“America The Beautiful”: A Beautiful Song, But Not Our National Anthem"
(Or Alternatively: “Standing In The Shadows Of Uber-Patriotism”)
Got a big surprise at the last Nats game I attended. This was a game between our suddenly-successful-second-place-Eastern-Division Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. The Mets lost but this is not the surprise. Nationals stadium is located along the Anacostia River in what used to be a concrete manufacturing plant-cum-stone-quarry and it’s within walking distance of my Capitol Hill house which makes it very attractive: don’t have to deal with traffic, parking or jammed METRO stations. However, we - my friend, Mary, who lives even closer to the stadium than I do – drove. Not sure why but then it was Mary’s show.
Before the game started we cruised the food vendors and I picked up a burger and fries – not bad, not great - but for $14 I was expecting a bit more. My partner had a shrimp “po boy” (‘not bad’ was his verdict too but also too damned expensive at $16 a pop) and Mary had a crab cake sandwich with sweet potato fries. Hers turned out to be the best tasting but the most expensive of the lot. Let me be clear, I’m glad we have more than hot dogs, greasy fries and beer at sports stadiums these days but it would be a good thing if you didn’t have to pawn your wedding band in order to get a marginally decent meal. But there ya go! Such are the fruits of free market capitalism I suppose.
Settling into our seats along the third base line about 6 or 7 rows up, I noticed that except for the nosebleed sections, the stadium was pretty packed. The Nats had pulled to within two games of first place Atlanta so it seemed like the entire city turned out. It was a hot Sunday – late July and 87 degrees at 11AM although knowing DC’s summer weather it could have been much worse. The sun was just breaching the roof opposite as we took our seats.
As the announcer called for us to stand for the National Anthem, I was reminded of my Cub and Boy Scouting days and the hundreds of times we stood, crossed our hearts and gave this difficult song our best – which, truth be told, was pretty bad. As I rose and glanced around I could see late 20-something Iraqi war veterans with service caps in hand, silver haired older men who’d served in Viet Nam or World War II standing at attention, young kids loosely erect and clandestinely elbowing one another and just regular folks like me standing for this patriotic ritual we all know so well. The impossibly high notes of the “rockets red glare/bombs bursting in air” measure finally passed and I made to sit down. It was then that the speakers launched into “America The Beautiful.” Hesitating for an instant, I noticed that all around me the veterans, the youngsters, the elderly men and women, all remained standing. “OK” I thought. “This is strange.” But I straightened back up and stood at attention. But then I noticed that no one had uncrossed their hearts or lowered their saluting right arms.
What was going on? At the age of five I was taught that you stood at attention with your hand over your heart when the National Anthem was played. But “America the Beautiful”? Sure, a nice song and a hell of a lot easier to sing than the “Star Spangled Banner.” But not, at least as far as I could recall (and yes, who knows, maybe in my early dotterage I’d forgotten something again!) our National Anthem. “Strange” I thought to myself. All this was very confusing. As a loyal, patriotic, ex-Eagle Scout American, do I stick to what I know in showing proper respect for our country, our flag and our National Anthem or do I join the crowd, cross my heart and fake it? I decided to salvage a morsel of my ego - I remained standing but did not cross my heart.
But, I wondered, what is this willy nilly, 360 degree, 24/7 patriotism thing? With the nation so divided now I thought that all of us, black, white, red, yellow, Christian, Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, agnostic, liberal, conservative, anarchist, - whatever - that we all could at least agree on our National Anthem. The questions that came to my mind were: Is it patriotic to honor something as a patriotic symbol when in fact it isn’t? And, as a result, doesn’t this actually do dishonor to the true, agreed upon, patriotic symbol? Or is this just my perverted way of thinking?
So there you have it. It seems that uber-patriotism is all the rage now even when it’s wrong. Oh sure, no harm done you say. True enough. Maybe. But if folks are free to choose additional national anthems (or, let’s say, salute songs other than our National Anthem as if “the other song” was our National Anthem) I have a problem with that. Who gets to choose? Was there some sort of nationwide referendum on this? A reality show I missed where contestants competed in song to add “America the Beautiful” as a second national anthem? Did Congress pass a law adding “America the Beautiful” to the list of patriotic songs one stood at attention/crossed-ones-heart/saluted for? This really wouldn’t surprise me all that much given that they keep changing the dates for daylight savings time seemingly at will to help the “farmers.”
I mean you can see my dilemma can’t you? And ask yourself this: When patriotism is measured as a quantity rather than a quality aren’t we somewhere down some slippery slope that ends somewhere in a place like that even the right wingers are not going to be happy about. Can you say pre-World War II Germany? Am I being “alarmist?” Hmmmmmm…….
As for me I’m partial to the song “Home” from the Broadway play “The Wiz”. “The Wiz” you might recall is the Black stage version of the Wizard of Oz. I have a friend who played Glenda the Good Witch of the West which is probably why I’m partial to the music. (She tells me that Stephanie Mills was not the most popular of divas.) Be that as it may, “Home” is probably easier to sing than the Star Spangled Banner, has a very strong positive universal message, (“When I think of home I think of a place where there’s love overflowing’) even has the word “God” in it several times (“If you’re listening God please don’t make it hard to know that we should believe the things that we see”). So I would like to nominate “Home” as one more alternative National Anthem. Is there a White House petition form for this? Does the Republican National Committee have one? Rush? Glenn?
NB: The last few bars of “Home”:
“Living here in this brand new world might be a fantasy, but it’s taught me to love, so it’s real, real, real for me.”
“And I know we must look inside our hearts to find a world full of love, like yours, like mine, like OZ.”
Additional National Anthem nominations anyone?