If ever asked to choose between hearing it sung well, or on key, or loud, or long, or by a 12-year old prodigy, or by a famous actor or singer or Cuban or Canadian, straight forward, or with artistic license, and getting the words right; I choose the later.
Our National Anthem is the horrid adaptation to song, of the poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” by Francis Scott Key. I say horrid because, it is actually set to the tune of “The Anacreontic Song” – a popular British drinking song of the time. There is practically no measure – which makes sense for drunk people singing it, no harmonies, no rhythm, the tempo changes drastically – especially when [insert name of pop diva here] sings it, the melody is challenging – at best – for the average person to sing, and you can’t dance to it.
Still, even to this day, after attending thousands of baseball games and other sporting events, and hearing it butchered on television by many more over the years, whenever I hear it, I get goose bumps. Not because it’s a great song – no – because of the words, and what those words mean and represent. It is not just a song, but a call to patriotism. A call to every American to remember why we are, and what it truly means to be an American. Every time I hear it, it is a one and a half minute history lesson.
The poem is four stanzas, and though very rarely all four sung completely, our National Anthem is officially only the first.
Our National Anthem is – literally – a question; actually the same question asked twice in slightly different context. The first; can you see it? And the second; can you still see it? The flag, that is.
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
[In the first light of day, when the sun is just rising, can you see [it]?]
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
[We could see [it] yesterday, just as the sun was going down, in the last light of the day.]
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? [We saw a beautiful striped flag adorned with stars, flying above the walls of the fort. This is the end of the first question. Can you see it?]
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
[Through the dark night, the light of the fight gave us glimpses of it. Think of it like CNN today giving us minute by minute accounts of the fight. Imagine this is your only way of knowing if your side had fallen or not; every few minutes a bright blast of a bomb would illuminate the top of the fort and we could see what flag was flying. Imagine your excitement every time you could see it was still stripes and stars!]
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
[The true start of the second question; a question for all time. Replace the word “yet” with “still” if you need a more modern day version]
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
[Seems the only part of the song we think we understand. Interesting how someone belting-out and sustaining the first part of this line while singing it can produce such a passionate response from the crowd – boy how we love that. Interesting to also note how quickly and willingly we give up our freedoms to the government or suppress the freedoms of others when it suits our needs or beliefs, but I digress. The point to be taken here is that Key himself considered America – even though an infant as a sovereign nation – “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, and he was quite right. The question is, does the flag still fly, and are we still? That is the question you are being asked, every time you hear the song; so ask yourself. Can you still see it?]