Banner, it mentions — repeatedly — the name of our nation. 

It concedes the nation has flaws. It calls upon God to men them. It mentions liberty, law, gleaming cities of alabaster, and brotherhood. Yes, "America The Beautiful." Here’s a touching rendition of it by Ray Charles

And for a backup? In 1893 a poor immigrant boy with no skills and as yet little education was permitted to enter the United States. In time he discovered he had a talent for writing songs. Over the years he created great fortunes and employment for others with this talent, writing over 20 Broadway hit shows. 

Among his many songs were “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,”  and the holiday songs “In Your Easter Bonnet,” and “White Christmas.” His name?  Irving Berlin.

Perhaps Berlin’s his greatest and — dare I say it? — most sacred song was a hymn he wrote to the country that let him in, instead of attempting to wall him out.

Think what a glorious song a new national anthem could be, if America focused on its mission and message to humanity, and not always, constantly, incessantly, annoyingly on you, Mr. Trump, playing while you're all alone at night with your petty little tweeter.

Here is Irving Berlin, late in life and a bit frail with age, singing his song — followed by a chorus that demonstrates the way God Bless America could sound in stadiums and theaters across America if it became the new national anthem.


Unknown said...

"distinct and inferior race"

Here is the problem. I can find no direct evidence of Key ever saying that. That seems to come from a 1995 biography that attributes the quote to key. But the closest original source to that quote is a quote attributed to C. C. Harper from a 1829 publication of the American Colonization Society. Key was founder of the ACS and I would argue that the biased biographer through an illogical extinction attributed Harper's quote to Key since the ACS published it.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Here's another problem.

The stanza was edited out in the making of the Anthem.

It is to the anthem as film on the cutting room floor.

Or as "under God" was to the original pledge.

It ain't there.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should start singing 'God save the Queen'