National Anthems

Hockey on television again. Kings at Leafs in Toronto. Where do Canadians find these anthem singers? I admit I’ve never thought much of the Star Spangled Banner as a tune–hell, the original was a dirty drinking song, the land of the free and home of the brave was the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine. (I’ll let you wiki “myrtle of Venus”.) And back in school we learned all kinds of other perfectly good songs that could make much better national anthems, America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), America the Beautiful, that redistributionist anthem This Land Is Your Land, the Battle Hymn of the Republic which promised fire and brimstone for segregationists when I was in grade school but seemed awfully blood thirsty after the Tet Offensive. It was assumed that the goofy Star Spangled Banner would fall by the wayside, if only because it wasn’t singable except by a sober Irish tenor, itself a problem. Alas, Aretha Franklin showed people how to wail around those high notes, faking it, and all these people who will never be Aretha Franklin in a zillion years now fake it too. Up and down the scales like a roller coaster, land of the free-yee-yee-yee-YEE-yee….. In Canada, though, they don’t do the free-yee-yee-yee-YEE-yee thing. No, being Canadians, they find undrunk tenors who go at it with pseudo-operatic fervor like Gilbert and Sullivan at a Stampede talent show. You have never heard the Star Spangled Banner till you’ve heard it sung by a Canadian. Stiff, formal, unsqueaked. The crowd boos patriotically. It’s embarrassing. The only saving grace for Americans is that it’s followed by O Canada. You’d be hard pressed to find a lousier national anthem than O Canada. It’s like a Gregorian chant with most of the monks missing. A melody without the melodic parts. A national dirge. The tune was a contest winner, too. Seriously, they had a national anthem contest. (They had a flag contest too. Until then it was all Union Jack and God Save the Queen.) Apparently O Canada (which means “the Canada” in Portuguese) was the best any Canadian could come up with in 1967. All the musical talent in that country and they come up with this? It’s based on a melody from the Magic Flute, which is a step up from our own English drinking song, but somehow Mozart doesn’t come to mind while watching the guy in the Maple Leafs jersey belting it out in a reedy tenor. About half way through the audience joins in. “Beneath thy shining skies, may stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise”, and then roar “we stand on guard for thee!” Good lord. Drop the puck already.

They're listening to the freaking song.

They’re listening to the fucking song.

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