Since the entire country seems to be undertaking a retro-sixties movement along with a rash of statue-felling, it only seemed natural that our current national anthem would come up as a topic of discussion.
On Thursday, June 25, the Daily Mail in England ran a story with this headline: “Activists say Star-Spangled Banner shouldn’t be national anthem.”
The story goes into the relationship between slavery and the tune currently employed. Certainly, the anthem has already caused conflict in recent memory, starting with the 1968 Olympic track stars and moving up to the National Football League’s last five years.
The story goes on to examine the life of Francis Scott Key as well as the multiple interpretations of some of its more questionable lyrics.
In the story’s opening, one person interviewed proposed using John Lennon’s “Imagine” as the replacement.
Since the idea of replacing the United States anthem has come up, I am more than open to the debate, which also gives me the opportunity to walk through my own position on this subject. I’ve long been in favor getting rid of the current selection for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that it is so hard to sing.
Most any singer can attest to its sudden key change in the middle that causes anyone trying to sing the thing as being confronted with an almost painful task. The problem there might be its melody of origin. Key used a British drinking song, which means you almost need to be drunk to sing the damned thing.
Besides, do we really want to use a British number to honor the nation that began by breaking away from England in the first place? Hardly seems fitting. By the way, this also sort of knocks “Imagine” out of the running since Lennon came from the UK.
Besides its running time is over three minutes, far too long unless we make cuts.
Another major point of contention against “The Star Spangled Banner” is that, because it was written quite literally in the heat of battle, the song is bellicose and aggressive. One could counter that the United States of America was born out of war and has a long history of them. However, a close look at history reveals that most currently-existing nations follow a similar pattern.
A local soccer team in Oklahoma has opted to replace it with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which isn’t a bad choice. It’s written by an American, is easy to sing, and certainly celebrates an egalitarian aspect of the country’s founding premise.
For years, Ray Charles pushed “America the Beautiful” as a national anthem. That’s another fine choice for many reasons. Like Guthrie’s song, it doesn’t smack of militarism and celebrates the environmental diversity of the country. It also has the added aspect of having been written by both a man and a woman, which helps foster gender equality.
And who can argue with Ray Charles? However, as with “Imagine,” there is still a problem of timing. Guthrie’s song runs over four minutes while “America the Beautiful” tops three and a half minutes.
Here’s an alternative not often raised: Americans should consider using Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
First of all, it was written by an American composer who celebrated the American landscape in his work. It’s a really great melody that resonates with grand pageantry without sounding like a march. Then there is the title itself. What could be more celebratory of our founding principles than a “fanfare” for the “common” citizens?
Finally, no one has to sing. After all, the United States was meant to be a new type of nation, so why do we have to have a national anthem that has lyrics like everyone else?
To prove my point, take a listen. . .
I rest my case.