O! say can "The Star-Spangled Banner" be saved?

On Christina Aguilera messing up the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner”, Alexandra Petri says the real fault lies not with the singer, but the song. She makes note of numerous “flaws” in the song, but the one with which I must take issue is this:

“Not only is this [the lyrics] terrible, dated, and irrevocably attached to an oddly specific incident that Francis Scott Key suffered through during the War of 1812 — it is a question. As a nation, whenever we sing this anthem, we are asking whoever is listening if our flag is still waving. “We saw it last night when there was a lot of artillery fire,” we are saying, ‘but hey, is it still up there? Could you check?'”

I must protest! I think this is rather clever. Whether or not Key intended it I don’t know, but it works as a metaphor. As opposed to being a jingoistic hymn to national excellence, the anthem compels us to check the state of the flag–i.e. pause for reflection on the country, and think about its current state. To think, in other words. At least, that’s how I interpret it.

Having said that, I will admit that the syntax of the song is quite confusing, especially in the middle. I know nothing about music, so I can’t comment on that aspect of it.

I will also say that I personally believe the anthem generally sounds better sung by men than by women. (I hope that doesn’t seem sexist, and yes an exception must be made for Whitney Houston) Perhaps because it was originally a drinking song it was composed with men in mind. Like I said, I don’t know anything about music, I just know what I personally like.

Finally, I can’t help but quote the song from W.S. Gilbert’s His Excellency, concerning a King who is tormented by his country’s awful national anthem:

“Though its words but imperfectly rhyme, 
And the Devil himself couldn’t scan them, 
With composure polite 
He endures day and night 
That illiterate National Anthem!” 

3 Comments

  1. What a lame excuse. Maybe she was nervous, but don't blame the wording.Hmm… yes, men do sing it better, when they are not shouting it out.I hate that more than the flubbed words. It's like they're gonna bust a vein. Ick.I assume you like Gilbert and Sullivan.Just a guess. : )

  2. When your drunk and singing who cares if you hit the notes or get the words right?We're stuck with the lyrics and the tune because of tradition. I hate it when whoever is singing it tries to drag it out forever and yodels. That's why Whitney Houston's rendition was so popular, she sang it as written without embellishment.Robert Goulett flubbed the words once and never lived it down.

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