My take on the SSB

10 February, 2011
Rat Fink

Several people have asked me what I thought about Christina Aguilera’s interesting treatment of the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Here’s the lowdown, but before I get into it:

I see no problem with Christina having muffed a lyric. It happens to the best of singers. Experienced stage actors forget a line once in awhile, even after performing the same scene hundreds of times. Neuron misfire is not the issue here. OK, my take:

  1. It is a difficult song to sing. My own personal feelings aside (oh all right..I think “America, the Beautiful” should be our national anthem*), the tune is a set-up to any solo singer. I don’t know what John Stafford Smith was thinking when he wrote the melody 200+ years ago; he may have wanted to impress the members of the Anacreontic Society, a good-ol’-boy club of amateur musicians in London who gathered together regularly to talk about wine, women and song. And wine. *hic* Truth is, singing a song that spans an octave plus a perfect 5th is no easy feat, regardless of one’s sobriety level.
  2. Too many singers try to sexify it. It’s hideous. And while I’m proud to have been born and raised in the USA, totally missing the point on something like this is so, so American. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for putting a little extra style or personal stamp on the song when performing it, but anyone with marginal sense can listen to what happened last Sunday and think, “Yipes, she is trying way too hard.” The melody is lost, right along with the message. And Christina, please. Open your eyes once in awhile. It’s annoying, and truthfully, I refuse to believe you were that “caught up” in the intensely passionate and meaningful text. In fact, I’d be interested to know how many Americans could correctly paraphrase the first verse of the poem to begin with. Wagers?
  3. We don’t need a “dumbed down” national anthem, as some have suggested. Adopting a national song with a range inside an octave isn’t the answer. Rather, since we seem to be stuck with “The Star Spangled Banner,” the answer is that we need singers who take the song seriously enough to train on it before performing it. Ours is not the only complicated national anthem. Have you heard Italy’s? I had to learn it back in 1976 when I toured Europe with an American choir and orchestra. It was great fun — especially the middle section. Yee haw. However, you don’t hear Italian pop singers trying to pimp it out. It’s done (at least every time I’ve heard it) with authentic  — as opposed to hand-in-the-air, eyes-closed, tragic hipness — reverence and great pride.

* I like “America, the Beautiful” as a national anthem because it actually describes, well…how beautiful America is. What vistas could instill more pride in where we live than spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties? What prayer is more simple and fervent than the entreaty that God bless the country with His grace, and reward its good deeds with a spirit of national brotherhood? Granted, despite Francis Scott Key’s doubts on the matter (what other national anthem ends in a question?), Fort McHenry stood, and a large American flag was raised in victory. Three hundred-some British soldiers died in the battle, while only four were lost on the American side. Cool, yes? I suppose so. Still, the War of 1812 was steeped in greed on both sides — hardly a testament to ardent love of country. Rather, it was the love of other people’s countries (as in, “Hey, we want Canada; let’s go steal it!”) that largely characterized the conflict. Feh.

I’d rather our national song be about nice things. But that’s just me, wanting to feel all the good feelings. That would be unlike the feelings brought about by wind chills of -18. I like winter, but enough already.

FO

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Rae
Rae
10 February, 2011 7:39 am

“And while I’m proud to have been born and raised in the USA, totally missing the point on something like this is so, so American.” I’ve been waiting four days to hear you say that. And now that you have, let me add one point that you’ve already hinted upon — ‘two word phrases are not and never will be sexy’. I don’t care that she messed up the words! I would have rather just closed my eyes and listened to her but I was too distracted by the music and her Hallelujahs. I bet people would be shocked if… Read more »

Rae
Rae
10 February, 2011 7:41 am

“bat…”, right off the bat. I was stuck in Body Parts Mode.

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Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
10 February, 2011 12:20 pm

As a longtime member of the Anacreontic Society I can tell you I was very impressed.

I would probably be with you on America The Beautiful but I think The Star Spangled Banner sounds cooler. We’ve talked about it before haven’t we? Haha. I think my favorite version to hear is a fair to poor high school band rendition. It really sums everything up about America.

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BoomR
BoomR
10 February, 2011 2:30 pm

AMEN sister! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Actually I think people misunderstood the more important facet of my FB post. I’m with you – I could forgive a little trip-up on the lyrics. But when that trip-up is the result of you over-stylizing and “getting into it”, then you’ve totally lost the purpose of why you’re there. I think this is the best FB post on the subject that I’ve seen: “Maybe if she had sung the song and not created a nauseating series of overly dramatic melismata she might have remembered the words. Are there any musicians… Read more »

RD
RD
10 February, 2011 9:46 pm

I was completely turned off, not by her forgetting some lyrics, but by her presentation of the SSB. I’d go for “American the Beautiful” too, but I also like “God Bless America.” But that will never happen, given our current hyper PC culture.

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Ross
Ross
14 February, 2011 6:00 pm

Yo, been a while, trying to catch up. This is a brilliant post, one of the best on the subject I’ve seen (I think someone else wrote that too). A while back, Esquire’s web site did the top 5 versions of the National Anthem or something and on that list was Whitney of course, but also one from an NHL game that was being broadcast to troops in the Gulf, and as the man sang, the place is going crazy, waving flags and screaming and showing support. Both good versions, but for me the tops – and it can’t be… Read more »

Ross
Ross
15 February, 2011 2:17 pm

Sorry, they occasionally do ‘God Bless America’, not America the Beautiful.

Our minor league hockey team now allows groups to sing the anthem. Rent a suite, sing the anthem.

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