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ANTHEM ENDS ON BITTER NOTE

Over the years, we've seen some people just kill the national anthem, haven't we?

Robert Goulet famously butchered it before the 1965 Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston fight with this innovative opening: "O say, can you see, by the dawn's early night ..."

Roseanne Barr delivered that awful, screeching rendition before a San Diego Padres game in 1990, responding to the crowd's boos by graciously spitting and grabbing her crotch.

The thing is, you don't have to be famous to screw up the national anthem.

No, "The Star-Spangled Banner" serves as an equal-opportunity musical chainsaw.

The fat guy who screams it to kick off the VFW fund-raiser, the peppy woman who belts it out before the Fourth of July parade, the cute fifth-grader who warbles it on Music Appreciation Day -- all of them are capable, at any moment, of mangling the anthem so badly that it becomes barely recognizable.

Now this country's music teachers have launched something called the National Anthem Project, designed to get Americans psyched about the song again and get more of them singing it.

To which I would say: Are you music teachers crazy?

You want more people singing the national anthem?

Haven't you seen what people do to this song?

Let's face it, music teachers, there are only about three people in the entire country who can actually sing the anthem well.

But the teachers -- the National Association for Music Education, to be exact -- are all worked up because according to a recent Harris survey, almost two out of three Americans don't know all the words to the anthem.

Even more don't know exactly which song is our national anthem.

Or why and how it came to be written.

Anyway, if the music teachers are serious about breathing new life into the national anthem, they should require everyone who sings it to follow two ironclad rules.

Rule No. 1: Don't drag it out.

Don't, for instance, do what aging diva Diana Ross did at the Super Bowl some years ago, which was to turn the anthem into part of her Vegas revue.

The net effect of all this was that you could have finished a Senate confirmation hearing in less time than it took her to finish the anthem.

Look, James Taylor sang the anthem before Game 2 of the World Series last year in a snappy minute and 40 seconds -- and the crowd loved him.

Anything longer than that, the singer should get the hook.

Rule No. 2: Don't get too cute with it.

Singing the anthem before the 1999 Super Bowl -- what is it about the Super Bowl that makes veteran performers lose their minds? -- Cher ended the song this way: "And the home of the brave the brave the brave."

Yes, if you did the math, that was a total of three "the braves."

Then there was the effort of Steven Tyler, lead singer for Aerosmith, who was tapped to sing the anthem before the Indianapolis 500 in 2001.

Tyler was apparently so taken with his surroundings -- the roar of the car engines, the smell of burning tires and Pennzoil in the air -- that he ended his version of the anthem by singing: "And the home of the Indianapolis 500."

Right, a bit wordy, that ending. And a little off the script.

In any event, it did not go over well.

Veterans groups were outraged. Tyler quickly issued an apology. But the damage was done.

That's the thing about the anthem.

Someone always seems to be apologizing.

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