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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Banner’ due for retirement

    It’s time to retire “”The Star-Spangled Banner.””

    That suggestion might sound vaguely treasonous to anyone who’s ever seen a stadium crowd roar its approval to the old standard’s famous final lines. But our national anthem no longer does what it was presumably meant to do: inspire citizens and instill civic pride. Instead, it bores us stiff.

    It’s not that “”The Star-Spangled Banner”” is a bad song. When played by a good brass band, it has a calm, deliberative power, and its full lyrics -ÿwhich include memorably anti-British lines like “”Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution”” -ÿeven have some value as poetry.

    Part of the problem is that we only sing the first verse, in which the poet forlornly wonders whether the American flag is still fluttering over Fort McHenry, or whether the city has been seized by the British. Most modern performances stop there, which renders the content absurdly inappropriate to the bombastic nature of the usual performance. What kind of national anthem ends on a note of harrowing fear and uncertainty?

    The song, which stretches across an octave and a half, is also notoriously difficult to sing. Modern singers deal with that by hanging on to every syllable for dear life, turning John Stafford Smith’s spirited drinking song -ÿdesigned for rowdy, cheerful sing-a-longs – into a grotesquely melodramatic dirge. Live performances of the song are almost invariably embarrassing and often downright unbearable.

    We shouldn’t stop playing “”The Star-Spangled Banner,”” of course; it should have its place in our patriotic repertoire, just like “”Yankee Doodle.”” But its grave and stately theme is grossly unsuited to, say, a baseball game or a NASCAR race. It ought to be reserved for special occasions, and trotting it out on every occasion only underscores its inappropriateness.

    It’s also fairly obvious which patriotic song we should choose to replace it. “”Yankee Doodle”” is too frivolous, and “”The Battle Hymn of the Republic”” is too closely associated with a fratricidal war. “”God Bless America,”” which enjoyed a burst of renewed popularity after Sept. 11, is rousing enough but lacks gravity, coming off more like a showtune than an anthem. “”My County, ‘Tis of Thee”” is disqualified, since its tune is identical to that of the British national anthem.

    In short, there’s only one genuine candidate. “”America the Beautiful,”” which has a fine, stately melody and clear, eloquent words, would be a perfect national anthem. It has the majestic quality we associate with other countries’ national anthems, like Britain’s serene “”God Save the Queen”” or France’s powerful “”La Marseillaise.””

    In a quiet way, changing our national anthem to “”America the Beautiful”” might even have a revolutionary effect on us. It would tell us that the country means more than battles and flags. It means the land itself, the mountains and fields and shimmering horizons, all of which were here long before we were and will remain long after we’re gone. It means the spirit of “”brotherhood”” that unites us, on which the republic’s survival truly depends.

    What a refreshingly humble message that would be for a national anthem. As a bonus, instead of cringing at someone throttling the life out of the words “”land”” and “”free,”” we would bask in the glow of a simple, heartfelt song that’s nearly impossible to mess up.

    – Justyn Dillingham is the editor-in-chief of the Arizona Summer Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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