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The Star Mangled Banner
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
It was a slow news day. The early edition of the local news ran out of stuff about Bush, Kerry, gay marriage and Martha Stewart, so they ran a segment on the national anthem and how no one knows the words. The piece started off with a young singer attempting the opening stanza, then flaming out. The crowd didn’t boo, they chuckled. After all, who really knows the words to this not-often heard tune? Me, that’s who.
I mentally sang the song as I walked my dog the other night. I came home and checked the words, and I was right. So that makes me one of the 39% (approximately) of Americans who KNOW the national anthem. I also know the words to “O Canada.” Thank God my father took me to all those hockey games. Who says sports aren’t educational?
But to be honest, that’s the only place where I heard each anthem actually SUNG. “The Star Spangled Banner” isn’t a staple on the local radio stations, despite being the ultimate one hit wonder for poet/lawyer Francis Scott Key before Casey Kasem ever had a Top 40 countdown. Thanks to Key, we have a difficult to sing, hard to remember ode to the flag. I pecked out the melody on the piano, and the notes span about an octave and a half. This means The Star Spangled Banner has a range of 12 notes, from highest to lowest. It also means if you are an average American, you’ll strain to reach both the high and low notes. In short, you’ll suck, even if you remember the words.
And those words! When was the last time you used “o’er,” “ramparts,” “gleaming,” and “perilous” in a sentence? Problem is, we don’t hear the song enough. We can remember commercial jingles from 20 years ago, but our national anthem, well, to paraphrase participants on a certain television show of years past, “doesn’t have a good beat and you can’t dance to it.” To make matters worse, it’s based on an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Where was the Jamaican influence when we needed it? We might have ended up with something like: The British are de bad/so let’s not be too sad/let’s throw the bastards over/and then we’ll be so rad.
Despite the current problems Bush and Kerry chose to debate, I think they need to promise a more singable national anthem. I think I’d actually vote for someone on this platform. Here are a few of my suggestions for improvement.
1. Use it in commercials. Moby licensed all of his songs on his CD Play for commercial use. The album sold eight million copies. Coincidence? Hah! The more you hear something, the more you’ll probably remember it. On the other hand, familiarity breeds contempt.
2. Have a special American Idol type competition in which popular musical acts come up with a cover version of the anthem. Allow all of them national radio airplay. America votes for their favorite.
3. Dump the anthem entirely; choose a song such as “America The Beautiful,” which emphasizes the natural beauty of our great land, or “God Bless America,” a sort of prayerful march asking God to take care of the U.S.A. (And yes, I know the words to the first verses of both these songs too.)
4. Use Neil Diamond’s “America.” I’m not a Diamond fan, but I do like this song, and it does emphasize positive things like freedom.
5. Replace it with “We Will Rock You,” or “We Are the Champions.” Tradition would be preserved, as both are by Queen, a British group. Both are anthems to superiority.
Hmmmm....I like the last one the best. But I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know the words to either of these songs. Perhaps “Rock and Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter might be the easiest song of all. There’s only one word: “HEY!” And for a nation plagued by anxiety, unemployment and a short attention span, this might be the one. Plus, it has a cool guitar riff too! Rock on, fellow Americans!