There’s nothing new about wanting to replace the national anthem. Since it achieved unofficial status as the country’s anthem in the early 19th century, people have been picking on “The Star-Spangled Banner” for a variety of reasons.
It’s too hard to sing, is one of the major complaints. Indeed, anyone who hears the latest pop star butchering the tune knows that it’s damn near impossible to sing. That’s because it was never meant to be sung at all. It was a poem, not a musical composition.
The music was written by English composer John Stafford Smith and Francis Scott Key’s poem was set to the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London. The tune was popular in the United States as a drinking song.
No matter. The stirring sentiments expressed in the poem and the thrilling imagery made it an instant hit even before 1820. Ever since then, people have been finding reasons to get rid of it.
So the latest effort by LA Times contributor Jody Rosen to agitate for the removal of the anthem and its replacement with Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” is significant only because of the times in which we live and desire of so many to give the mob so much.
“If the point of a national anthem is to provide a mnemonic, a reminder in music and words of the ideas and values that this place is supposed to stand for, you could do worse than ‘Lean on Me,’” Rosen wrote.
And you could do better by keeping the anthem that remains an excellent reminder of the “ideas and values” that the nation is supposed to stand for.
Rosen referred to a July 4 video produced by The Root that argued the “Star-Spangled Banner” is “one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon.” One of the central arguments in the video is that Francis Scott Key, who composed the anthem, was a slave owner.
“It’s pretty fair to say dude was a racist,” the video’s narrator said.
That’s a massive exaggeration. As for the most racist song in the American lexicon, hasn’t this guy ever heard of Stephen Foster? Sheesh.
The anthem is “charmless and difficult to sing,” Rosen wrote, arguing that it is a poorly composed song.
“A song with words few people understand, which fewer can sing, whose sound and spirit bear no relation to our catchy, witty, unpretentious homegrown musical forms,” Rosen said. “Is this really what we want to hear when we ‘rise to honor America’?”
There was talk in the 19th century of making “Yankee Doodle” the national anthem for just that reason. The proposal never got anywhere, nor did the push to make “Turkey in the Straw” a replacement anthem either.
There is something weighty and majestic about the images in Key’s poem that obviously touches something deep within those of us who allow such sentiments to thrive in our breasts. There is also tradition — and that matters too. All of our traditions are under attack and in danger of being tossed under the bus wholesale with little thought given to what we’re losing. That’s a crime against humanity and the mob’s wild, hysterical reactions to anything traditional in America — thoughtless, mindless barbarous, destruction — needs to end.
I have no doubt Keys, a slave owner, was racist. He was at least as racist as 95 percent of the rest of America who either believed slavery was OK, or a necessary evil, or perhaps a solution to a problem not of our ancestor’s making. One thing for sure, we’re not going to find any answers to questions from our past or present with people screaming in our faces that we’re racists and need to be canceled.
And that goes for our cherished traditions, including “The Star-Spangled Banner.”