Now hear this: “The Star Spangled Banner” is our national anthem.
It is not a funeral dirge.
It is not a torch song.
It is not some sort of experimental quasi-musical genre.
It stands for America, the land of the free, the home of the brave. You’ll find
those words in it. Each, incidentally, is a single syllable.
Is that too much to ask?
Okay, I am fighting a losing battle. It is not my first, and probably not my last. David Dunn-Rankin, president of the company to which Mary and I sold our four newspapers seven years ago, calls me the Patron Saint of Lost Causes.
I think he intends it as a compliment; at any rate, I accept it as such.
My mother was a musical purist, who would shout at a radio or TV set, “Sing it like it’s written!” when some self-styled avant-garde performer would put his or her bizarre imprimatur on an old classic. A lot of people didn’t know that about her.
If Mother had been listening to the rendition of our national anthem at the Kentucky Derby Saturday afternoon, she would have risen from the grave in which she was interred a quarter century ago and screamed, “Sing it like it’s written!” It would not have been pretty.
The vocalist who was selected to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” just before the run for the roses started off at a tempo to which a president’s coffin is drawn by horse-drawn caisson to Arlington National Cemetery.
I was so disgusted that by the time she got to “ ... the dawn’s early light” I went to the kitchen to get myself a mint julep. This proved to present an insurmountable problem, since I have never made a mint julep. I assume it is made of equal parts of julep and mint, neither of which we had.
My dear friend, the late Dick Pipes, knew his way around a mint julep like a pro.
My ears cringed at this rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung as if it were “Rock of Ages.”
I heard the vocalist make “there” into a six-syllable word. Yes, I counted them.
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there-ere-ere-ere-ere-ere.”
After that, she completely changed the tune. To what I am not sure.
No, my intent is not to trash this vocalist, whose name and credentials are unknown to me. She has many co-conspirators who believe that “The Star Spangled Banner” is a song to be butchered in a way that would not be tolerated with “Blue Suede Shoes” or “You Ain’t Nuthin’ but a Hound Dawg.”
Where are our values?
Minutes before the running of the derby at America’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the University of Kentucky band performed “My Old Kentucky Home” with a beauty that would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of Stephen Foster, who wrote it in 1852.
The rendition of the national anthem would have brought tears to the eyes of Francis Scott Key, but for a different reason.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Though he respects the wishes of families who decide otherwise, he has promised that if “Rock of Ages” is sung at his funeral, he will get up from the coffin and leave. He just is not into funeral dirges.)