In Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, "humorist" and former Style section editor Gene Weingarten lamented how bad our national anthem is: the headline is "What so proudly we failed." Many singers dislike the way the melody travels, but Weingarten seems to hate the whole idea of patriotic songs. He concluded by expressing how he liked the lilt of France's national anthem "The Marseillaise" in elegant French, but it talks of someone arriving to "cut the throats of your sons and consorts" and seems to demand blood be spilled in revenge. He promised:
So, for the moment, I'll stick with our stupid ramparts. And by "for the moment," I mean "until next week," when, in this here space, as a service for generations to come, I'll rewrite our anthem.
Many people who love our anthem as they've experienced it at every military funeral, or every fireworks celebration on July 4, or every baseball game or Olympic gold won't be desperately eager for Weingarten's snarky rewrite.
Weingarten began the column:
I've lately been listening to dozens of foreign national anthems to try to understand why ours is so bad. I now know ours could be a lot worse.
I began this hideous chore after watching the Super Bowl, where Christina Aguilera performed an electrifying, throaty, sultry, unforgettable butchery of the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner." After eliminating the ramparts entirely, she sang - and I quote verbatim - "... what so proudly we watched at the twilight's last reaming ..."
Because our anthem is famously difficult, many people gave Christina a pass. I do not. If you pay someone, say, $250,000 to build a house, it is reasonable to expect that the toilets will not empty into the dining room. If you pay someone, say, $250,000 to sing 81 words, it is likewise reasonable to expect her to assemble them in reasonably good order.
Still, even when sung correctly, our anthem is a mess: 15 dangling clauses that seem more or less mix-and-match interchangeable (Oh, say! can you see/through the perilous fight/o'er the land of the free/by the dawn's early light ... ), all of it amounting to a single, convoluted question that is then ... not answered. The printed lyrics actually end in a question mark.
Does the flag still wave? As yet undetermined! The answer doesn't arrive until the second stanza, which no one knows because it is mostly sung in creepy, hyper-patriotic gatherings of, say, ladies who are direct descendants of Cotton Mather, or during secret Masonic initiation rites involving men wearing aprons.
(FYI: Yes, it still waves.)
The tune and the lyrics are so out of sync that the singer is forced to comically elasticize words: "Oh, say! does tha-hat star-spangled ba-ner-er ye-het way-hayve ..
That's the Washington Post for you: frightened by "creepy hyper-patriots" of a Puritan stripe. The only thing that limited Weingarten's loathing for the national anthem was listening to all the other ones.
Weingarten wrote a few years back about how ridiculous the state song of Maryland was.