Even bigger than the story of how lame the Super Bowl halftime show was and how awful Fergie sounded singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is the whole Christina Aguilera national anthem snafu. It’s kind of amusing to me in reading some of the write-ups (and the ensuing comments) how polarized people are about it: “Cut her some slack! It’s a hard song! She is soooooooooo talented!” to “It is UNAMERICAN not to know the national anthem, and she should be kicked out.” We like to think in black and white here, you know.
Well, I do think it’s a difficult song for most voices, and if I were singing in front of a Super Bowl-sized audience, my nerves would definitely be running high. At the same time, she’s a pro and should be used to singing in front of a large crowd.
I’m not endorsing or condemning her performance (and I’m not particularly a fan of hers anyway…); however, the whole thing did bring to mind a few thoughts about the national anthem, the first of which is how it bugs me when people sing “for the ramparts” and “for the land of the free.” That just shows that they haven’t paid attention to what the words say or mean, and I think that if you’re going to perform, you should know what you’re singing about.
The second thought is that I learned all the words to all the verses of the national anthem in the third grade. My teacher, Mr. Earle, had been a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, so much of his curriculum centered around military and patriotic themes, including slides of his time in Vietnam. (Mr. Earle also inexplicably wore a grosgrain ribbon bow instead of a necktie every day, as well as shoes with pilgrim-esque buckles. But he could also kick a kickball ridiculously far, so for us it all kind of evened out.)
Anyway, one of my proudest moments in his class was when I got to stand in front of the class and recite all the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (We didn’t learn the verse that mentions hirelings and slaves.) While I didn’t fully understand at the time what all the words meant, I loved the feeling of saying the words, and I loved hearing the story behind it. I just imagined being in a really scary situation, not really knowing what would happen, and how good it must have felt to finally know that it would be ok (good enough to write a poem about it, obviously).
Here are the lyrics.
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 through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d 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,
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 through 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 in 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!
O thus be it ever when freemen 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 power 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.
I won’t go into a detailed explication, but there is so much in those lines that speaks to me about America. We always sing the first verse, in which the flag is visible throughout all the turmoil of the night, but it still ends with a question: Will it still be there in the morning when the sun rises and the smoke clears? That makes me wish we heard the second verse more often, because it answers the question with an enthusiastic yes.
I think a lot of people in America now feel like we’re in that turmoil of the night, for many different reasons. There is so much animosity, fear mongering, and name calling these days, and it seems like people either get caught up in it to the point where they demonize anyone who disagrees with them or they become so discouraged by all the BS that they figure that it’s pointless to even get involved.
And it’s hard to see the good stuff when all this is going on, but there are plenty of glimpses that “[give] proof through the night” that we are still here, still America. I can only hope that the dust will settle at some point, the dawn will break, and we’ll all remember that a person doesn’t have to have a certain political affiliation to be a patriot, that being patriotic doesn’t mean that you can shout the loudest about how right you are, and that you can disagree with your neighbors and still be friends.
I didn’t mean to get all soapboxy on this, and I know I’m going on a bit, and I’ve been sick for days so I’m not completely coherent… But I just figured I’d should take the opportunity to think of something positive about the national anthem instead of going on about how someone messed it up.