World sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics make me cringe. Not because I hate sports. I hate the American National Anthem. And it’s during such world-wide displays when this awful truth really red glares.
Before anyone gets all jumpy, let me say that this has nothing to do with love of country or patriotism, or any of that. It’s just a terrible song on so many levels. It’s embarrassing.
First, no one can sing it. You have to hire someone to sing it at events, while everyone else just stumbles through this ridiculous, octave-jumping, un-melodic mess. Happy Birthday has a catchier tune.
Second, what’s it about? Some guy’s impressions of a naval engagement during the War of 1812?! I guess that was an important conflict, but, seriously, I remember the Maine better. Oh, and those ‘rockets’ red glare’ everyone gets excited about? The British were shooting those off.
Third, it’s long-winded doggerel. ‘Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming’? Lost me already.
And there are so many better choices! How about America the Beautiful? Nice tune and I know (some of) the words. Columbia the Gem of the Ocean? My favorite one to sing in school was Woody Guthrie’s catchy, upbeat This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land. That’s an ‘everyone join in and clap your hands!’ kind of song. Sing it around a campfire or on a long drive. It’s fun!
Or, how about something with some guts like The Battle Hymn of the Republic? ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord/ He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.’ Awesome. Makes me picture a giant, super-Lincoln striding across the land dealing righteousness. It’s rousing, and anyone can sing it. A bunch of men marching off to war could belt that out. And they did, in various forms from the Civil War to WWII. The only way to sing that song properly is standing or marching.
I mean, let’s face it O, Canada talks about the nation. ‘The true North strong and free!’ Put that in Latin and stick it above your town hall. The French have the gloriously strong and defiant Marseillaise. I can’t think of one classic movie scene where people sang down Nazis with ‘Oh say, can you seeeeeee?’
I guess I feel worse for the British. Here’s a nation that has Rule, Britannia! There’s a rousing one. Britain rises from the sea, and, while other nations will fall to tyrants, ‘Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves!’ Heck yeah. But what do they have to sing? God Save the Queen/King. Kind of an ‘FU’ to the British people, really.
In the end, I guess no one can top the Russians. I have no idea what they are singing about, but whatever it is that song makes me want to pick up the gun of my fallen comrade and rush to the defense of the Motherland. I’m not much of a nation-state chest-thumper. My favorite theme is the one to Star Trek: TNG. But until Roddenberry’s Vision is realized, can we please have a national anthem that we could all at least get together at a ballgame and sing?