Making the case for ‘America the Beautiful’
I’m sure you are as excited as I am to learn that Billy Joel will be singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl tomorrow. I’ve always liked Mr. Joel’s music. The aging rocker’s tunes always seem to invite you to sing along. I wish I could say the same about our national anthem. My suspicions run high over how this particular piece of music was chosen to be the national hymn … to be required singing at every sporting event and high school assembly ad infinitum. And ad nauseam. Not only are the lyrics limited to antiquated militaristic images but even those folk who find the words stirring are, by and large, musically incapable of singing them. And the guest performers always seem to struggle with the song … changing keys mid-stream, forgetting words and almost always failing to hit the “G” on “free.” Standing amidst patriotic singers in a stadium awaiting a kickoff or a first pitch is an often pitiful and painfully obvious example of our nation’s need for a new anthem. Surely it was politicians who deemed this well-intentioned but ill-chosen composition our national anthem. They were probably the same guys who voted for Warren G. Harding. Although there’d need to be a little lyrical tweaking, I propose the far more sing-able “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates … and not just because she wrote the words while in residence at Colorado College where one can easily imagine her looking west to a purple tinted Pike’s Peak under a spacious Colorado sky. The lyrics evoke so much more about our national identity than our current anthem. Yes, the references to God would probably have to go but anyone who sings …”O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America!”… can’t help but conjure up some heavenly images. And it isn’t just this familiar first verse that deserves our repetitive singing. Try intoning this one without the accompanying lump in the throat …”O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife.
Who more than self the country lovedAnd mercy more than life! America! America!”And every politician more concerned with getting re-elected than serving we electors should be required to memorize this verse…”O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears! America! America!”Surely this is a hymn that evokes a far more inclusive understanding of our national pride in the past and our collective hope for the future than lyrics about one lone Baltimore battle. See if, even after Mr. Joel’s certainly skilled rendition on Sunday, you don’t agree that the time for change has come. This is an oft-repeated pipe dream of mine, I know, but all political movements have to start somewhere so why not in Summit County, Colorado? Of course, sometimes it is better to leave our traditions well enough alone. A recent report from National Public Radio told of a showdown looming in the Nebraska state legislature over the Cornhusker State’s anthem. State Senator Carroll Burling has introduced a bill to change the official state song from “Beautiful Nebraska,” an anthem adopted in 1967, to “I Love Nebraska,” a country song written by a TV anchor woman from Hastings. I’ve listened to portions of both tunes and am convinced that the countrified challenger is no match for the very sing-able old standard. Besides, imagine thousands of red bedecked Cornhuskers imitating Waylon Jennings before the next CU/NU football game. I’d even take our star-spangled screeching over that!Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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