Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oh, Say Can You -- ?

Time for a new anthem. Seriously.

Every time the Canadians stood on medal podiums watching the flag of their home and native land hoisted to the rafters or to the top of the poles, they sang out, joyously, as did all the Canadians who watched them up close and personal. Maybe even non-Canadians.  For by now, after two weeks of the Canadians gobbling more gold medals than any other country, most of us know the lyrics of their catchy national song.

Unlike, say, our own.

Although our athletes stood, hands over their hearts, not one of them -- not one -- managed even the minutest -- "and the land of the free-e-e-e-e-e and the home of the brave-e-e-e-e-e." Their lips didn't even move. (The irrepressible Shaun White did play a little air guitar, though. I'll give him that.)

Now, possibly our athletes cannot sing our national anthem because they were instructed not to, lest their mangling of the words on global television would put the kibosh on lucrative sponsorship deals. Or, possibly, most of them are so used to hearing the thing rendered by pop divas intent on stretching the boundaries of melody beyond all recognition that they do not know the tune.  Or, maybe it is because they generally hear it played before ballgames when the last lines are stomped out by cheers and whistles and applause, not to mention shouts of "Play Ball." 

But personally I am of the opinion that they do not know the words. Period.

It is a nightmare of a song, after all.*  Both lyrically and melodically (it spans an octave an a half). And it is time for a change.

Must our anthem, in this day and age, be about red-glaring rockets, bursting bombs and perilous fights? About the War of 1812? And Fort McHenry?  Really? Why not the capture of Major Andre at Fort Saint-Jean?  Why not the Alamo?  Oh. Wait.

True, when the tattered flag that flew near Ground Zero on 9-11 was walked into Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series, the lines "that our flag was still there" never seemed more poignant or heartfelt.

(I don't think the flag pictured above is the flag that yet waved when the towers came down. Haven't located the one I'm looking for yet.)

 Anyway, this is not about the flag itself.  It is about the anthem, a song that cannot be sung, with lyrics that cannot be remembered.

Canadians seem to have no problem with O, Canada, though.  The melody is catchy. The lyrics are patriotic and applaud the nation's strength and beauty:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Compare and contrast:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Both anthems have several additional verses. This is one of the extra verses of O Canada:

O Canada! where pines and maples grow,
Great prairies spread, and lordly rivers flow.
How dear to us thy broad domain,
From East to Western sea.
The land of hope for all who toil,
The True North strong and free!

Sound somewhat familiar?  Compare and contrast with America the Beautiful:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

           O, Canada did not become the Canadian anthem until 1980, although it had been kicking around a long time before that.  Similarly, until the Star Spangled Banner was made the national anthem by a resolution of Congress in 1931, we made do with other ditties, ranging from Hail, Columbia to My Country 'Tis of Thee, a direct rip-off of God Save the Queen/King.  The Star Spangled Banner melody is derived from a British army drinking song.
      Let's get original.  Okay, so certain segments of our population probably will not go for New York, New York or even This Land Is Your Land. But our national anthem can and should be changed.
     We've done it before, America.  The Beautiful.
      Let's give our athletes a real song to sing.

* Holy Frozen Siberian Tundra. They just played Russia's at the Closing Ceremonies. Far worse. As deadly dirges evoking humorless columns of gray, goose-stepping armies go. Quick, someone clue them to Tchaikovsky.


Liz said...

I love America the Beautiful but it would never work because we ask God to give us grace. And God forbid we offend anyone by asking God for grace....
and before anyone gets mad at me - when I say God - I take it as God in all religious forms -

Wendy Marcus said...

I'd like to think every US medal winner knows the national anthem but was too overwhelmed with emotion to sing the words. Or, chose not to sing because heaven forbid they messed up while the TV camera was zoomed onto their face, that would create more of an issue than them not singing at all. (Just my opinion!)

Kat Attalla said...

I have always preferred America the Beautiful over the Star Spangled Banner. I like a song I can sing along with.

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