Thursday, March 10, 2011

Care to sing our new National Anthem?

Humorist Gene Weingarten wasn't very happy with the way Christina Aguilera messed up the US National Anthem at this year's Superbowl: but then, he wasn't very happy with our anthem, either.

Because our anthem is famously difficult, many people gave Christina a pass. I do not. If you pay someone, say, $250,000 to build a house, it is reasonable to expect that the toilets will not empty into the dining room. If you pay someone, say, $250,000 to sing 81 words, it is likewise reasonable to expect her to assemble them in reasonably good order.

Still, even when sung correctly, our anthem is a mess: 15 dangling clauses that seem more or less mix-and-match interchangeable (Oh, say! can you see/through the perilous fight/o'er the land of the free/by the dawn's early light ... ), all of it amounting to a single, convoluted question that is then ... not answered. The printed lyrics actually end in a question mark.

Does the flag still wave? As yet undetermined! The answer doesn't arrive until the second stanza, which no one knows because it is mostly sung in creepy, hyper-patriotic gatherings of, say, ladies who are direct descendants of Cotton Mather, or during secret Masonic initiation rites involving men wearing aprons.

. . .

... I have been listening to other nations' anthems to the point where I like ours more, by comparison.

One thing you notice is that the smaller and crappier a country is, the more soaring and grandiloquent is the music of its anthem, even where the lyrics don't say a lot because the country doesn't have much to brag about inasmuch as it has a turnip-based economy.

. . .

So, for the moment, I'll stick with our stupid ramparts. And by "for the moment," I mean "until next week," when, in this here space, as a service for generations to come, I'll rewrite our anthem.

There's more at the link.

He kept his promise.

... I started to write the lyrics, jotting down the best things about America. That's when I realized that they're already compiled in one place. We already have a better national anthem; it's just never been recognized as such. It was a masterpiece written in 1789 by a short man with long hair and black tights. His name was James Madison. I'm talking about the Bill of Rights, those 10 simple guarantees of individual liberty that - unlike any chauvinistic, militaristic, jingoistic, overwrought, self-celebratory song - are truly great.

Cramming the entire Bill of Rights into a containable whole demanded that it be sung in a gallop, and so "Clementine" lost out to Rossini's "William Tell Overture." And if you think it inappropriate that our new national anthem was written by an Italian fop about a Swiss crossbow artist, just put on a Stetson and think about that great Native American Tonto and his masked friend.

Again, more at the link, including the lyrics to his proposed national anthem. You'll find the sheet music here (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format), and an MP3 recording of the anthem here. You can watch it performed on video here.

Mr. Weingarten invites all his readers to make a video recording of themselves singing the proposed anthem, and to upload it to the Washington Post. Favorite responses will be posted at the link.

I daresay my readers could turn in some pretty respectable performances . . . so how about it, boys and girls?



Anonymous said...

One problem with his song is this phrase:

"Just because these/are the rights that we are hereby/to you doling
Doesn't mean you/Don't have others/(for example,/going bowling)."

The government doesn't dole out our rights but recognizes that they are pre-existing, and prohibits the government from infringing on them.

Tom Bridgeland said...

For me, I'll keep our anthem, questions and dangling clauses and all. It's a real song, not something made up by a bureaucrat or politician. The only one I like better is Australia's 'unofficial' national anthem, Waltzin' Matilda. The Australians are the only nation on Earth to have a ghost story for their national anthem. Both songs are lots of fun to sing.

Anonymous said...

I have always preferred "America the Beautiful" over "The Star Spangled Banner." I do think the Bill of Rights set to the William Tell Overture is pretty darn brilliant, though. :)

Bob@thenest said...

Hundreds of thousands of regular folks can and do sing it, but "professionals" seem to have a problem with it.

Maybe the problem is the "professionals"?

Chip said...

I like our anthem, but I doubt I could sing it in front of millions of people without screwing it up. Maybe we should get whoever wrote
"O Canada" to write us a new one. That anthem is beautiful, easy to sing and very stirring. Ever watched the Canadian National Anthem at a Calgary Flames game and you'll know what I'm talking about.