Monday, June 09, 2008

The National Anthem

I spend every night at Dodger Stadium hosting Dodger Talk on KABC radio. That means that every night I’m treated to a different version of the National Anthem. I think I speak for the hundreds of millions of Americans who attend sporting events each year when I say to the performers…

The National Anthem is not a five-minute blues number.

It is not a Mariah Carey overwrought teen power ballad complete with runs and riffs and “yeahs” inserted in the middle. Whitney did it. You will never top it. Don’t try.

The National Anthem is not a song that needs a “hook”. Or your own “personal signature”.

It is not a sultry torch song. Do not use it to impress the chicks. The Star Spangled Banner is not catnip for horny women.

It is not opera. If you need to wear a Viking helmet to get in the mood, rethink.

Nor is it the Grand Ole Opry. Does Yankee Stadium look like a barn dance to you?

Yo! The National Anthem is also not a hip-hop jam. Do not sample “Happy Together” in the middle of it. Do not shout out “Clap your hands, y’all!” when you’re near the end.

It is not meant to be whistled, beat boxed, played on spoons, washboards, ukuleles, kazoos, or sung in Klingon.

The Rat Pack is dead. So should be all versions of the Star Spangled Banner that swing. Francis Scott Key did not envision finger popping and nowhere is the word “kookoo” in the lyrics.

And speaking of the lyrics – LEARN THEM. It’s “perilous fight” not “perilous night”, not “perilous flight”, not “perilous twilights bursting in air”.

The song has an actual melody. Just come close to it…even occasionally. That’s all I ask.

And finally, stop Stop STOP STOP trying to hold the last few notes forever. You’re not stirring. You’re a car alarm that won’t turn off.

The National Anthem is arguably one of the hardest songs to perform. But done well it’s also one of the most powerful. Just sing the friggin’ song.

And let us get on to “play ball!”.


Anonymous said...

The best "Star-Spangled Banner" that swings is, of course, the SCTV sign-off by Rick Moranis as Mel Torme - unfortunately not on YouTube anymore.

James said...

Damn. Way to crush my dreams of doing a 94 minute free-form jazz solo, when its my turn to sing the national anthem for the Angels. :(

You ruined my day.

Anonymous said...

There is a non-YouTube version of the Moranis/Torme after all - check the first entry after searching the three words moranis torme banner. Makes me laugh every time, although I think there's a version with no laugh track as well...

Also (although I haven't heard it in many years) there is a funny bit on anthem-singing on one of the first two Robert Klein LPs from the early 1970s.

Anonymous said...

Tears streamed from my eyes and laughter burst forth... as did from all the others in the room I passionately read this blog to.

Thoroughly enjoyed by all the Canadians, eh.

Anonymous said...

"It is not meant to be whistled, beat boxed, played on spoons, washboards, ukuleles, kazoos, or sung in Klingon."

How do you feel about a virtuoso performance on distorted electric guitar? :)

Alicia said...

So Ken... bad night for the National Anthem eh?

Anonymous said...

I'm really sick of hearing it before every game, regardless of how it's performed.

That said, it's is an order of magnitude more powerful when sung exactly as it was written. It's really amazing to hear the "correct" rendition of the anthem when performed by someone who understands its purpose, as opposed to some 10yr old kid thrown out there by the home team to be cute.

I still prefer America the Beautiful, but that might be because it's not performed as often.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

I have a formatting question. I'm writing my first sitcom, and I see that I'm supposed to include names in parentheses after each scene heading (Final Draft labels this element as 'cast list.') However, I've looked at a few pilot scripts, and they do not seem to be used consistently. When do I use them? Do I need them for every scene?

Also, my first scene contains every character in the show---will it look weird if my cast list contains 8 names and even extends to the second line? Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Then there's the classic Albert Brooks routine in which a number of less-than-talented performers trot out their entries for a new national anthem. The lounge singer entry is particularly good.

Eric said...

Isaac Asimov, of all people, wrote a very nice essay called All Four Stanzas that steps through the background of the Star Spangled Banner, and give the reader a deeper appreciation of it's meaning.

A long as I'm throwing around links, I might as well give one to the lyrics for The Anacreontic Song, which so graciously provided the melody for our national anthem.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Semi OT:

One of the best episodes of "Wings" was the one where Roy faints in the middle of singing the National Anthem at Fenway Park out of fear he can't hit the high notes at the finish (yea, it would be more on-topic for this blog if Ken and David had written the episode, but lists Steven Levitan as the story's author).

TCinLA said...

It's too bad the godawful "Star Spangled Banner," memorial of America The Stupid in our first idiotic war of choice - the war of 1812 where we got our head handed to us after the warhawks told us we could steal Canada after failing to do so 37 years earlier - managed to be accidentally chosen as "America's anthem" at the 1896 Olympics.

If we wanted a real national anthem, a song that actually speaks to values worth fighting and dying for - and more importantly living and working for - we'd have chosen the song that lost by 3 votes in Congress: "America The Beautiful."

Every halfwit dickwad who's ever sung the worthless Star Spangled Banner off-key and out of range (which is the only way an unsingable song can be sung) has never come close to the power and beauty and joy of Ray Charles singing "America The Beautiful."

I haven't stood and saluted when I have heard this imperial ditty to greed, stupidity, and idiocy since i came back from that worthless war that was unworthy of one name on a wall 40 years ago. And I never will.

TCinLA said...

Not to disagree too strongly with my favorite s-f writer, Isaac Asimov, who gave me the best compliment I ever received as a writer at the SFWA convention dinner where I got in the Professional Magician's Guild for having written what the sciffy channel now calls "A Science-Fiction classic," but the war of 1812 was only fought about "freedom of the seas" if you're dumb enough to believe most of the mythology of American history, about how we brought divilization to the poor people living here when we got here, and how it was out of the goodness of our hears that we finally gave all those black people their freedom, and all the rest of the baloney.

The War of 1812 was fought because Henry Clay and the rest of the western "war hawks" needed to get re-elected, so they proclaimed that Canada was a "natural part" of the country. The only battle the United States won, outside of a few meaningless fights that changed nothing involving a few boats, was the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought a month after the war had been declared over (to the relief of the incompetent moron Madison who had gone along with the warhawks, and got his house burned down by the British as a result, since it meant that New England wouldn't secede from the southern idiots running the country) a month earlier. We were lucky the British didn't take that as a reason to come in and completely whip our ass, but they'd just fought Napoleon for 22 years and were understandably tired.

The Star Spangled Banner represents the kind of mentality that cheered on the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee and the genocide of Filipinos in our first Vietnam (a war that resulted in Mark Twain writing "The War Prayer," a bit of writing you all ought to read nowadays with Georgie's invasion of Poland as our latest imperial glory).

Ike Asimov was a great guy and I was proud as hell to have a writer who influenced me to become a writer tell me I'd done pretty good with that little movie, but every smart person's stupid somewhere, and the Star Spangled Banner is it for him.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Ken! As someone who attends a fair bit of professional sporting events, there's nothing like a National Anthem done simply and well. I hate it when people try to drag and out hold notes that never were and should not be "glory notes." Car alarm indeed.

Marcus Bachan said...

and besides, none of them will surpass jimmy hendrix. (horse, i'm feeling you) (not in that way)

little known fact: the TUNE of the song is actually an old, (VERY old) song done by an underground society dedicated to bacchus.

weird thing, for such a nation of puritans.

Anonymous said...

So I'm guessing a homage to Leslie Neilsen's performance of said anthem in Naked Gun is out too?

Anonymous said...

According to Bill Bryson, the reason the "bombs bursting in air" was because they had to try and time the fuses by length, to hopefully detonate just when they hit the target, but it was hard to do to time it just right, so many bombs just "burst in air".

I agree completely about the "jazzing it up" being bad. Gilding the lilly. That said, watching the European cup finals...SO many nations have little dittys, last night Italy..I always get cheered by that one...sounds like a mini-opera, bouncy, uplifting.
I wish our own weren't quite so war-based, given our own addiction to war.

Anonymous said...

gottacook...thanks. I always said SCTV was funnier than SNL, and there's another example of why.

Here's the best one I've ever heard. Still gives me goosebumps. (And makes Whitney Houston's sound like she's passing a kidney stone)

Anonymous said...

If you want a real laugh at a horrible rendition of the star spangled banner, go to youtube and check out Hillary Clinton's version.

Better yet, check out William Hung's version of Take Me Out To The Ball Game where he sings about "penis and cracker jacks"

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

You'd better be prepared, Ken...if Rachael Ray's scarf can make Michelle Malkin go apeshit, THIS is going to make ping pong balls shoot out of every one of her Filipino orifices.

Anonymous said...

As someone who made their living attending sporting events, I was subjected to my share of the national anthem.

And hated every beat.

In college, I wrote a paper about why we play the national anthem. During World War I, baseball owners refused to shut down their league. Fearing the unwashed masses would deem them unpatriotic, the owners agreed to play the national anthem before every baseball game.

If playing the national anthem before a professional activity is so important, then why not play it at 6 a.m. in every time zone?

If no one wants to stand at 6 a.m. everyday to hear the national anthem, then have every business play the national anthem over the loud speaker.

Wow! I feel more patriotic just thinking about the national anthem. Go America! Yeah, Red, White, and Blue.

Anonymous said...

My pet peeve is "through the per-o-lous fight." It seems like the word "perilous" gets mispronounced about half the time.

Anonymous said...

"And speaking of the lyrics – LEARN THEM. It’s “perilous fight” not “perilous night”, not “perilous flight”, not “perilous twilights bursting in air”."

Also, learn the English language - it's "per-IH-lous" not "per-UH-liss".

Anonymous said...

I can still yell 'O' before an Orioles game, right?

Anonymous said...

I was one of the Red Sox fans at an Oriole game last September, and thought the "O" was pretty cool. And, man is that a great stadium.

Idol winner David Cook sing it tonight at the LA-Celtics game, so that should be fun.

Sunday, it was the basic anthem, since the Boston Pops played it. No glory notes there :)

Anonymous said...

and, to every comic genious who yells out "play ball" when the Anthem is done at non-sporting events... say, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, Please stop. No really... don't do it anymore. Really. Please.

Self horn blowing moment: I've sung the National Anthem for the Dodgers, the Angels (twice!) and the L-A Kings... unembellished, as written.. the way ya oughta.

Kevin Reiss said...

I was at a game in Oakland last week and they just played a record of the Marine Corps Band. So nice.

Anonymous said...

I’m almost convinced that this and that little campaign stunt by Gov. Meyner in NJ to get around the equal time provision are the reasons we no longer have an end to the broadcast day with signoff and flyovers. If you’re the first guy to do it, it’s a statement, even exhilarating – even when you don’t necessarily intend a statement. After that, unless phenomenally different, it’s showing off or just annoying.

I appreciated this take and learned so much in addition about 1812, Hank Clay, and the WWI genesis of the tradition. My only question is, do the Western War Hawks play for the National or American League? And why is that league nomenclature not redundant anyway?

BTW, I also regularly sing the national anthem for the Dodgers, Angels and Kings. Although only when watching from home. Really gotta get a life.

Su himnos es nuestra himnos.
Jose Feliciano

The Minstrel Boy said...

i was in the navy before i realized that the closing line was not "play ball."

amen. your keyboard to god's eyes ken.

Anonymous said...

How about the Khazakstan anthem to the tune of the Scar Strangled Banger as performed by Borat?

Complete with tumbling horse.


Your Humble Correspondent said...

I like the anthem, and look forward to hearing it at Wrigley tonight.

My favorite of the Albert Brooks singers (to the tune of the anthem):

"While we stand here wai-ting for the ballgame to start, let's give thanks for our homes, and our two car ga-rages.

Let's give thanks for tv..."

Anonymous said...

I'm behind sharonerosen 100% -- the last two words of The Star Spangled Banner" are not "play ball." If you're not about to play ball -- DO NOT SAY IT.

Anonymous said...

I've got to disagree, Ken.

Look, if (IF!!!!!) the Star Spangled Banner is a proud and moving anthem for our nation, carrying with it all of the freedom from tyranny, want, etc., then it should be about how we choose to present it. America is a land of so many cultures and beliefs and (ideally) they all coexist together, unified under the idea that I might hate everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Therefore, each person is expressing that freedom of choice and interpretation to show the value of that song and all that it represents. Right? Our creative freedom with the song can be linked to our liberties in this country.

If all of your shows had to be just like The Honeymooners, well, America would have missed out on a lot of laughs.

Anonymous said...

I was always fond of Ray Charles' version, myself.

And Jimi Hendrix seemed to his own niche.

The song is impossible to sing, so I don't blame people for getting creative. I forget who it was that said it was no accident that "land of the free" was so high, that most people wouldn't hit it.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks a million, tcinia, for straightening us out on the War of 1812. Where do I go to sign up for The Idiots Who Hate America Society? If I have to say "tcinia sent me" at the door when they open the little spy port? Should I keep my yap closed about British press gangs?

To quote Dan Akroyd: You ignorant slut.

Anonymous said...

Um, where to start. "Bombs bursting in air" refers to the fact that fuses were intentionally cut to explode the shells above the targets, thereby raining wicked bits of shrapnel (named for the British artillerist who invented the hollow shells and timed fuses, Captain Shrapnel) down on everyone below. It would be well nigh impossible to cut a fuse to explode at the exact moment of impact on the ground.

The Anthem, while tough to sing (I always start by finding my low note and going up two thirds to start) has some rewards for the performer and is easy to harmonize for those not gifted with range.

The Anthem actually shouldn't be used as a performance piece, which is a big part of the problem. It should be sung by all present, inasmuch as they can. I've sung along with anthems and gotten the glare from onlookers (onlisteners?), my unrepentant response being "It's OUR National Anthem, not his/hers. Are you an American or not?" I'm a VERY liberal person, but this is a moment at which we all should put politics, religion, national origin aside and sing OUR song together.

Last, it's musically inferior to America The Beautiful, of course, but has one major attribute to recommend it. In the commonly sung first verse, at least, there is no reference to God, eliminating that potentially divisive point.

Ray Randolph said...

While I loathe most unconventional versions of the National Anthem, I did enjoy Marvin Gaye's rendition at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Marvin Gaye's version was cool. And Jimi's. But still - I agree with Ken all the way. Of course Ken really drove this point home years ago when he had Bleeding Gums Murphy doing a 45 minute version (or something) on the Simpsons. Funny cuz its TRUE!

Unknown said...

ken, perhaps i am mis-reading your post, but you don't seem to like ANY version of the national anthem. i mean, we could just get a computer to sing it, right?

let's just analyze the game, ok? leave the music critique to rolling stone.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

It is not a sultry torch song. Do not use it to impress the chicks. The Star Spangled Banner is not catnip for horny women.

Damn! That explains a lot.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

burntbeans said, "ken, perhaps i am mis-reading your post, but you don't seem to like ANY version of the national anthem."

I think you are misreading his post. Either that or you missed this part:

"The National Anthem is arguably one of the hardest songs to perform. But done well it’s also one of the most powerful."

Anonymous said...

Since I never attend or watch sports events, it took me a minute to realize that the reason this issue wasn't pushing any buttons for me is that I haven't actually heard anyone sing The National Anthem (Apart from the news clips of Roseanne butchering it back whenever that tempest hit the teapot) since graduating high school 40 years ago this week.

If you're not a sports fan, you never hear it. That's the second good reason not to be a sports fans. Live theater never begins with The National Anthem. Nor do movies. Nor does LOST or DOCTOR WHO. Nor do books.

tcinla, hey, I gotta admire someone who will go to such lengths to provoke knee-jerk hatred from strangers over a war from 195 years ago. There aren't current wars you could be upset about? I'm not doubting any of your account, merely noting that all the people involved have been dead for over a century. Most of them never even had Internet access. Time to let that one go.

(And thanks to "Cap'n Bob" for providing a prime example of that knee-jerk response, actually calling someone "an ignorant slut" for being better informed about 200 year old American foreign policy than he is. How does finding America's long history of violent imperialism appalling make one a "Slut"? And how does being better informed than you make one "ignorant"?)

ajm said...

Gimme Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" before a Flyers Stanley Cup game any day of the week.

Cap'n Bob said...

Reread what I wrote, Dougie. I said "As Dan Akroyd said," which shows (to the aware) that I was using the phrase "You ignorant slut" faceciously.

Talk about jerking knees, people who automatically assume that everything that ever happened in American was the work of corrupt, greedy, ravenous politicians is buying into the leftist screed that sees a devil in every detail.

Anonymous said...

"people who automatically assume that everything that ever happened in American was the work of corrupt, greedy, ravenous politicians is"

...missing out on also blaming the greedy, corrupt, ravenous coporate execs who own the politicians, but are otherwise accurate.

Beware of people who use the term "Leftest Screed." - Burke's Law.

Ajmilner, the problem with GOD BLESS AMERICA, which musically is pleasanter than THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER, is the exact same problem "Ref" pointed out with AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL, only more so. That "God Bless" problem, which, when designated as Our National Anthem, automatically disenfranchises all of us who have brains enough not to fall for the God Myth. (It's tempting to call The God Myth a "Rightest Screed," but the popular superstition predates the right wing, let alone The Religious Right, aka The Religious Wrong, by millenia.)

Anonymous said...

And Cap, I had noticed you credited Dan's line, or I would have called you on it. That doesn't make your choice to use it any less of calling tcinla an "Ignorant Slut" for getting unpopular facts right.

The British Press Gangs were terrible, and constituted a good reason for England to have had a civil war, but what has it to do with us? That they sometimes helped themselves to our men while obducting their own is hardly grounds for going to war. Frankly, I never saw much difference between the British Press Gangs and the Draft we had that killed do many of my generation.

Anonymous said...

McEwan, thanks for the second. I've never understood this sudden post 9/11 fetish for singing God Bless America everywhere. Having a fight with a bunch of fanatics about whose imaginary sky friend is more powerful makes no sense to me at all.

Cap'n Bob said...

The British press gangs were stopping our ships on the high seas and taking our sailors, forcing them to be virtual slaves in the British Navy. I think we agree on that. In my opinion, that's grounds for war, although it wasn't the only grounds. Hard to imagie that the US, with a standing army of, what, 5000 or so, and a tiny navy took on the greatest superpower of the day just because a few greedy bastards wanted Canada.

I have a friend who's obsessed with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. A great wrong, to be sure, but he usues it as a cudgel for everything he finds wrong with society or the government. Your comment about the draft reminded me of that.

Anonymous said...

"Having a fight with a bunch of fanatics about whose imaginary sky friend is more powerful makes no sense to me at all."

You and me both ref, but 9-11 was clearly a big case of "My God can lick your God." People have been killing each other over imaginary deities since the dawn of civilization, and it's not stopping anytime soon. Of course the attacking and destruction of two huge American phallic symbols layered a sexual "Mine is bigger" element to it as well.

"he uses it as a cudgel for everything he finds wrong with society or the government. Your comment about the draft reminded me of that."

And you feel America should have Cudgel-Teflon? "My country, right or wrong"? I'm asking, not trying to put words in your mouth, but that seems the direction of the point-of-view you're espousing.

Grounds for war should not even exist until all diplomatic measures have failed. War is supposed to be a last resort, not the preferred option. The fact is, this country was founded on a stolen continent by way of European Imperialism, and we made that Imperialism our legacy and policy ever since.

Those cudgels have meaning because they are about the DEEP hypocrisy America wallows in, always announcing how we're all about democracy and freedom, while we grow ever more repressive and aggressive. The Founding Fathers who weren't slave owners still profited from the cheaper goods slavery produced. Tom Jefferson wrote that all men have inalienable rights, but he denied those rights to his own slaves, including the ones who were his own children. It was men who made slaves of their own children that so repelled Charles Dickens on his first visit to America, when he learned first-hand that the values we espouse are not the ones we practice. (Oh, Jefferson freed his slaves in his will, since once he was dead, they were no longer financially profitable to him. I have often heard this cited as a defense of Jefferson, when it proves he was aware of his gigantic hypocrisy.)

We never practice, nor truly believe in, the Freedoms we loudly SAY we are all about, and never have.

And we won't get better by supporting the party line and sticking our heads in the ground. Americans MUST be America's harshest critics, because only we can shrink that hypocrisy gap.

And we'll never accomplish that by electing Republicans.

Anonymous said...

TCinLA -

If you think this country is so awful, please leave. I'll help pack your bags.

Anonymous said...

Ah Mo,

Why note what's wrong and try to fix things, when you can trundle out the tired old right-wing standy-by "If you don't like it here, leave." inanity?

Some of us who were born here, myself, I'm a Son of the American Revolution on both sides, prefer trying to make us better, maybe even trying to make us reach to be what we always claim we are but aren't.

My country right or wrong? No. That's the sort of attitude Hitler exploited.

I prefer Right, country come along too.

And of course, you're telling her to leave for exercising her First Amendment Rights, ANOTHER example of American hypocrisy: you're in essence saying "How DARE you exercise the Freedoms I espouse but don't believe in?"

Roger Owen Green said...

Thanks all of you for your divergent thoughts, about asimov and the war of 1812 and baseball. I'm going to the last Hall of Fame game this Monday, and in addition to the SSB in the beginning, there's GBA before the 7th inning stretch. I find the latter song less tiresome musically, but more tiresome in that post-9/11 mentality someone brought up.