Monday, March 14, 2005

Oh Say Can You...What?

I was planning about writing something profound tonight. Then, I came across this story about the national anthem. The gist of the story is that most people don't know the lyrics to the national anthem. Shocking, because, I mean, when have we ever let ignorance get in the way of patriotism. And, yet, we raged with indignation when Rosanne Barr fucked it up a few years ago at a Padres game. They just didn't get that when she spit and grabbed her crotch at the end, that she wasn't being originial. She was paying tribute to Francis Scott Key, who did the same thing when he first recited the piece at a poerty slam in Annapolis in 1812.

But, the truth is that not many of us know the lyrics to the national anthem. The chances are that you know the "O say can you see" part. And, if you went to a college whose name or mascot might match up with a lyric, you might know one or more other lyrics. I went to the University of Virginia as an undergrad, and the students affectionately referred to their team as the "Wahoos." A Wahoo is a fish that can supposedly drink twice its weight in...stuff. Fish probably don't drink. It was a silly way of saying, we're drunks and we're proud of that fact because we had little else. Anyway, at the part where the word "Whose" came up, the drunk Wahoos would yell in unison, "Hoooooos!" Mr. Jefferson, the University's founder, would have been most proud.

Maybe the difficulty in memorizing the song comes from the fact that while the beat is catchy, the lyrics are complex and arcane. And they don't rhyme. Let's be real, Francis Scott Key was something of a 19th century beatnik, writing obscure, emotional lyrics that seem more at home when scored by experimental jazz than a populist reaffirmation of national pride.

The lyrics should probably be taught to allow Americans to properly learn the anthem, but that does not mean that they should be blamed for not getting it instantaneously. The lyrics are not intuitive. They reflect the pride Key felt as he reflected on the American flag surviving after an attack on Fort McHenry. Kind of a cool concept. The flag surviving, basically intact. Although, I doubt the British were targeting the flag. It would have probably been silly if they had been targetting something other than the fort itself. I doubt some British admiral was saying, "What do you mean you missed the flag?"


Blogger Samantha said...

This reminds me of this comedian I saw, Eddie Izzard. He did a great skit on America's national anthem.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Joseph K said...

Hey Sammy. Izzard is awesome.

Another point about the song worth considering: The song appears to be directed at someone ("Oh say can you see..."). Was he really directing this at someone, or is the poem the paranoid, mad ravings of a shellshocked man having survived a hellish night?

4:29 PM  
Blogger K Jones said...

Joseph K,
This surprises absolutely no one. I mean consider that during the 7th inning stretch of every single Cubs game and nearly every other baseball game played, a bunch of semi-literate jokers struggle through "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and you will see the problem here in the States. I totally love Ozzy, but he struggled with the line "One, two, three strikes you're out". At least, in Atlanta, they get the last word of the anthem right on occasion. It is "Braves", right?

1:35 PM  
Blogger Joseph K said...

True, our pride is more in the symbolism of these songs, not necessarily about competently singing them.

8:22 PM  

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