Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stickin' it to flag pin patriots: a really rockin' anthem

It was the seventh inning of a perfectly wonderful day at PNC Park to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play the San Diego Padres when it was again time to show the world what a great American I am.

Yes, it was time to sing our second anthem of the day, “God Bless America.” As is historic custom, me and more than 17,500 other strangers had already done our part to mumble through “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Now, and ever since 9/11, Major League Baseball has instructed every ballpark in America to hold an amplified performance of “God Bless America” after the away team bats in the seventh inning of every MLB Sunday game.

Of course, it’s all an effort to appease the flag pin patriots who are more comfortable showing off magnetic “Support the Troops” bumper stickers than seriously debating just how much we’ve all failed them over the past seven years.

Me, I might be the only guy in the entire stadium who actually sings both anthems with the same clarity and gusto that the rest of the ball fans reserve for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

That comes from my late father. He was a real patriot. He loved his country without reserve, but wasn’t a gaudy showoff about it. He’d belt out the national anthem so loudly and off-key that I was surprised Three Rivers Stadium officials didn’t offer him a job as one of those nerve-rattling beer vendors.

I’m always mystified that people don’t sing the national anthem. Many don’t even mumble it. They just sort of shift their weight from one foot to the other and awkwardly wait for the last line when we can all raise our $7 beers in patriotic salute to kickoffs and curveballs.

I think that’s because they don’t appreciate the song’s history. It’s a great story and was written in response to one of the first terrorist attacks in our nation’s history, the shelling of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry by British warships bent on extinguishing the 38-year-old American experiment.

Plus, I like to try and generate interest in the song by pointing out it’s the only national anthem in the world that ends with an unanswered question. Read carefully:

"Oh, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It’s a question history will eventually answer. But none of that seems to matter to the guys that sit around me at Pirate and Steeler games I frequently attend. I can’t get anyone fired up about any of the great patriotic songs and their origins that fascinate me.

For instance, “God Bless America” was written in 1938 by Irving Berlin, a professional songwriter who found inspiration primarily the same way clock-punching assembly line workers do: It was a job that paid the bills. He wrote “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and died an unloved recluse who’d spent his final years pestering his business manager by phone 10 times a day about the state of his finances.

The motives behind “America the Beautiful” from 1893 are less suspect. It was written by poet Katherine Lee Bates after she visited the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Bates was an ardent feminist who created a sensational scandal in her day by enjoying a deep 25-year “romantic friendship” with another female professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. The author of one of America’s most patriotic songs was an unabashed member of a constituency some of today’s flag pin patriots in Congress still shun 90 years after her death.

But no one cares when I bring any of this up. That’s why for the last six years I have argued that we need a new national anthem. One that perfectly captured that national mood under George W. Bush, one that was easy to sing, and one that really rocks.

Of course, the new national anthem should be, “We Will Rock You!” by the English band, Queen.

Can you imagine the competitive jolt our athletes would get if they were to play “We Will Rock You!” as they entered the Beijing arena the night of the Olympic opening ceremonies? Can you imagine the adrenaline rush it would give our brave warriors overseas as they prepared to go to battle?

Can you imagine how much fun I’ll have telling conservative flag pin patriots that this muscular, kick-ass song was made famous by an Indian-born English homosexual who died of AIDS in 1991?

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