Southport Matters » Community » ‘OH SAY CAN YOU SEE, IT’S ALL ABOUT ME’ — NO, IT ISN’T


Performing National Anthem (Wayne Tryhuk, Indy Star) 8JAN11

Performers whose renditions of the national anthem fail to meet specific standards could be fined $25, under a bill introduced by state Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. But when it comes to many versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung before major sporting events by popular vocalists — in Indiana and throughout the country — no mere fine would be large enough: Their singing is plainly criminal.

They might as well start the anthem this way: “Oh say can you see, this song’s all about me?” Because in such pre-game exhibitions, the singers are plainly trying to score points for their entertainment images. They go well beyond simply adding personal notes to the song, emitting overly dramatized, excessively stylized warbles, groans, tremolos and worse. Almost invariably, they torture the word “free,” and consequently discerning listeners, in ways that surely violate the constitutional prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Such singers clearly think their performances deserve salutes far more fervent than any given that star-spangled banner itself. And they get them, in whoops and shouts of approval from many in the crowd. If the self-indulgent aspect of such singing were pointed out to these listeners, they would likely respond with a chorus of “So what?” That simply shows they aren’t in tune with a national anthem’s purpose: Rather than being a vehicle for entertainers’ personal promotion, it ought to be a conveyance of national pride and respect.

Of course, it may take some mental athletics to explain why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is performed before sporting events, anyway. Is there supposed to be some particular need, on such occasions, to remind people of their national identity? True, some fans may look like they don’t remember what planet, much less country, they’re from. Witness those at NFL games with their faces, and often beer bellies, painted in team colors. That the land of the red, white and blue is their home, however, is probably grasped even by them, without the anthem’s help.

If performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before athletic games is supposed to celebrate national identity, why not also have it played or sung before other popular forms of entertainment, like plays, concerts, dances? The idea may seem ridiculous. But is that because we want to link patriotism only to the kinds of teamwork that employ militaristic elements, as do our major sports? If that’s the case, we’ve dropped the ball in terms of promoting well-rounded citizenship. “The Star-Spangled Banner” can be an anthem of peace or war, left or right, this cause or that, depending upon how one wants to listen to it. That’s one of the things so proudly we hail about our country.

Free enterprise is, too. And now we’re getting down to business in understanding another major reason that the anthem, as performed before many sporting events, is presented as entertainment: the contests are shows, themselves, and those broadcast on TV and radio have tremendous potential for profit. To help maximize the profitability of such undertakings, the celebrity singers of “The Star-Spangled Banner” create complementary excitement by hitting perceived musical home runs.

But can’t the national anthem be patriotic even though it’s commercially entertaining? No, for much the same reason that it should not be part of a commercial. In raising a product’s value, “The Star-Spangled Banner” would be cheapened.

There’s also a cultural factor behind these anthem singers’ putting themselves ahead of the song: the increasingly selfish tone of American life, in which many people’s favorite note is “me.”

That the note would be so sung before a team competition may be ironic. Then again, it may harmonize with the conceited conduct of some athletes. At any rate, we endure too many self-celebratory solos in life.

Let’s remove the supposed stars from the pre-game singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Perhaps the performance could become a “by the people” activity, with fans in stadiums encouraged to sing along with live or recorded music. They might be led by a professional vocalist, but one willing to be subordinate to what the song itself voices.

I know. Plenty, if not most, of the people in the stands would refrain from lending their voices to the anthem: For one thing, it’s tough for many to sing. But everyone could at least listen to its respectful rendering. And however briefly, indirectly or unintentionally, some just might reflect on values of which we want our country to be a mirror.

What about those celebrity singers, who would be deprived of a little employment? They could work, in the time they gained, on toning down their egotism.

Tryhuk is a former newspaper editor and a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.

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  1. I propose an amendment to Senator Beckers proposed bill that requirew all performers to read this article before they sing the Anthem at poublic events. This should be all the additional regulation that is required. Better yet, don’t waste time on the bill at all. The senator should use her own money (or that of her constituency) to send a copy of Wayne’s commentary to every public facility in the state. OK, next item?

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