You won’t find a maudlin, oversized “screaming eagle” or “crying eagle, 9/11 never forget” decal on the back of my Versa. My warm-weather wardrobe doesn’t include a matching shorts-and-tee Stars’n’Bars ensemble. I don’t explode into nationalistic diatribes at barbeques. Until recently, being an American wasn’t even something I was especially proud of. All of which is to say that I’m not an especially patriotic, as patriotism goes, but I still take the desecration of “The Star-Spangled Banner” pretty personally. And I don’t even know if it has anything to do with the subject matter of the song itself, really, the war-zone porn imagery/imaginary or the sacrifices of forbearers.
It’s more that watching sports on American television means having to see people who are allegedly superior singers massacring this song in front of millions of people who are supposed to overlook how badly it’s being sung because it’s The National Anthem. And since, inevitably, no one’s going to have the balls to point out to Faith Hill, Jordan Sparks, or some 15-year-old wunderkind who’s the pride of her church choir that there’s now reason that “The Star-Spangled Banner” should last five endless minutes and arrive full of insufferable freestyle flourishes, it’s time to explore some alternatives.
Why not invite marching bands, orchestras, and other instrumental ensembles to lend the anthem some ferocious pomp and circumstance? Massive, amplified horns and drums—when played by people who know what they’re doing—can imbue pretty much anything with majesty and weight, and sound amazing in the festive, communal setting of a stadium. They’re capable of creating a street-fair/party vibe. Inject some strings and gamelans—maybe a team of xylophone players—and suddenly everything’s so much more exciting and intense, so much more, well, New Orleans, and it gets us away from the spectacle of watching ballplayers and NASCAR drivers trying not to wince when Scotty McCreery’s microphone doesn’t work or he hits a string of notes so fucking hard that he’s a mile out of tune. (Vocal soloist losing the plot: a tragedy. A member or two of an instrumental ensemble: losing the rhythm or flubbing a chord: swagger, creative license.) Think of the good will NBA, NFL, MLB, and other sporting leagues could foster this way, all the visibility the exposure would provide for professional or aspiring musicians. This could be awesome.