Baseball Toaster Aesthetics Blog
Defending the Star-Spangled Banner
2006-09-19 17:04
by Ken Arneson

Blender has come out with their list of 50 worst things to happen to music. #3 on their list is the Star-Spangled Banner:

Here's an idea: Let's have the theme song for the world's biggest and most diverse democracy be: 1) boring; 2) violently militaristic; and 3) next to impossible to sing.

Not only that, but it has a lousy beat, and you can't dance to it.

But, there's this: I love the fact that our National Anthem, unlike most other national songs, is not a statement about our homeland, but a question.

The question is basically this: Are we still here?

Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

I don't think you can do a better job of encapulating why America is great--why America wins--better than those two lines. These are the three pillars of a great nation:

  • Freedom: The freedom to think and act as one wishes is the very source of our ability to improve ourselves faster than any other nation on the planet.
  • Bravery: The willingness to defend that freedom
  • Questioning: Are we still free? Are we still on the right track? Do we need to change things? The willingness to be uncertain; the determination to acknowledge our flaws; and the courage to face up to and correct our mistakes--this is how a nation improves over time.

With all three traits, you get progress; take just one away, and you get stagnation or regression.

We can do worse than to remind ourselves that our nation is a question mark, not an exclamation point. Yes, the song has many faults, as does America itself. But our flawed packaging is redeemed by the small, solid piece of greatness wrapped within.

2006-09-19 21:54:38
1.   grandcosmo
Good post. The Star-Spangled Banner actually has four stanzas, of which only the first is usually sung. The question raised at the end of the first stanza, "Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?"
is definitively answered at the end of the next three stanzas.

Here is the complete song:

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

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust!"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

2006-09-20 07:04:01
2.   Jon Weisman
I also like to defend SBB. I like the idea of an anthem that challenges. And when done right, it can be really powerful, and more so than the commonly proposed alternatives.
2006-09-20 09:32:54
3.   Jon Weisman
2006-09-20 15:47:03
4.   chuie
Greatest version I ever heard was at the opera in September of 2001. I think more than crowds at sporting events, opera attendees tend to have good singing voices. (Then there's the fact that it was in a place designed with the acoustics high on the list.)
2006-09-21 14:44:34
5.   Linkmeister
At yesterday evening's Dodgers-Pirates game, Russell Martin's father, a jazz musician, played the anthem on sax. It was pretty well done, and there was no improvisation added. I wish the singers would just leave the original melody alone and not try to add harmonics to the final "free."
2006-09-21 15:41:34
6.   chuie
5 But how else are they going to be DISCOVERED?? The worst are the performers who draw out every note--maybe there should be a tempo requirement instituted.
2006-09-26 05:16:12
7.   richie allen

Juliana Hatfield's Star Spangled Banner. One for those who don't like their singing to be excessively booming.

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