September 11, 1992
The music of the "Star-Spangled Banner" was composed in 1777 by John Stafford Smith, an Englishman, as a setting for a poem....The original song celebrates the joys of music, love, and wine.
After Harry Truman was no longer president, he was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow. As I remember it, Murrow asked him how he liked The Missouri Waltz. Harry answered "I'm a musician and a politician; so I have to like The Missouri Waltz; but between you and me, its as bad musically as The Star Spangled Banner." Harry was not alone. I suspect that many musicians cringe at our national anthem.
In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics and it was informally adopted as an anthem by the Union Army. It didn't become official until 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed it into law. Thus Hoover can be been given credit for officializing the anthem and presiding at the great depression.
When Roseanne Barr murdered the song at a baseball game, some people wanted to lynch her. They should have lynched the executive who hired her. It isn't her fault that she can't sing and that the song is almost unsingable.
An old opera buff once told me that on the day that the World War I armistice was declared, downtown Manhattan was packed with celebrating people. The great opera singer Enrico Caruso came out on the balcony of his hotel and sang the Star Spangled Banner. My reporter said that it was "very inspiring." One problem with our national anthem is that it takes an opera singer to sing it. An untrained voice often cracks at "the land of the free".
A problem with national anthems in general is that they originate when a country is new and, as the country gets older, it outgrows it. "The rockets red glare" nowadays conjure up an image of a celebration with fireworks --which are usually white, not red. Hardly anyone knows what a "rampart" is. I suspect that some kids think that we are the land of the FEE; and they may be right.
Anthems are often war songs. The French national anthem with its "the day of glory has come" is hardly appropriate today, although it has a good tune with a good beat.
The Soviet anthem starts with "Arise you prisoners of starvation; arise you wretched of the earth." It's now an anthem without a country. Maybe the lyrics are more appropriate now than they used to be.
I think that anthems are just glorified college fight songs. Not many people take college fight songs seriously. Who could choke up over "High above Cayuga's waters" or "Fight, fight for old Notre Dame," or "That Mangy Golden Bear"? I suppose that some people choke up over them, like some choke up when Tony Bennett sings "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Some people can get sentimental over artichokes.
The Australians have a national anthem, but no one sings it. When the Australian prime minister arrives, the band plays Waltzing Matilda, the unofficial national anthem of Australia. It's one of a kind and, I believe, is centuries ahead of its time. It's the only anthem that doesn't take itself seriously -no pomposity in Waltzing Matilda.
Our country had a similar song in Yankee Doodle. I would vote for it as our national anthem. The problem is that it might offend southerners, while Dixie would offend northerners. Those songs are both light and singable.
America the Beautiful has been suggested as a new anthem for our country. It's a nice song, but I find it a bit overly sentimental. Still, it beats the Star Spangled Banner.
I think that it's time that someone wrote a song that has the American character built into it. It should have a catchy tune like Waltzing Matilda, and a touch of humor. Martiality, pomposity and excessive sentimentality seems to me to be, well...un-American.
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