Oh say can you see … a new anthem on the horizon
I keep thinking I need to cut out some of my magazine subscriptions, but whenever I’m ready to wield the axe, I find another interesting article that grants the periodical at least a temporary reprieve. Such was the case this past week when I received my latest Utne Reader. Utne, in case you are unaware, is a kind of Reader’s Digest for liberals, eco-freaks, New Age enthusiasts and at least one Lutheran pastor. This most recent issue included a fascinating account of the development of our national anthem which, I must confess, has always struck me as a particularly pitiful representation of the indefatigable and, somewhat paradoxically, iconoclastic American spirit. The anthem is un-singable for any but the highly skilled vocalist and downright dull for the rest of us. Few, I suspect, even know the gestation of the piece and even fewer can sing the final three verses. Although there are times when I am genuinely moved by its presentation, I suspect I might be just as stirred if a less musically challenging, more emotionally stimulating piece was performed in its place.
A quick visit to Coors Field or the Pepsi Center will convince the doubters among us that “The Star Spangled Banner” shouldn’t be sung by amateurs. According to the article in the Utne Reader, there has been a movement afoot to replace our national anthem with, what others far more musically attuned than I suggest, a musical piece more in keeping with our nation’s diverse heritage and, not insignificantly, musical ability.To that end, campaigns have begun to offer alternatives to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Leading the pack is “America the Beautiful,” an accessible melody accompanied by lyrics that should stir the hearts of all Coloradans coming as they did to poet Katherine Lee Bates, visiting lecturer at Colorado College, from atop Pike’s impressive peak. You might be ready to cast your vote for that perennial favorite, but before you do, consider these other possibilities.”God Bless America” is a favorite of many, but I always find it to be more than a little presumptuous in the theological department. A quick look at the Bible will reveal a very disturbing trend among those folk whom God did decide to bless. Money, power, entrepreneurial success is never in the cards for the Bible’s beatific beneficiaries.
Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” has a more balanced philosophy, at least from my perspective, but I find it difficult to imagine most of our political leaders being able to sing it with a straight face. “We Shall Overcome” is a powerful hymn that we occasionally sing in church, but I can’t imagine it becoming our national anthem. Too many Americans feel instantly and justifiably guilty when they hear it. We get a good taste of other nation’s tastes while watching the Olympic medal ceremonies. Some national anthems are even harder to sing than ours, but a few reach deep down into the soul and send us spiraling heavenward. I can understand, for instance, why all those Frenchmen marched off into the trenches of the Western Front when they had “La Marseillaise” urging them onward. On the other hand, I would think it would be exceedingly difficult to whistle Turkey’s minor-key anthem and keep the troops in lockstep.
Attendance at any sporting event in the U.S. might have one assuming that our collective choice would be the band Queen’s endlessly repeated “We Will Rock You” or the utterly insipid, and equally repetitive, tomahawk chop from Florida State University by way of the Atlanta Braves. As for me, in spite of an occasional twisted desire to intone “Louie, Louie” before the opening pitch, I’ll cast my vote for Ms. Bates’ paean to this nation’s panoramic breadth. I’ll admit my Colorado bias is showing, but her words describe more than geography and, besides, aren’t we all a little tired of bombs bursting in air? Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. Visit his website at http://www.christianagnostic.com.
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