In a world where social media gets taken over so easily by arguments and conspiracies, it’s nice to know that some of the old favorites survive.
Like say, complaining about the National Anthem.
Or, more precisely, complaining about how singers perform it in the Super Bowl.
You can usually set your watch by it. From the moment the two teams are announced, post after post will beg the opening act to PLEASE just sing the Anthem the way everyone learned it in grade school. No four-minute over-produced spectaculars, just remember the words, hit the notes, wave and walk off.
That’s what we say we want, anyway. But I sometimes wonder.
Oh, I’m not saying that it can’t be done or that it wouldn’t be great. We’re just a little over 30 years since Whitney Houston nailed a pitch-perfect version of the Star-Spangled Banner that’s still considered the standard. But the anthem is a pretty thankless piece for most singers to take on, and not just because it requires the vocal equivalent of an Olympic athlete.
With the anthem and other patriotic songs, everyone has a lifetime of expectations bound up in it. We’ve sung it (or tried), our neighbors have sung it (or tried), we know what it should sound like. So a singer has two options:
ONE: Play it safe. Hit the marks. Fulfill the expectations. And most likely be forgotten three minutes after you leave the field.
TWO: Take a chance on making the song your own in some way, big or small. It’s high-risk but potentially high-reward … how many people still adore Ray Charles’ decidedly non-standard “America the Beautiful?”
So even with the mockery of so many anthem attempts over the years, singers keep shooting for the stars. Even Whitney’s famous attempt had a few verbal acrobatics that I don’t remember from Northridge Elementary School; it’s just that with her, they worked.
The real issue isn’t the style. It’s the setup. If you put a star behind the mic, you shouldn’t be surprised when they try to shine.
But what if the Super Bowl didn’t put a star at midfield?
What if they didn’t put anyone out there at all?
A Kansas friend of mine made a simple suggestion: strike the spectacular. Just start the music and let the crowd belt it out by themselves. Stand up. Sing out. Sit down.
I don’t expect to see that any time soon. The Super Bowl insists on being BIG, with even the commercials drawing the level of scrutiny usually given to an Oscar winner. But it would make a nice change.
More: it would be a reminder of what the moment’s supposed to be.
In our ideals, this country isn’t supposed to be about one person, but about all of us. It’s not meant to be a solo, but a choir, different voices coming together to create something more beautiful and wonderful than anyone could make alone.
We’ve often fallen short of that ideal. Too often, in fact. But it’s still a dream worth reaching for.
No, crowdsourcing the National Anthem won’t miraculously solve all our problems, bridge the gaps and open the doors to the excluded. It’s a small gesture. But those matter, too. It’s the small habits that make the larger achievements possible, just like the daily exercise that builds a star athlete. Or a top singer, for that matter.
Besides: if enough of us have to take on that anthem, sooner or later, we’re bound to put it in a more singable key, right?
Like I said, a man can dream.