The Star Spangled Banner Done Right

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I’ve never like the Star Spangled Banner. For one thing, it is a lie. The flag was still there, but the fort was utterly destroyed. It wasn’t “taken” by the British … they just bombed it all the way to Bolivia then sailed off. But it was a British Naval victory embodied in an American song as an American victory.

It is militaristic and bellicose. We celebrate bombs and war and fighting and death and destruction, and all that wrapped in fake news. Actual fake news.

Then there are those later verses. The American Revolution was fought, in part, to maintain the ongoing attempt to take all the Native American lands beyond the mountains, and to maintain slavery. The British were pro-Native, anti-Slavery, so the Patriots rose up and complained. Colonial Americans who expressed a more pro British view, which was also by default a more pro-Native and anti-slavery view, were brought into the town squares and tortured, sometimes killed. Their homes were destroyed and the books or pamphlets they wrote to support their views were burned unceremoniously.

When the War of 1812 happened, which was a land grab by the US, the British offered the slaves in the American South the opportunity to leave the US, and without condition be taken away by British boats. They were offered transport to wherever they wanted to go, and if they chose, to settle in new colonies in the Caribbean (the Merkins of Trinidad) or other British colonies (the “Black Refugees” of the War of 1812). They were also given the opportunity to fight the land grabbing Americans. Many did take up that offer. More tried but their attempts thwarted. Bad things happened to those who were caught.

In the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key notes that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” There is more than one way to take that, but it is generally considered at least an admonishment to slaves who would seek freedom with the British, if not an out and out death threat.

So, the Star Spangled Banner celebrates the same old thing that had been going on since before the end of the Revolution. Senseless bellicose jingoism in favor of human bondage. So, screw the Star Spangled Banner. I want nothing to do with it.

Then, on top of that, it sucks as a song and is hard to sing.

Well, everything is hard to sing for me, but I mean even for actual singers.

And, now we have this other thing. If you question the Star Spangled Banner, like Colin Kaepernick did, you may be subject to attacks by White Supremacists such as Donald Trump. And, if you perform it in a way that is not in line with tradition, you are despised for that.

(I quickly add, some performances of the SSB are just plain stupid, like the one by Rosanne, who herself is a big giant asshole. And, for those of you who don’t know, for years singers were famous for very often forgetting the words at major sports games, but that seems to have stopped.)

There are two versions of the SSB, however, that sound pretty darn good. Both are hated by all the usual haters, so that makes them extra good. I have them for you here.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock:

Fergie at the2018 NBA All-Star game:

Anybody who does not like at least one of these two is not a patriot and needs to hustle on back to Communist Russia where they were born, dammit!!!

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20 thoughts on “The Star Spangled Banner Done Right

  1. What about the performance by Jose Feliciano at Game 5 of the 1968 World Series? That should be included as a ‘great’ performance too.

    I didn’t see Fergie’s performance — I don’t watch basketball — but I have heard a good number of people who are butt-hurt over her performance, but they all said they prefer the “official” version of the way the song is to be performed. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe there is any such thing as an “official” version of the anthem — and if there were, that would be the perfect reason not to follow it.

  2. +1 on the Hendrix Woodstock version. As blistering a critique of American foreign policy as possible without any actual lyrics.

  3. The fact that it is hard to sing is what makes it tolerable, IMO. There’s always the possibility that the singer will be crushed by it.

  4. The British were not yet anti-slavery at the Revolution, though it ended formal recognition of slavery in the 12th century, and more specifically in 1772 with a court case. Wikipedia says this freed about 10,000 slaves. Offering haven for slaves in 1812 was just classic divide and conquer. Slave trade was banned by them in 1807 and general slavery in the British Empire waited until the 1830s.

    “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

    Deleted passage from Declaration of Independence, due to objections from some Southern states and Northern delegates involved in the slave trade. Maintaining slavery did not require Revolution.

    1. Thing we’re complicated, but the shift against slavery was under way and a factor. And we are mainly talking about the war if 1812.

  5. “Rosanne, who herself is a big giant asshole.”
    The telly actor from that show with Goodman also in it?
    What did she do that pissed ya off?
    Theres more to this than meets the eye, methinks. Your tone is unusually malicious.

    1. She’s dived into the usual right-wing bigotry against Muslims, is another conspiracy monger about everything being aligned against trump (rather like some here are), pushes the “6.7 million illegal immigrants voted” crap that the right loves to hear, repeats most of the lies the gateway pundit site pushes.

      Worse, even though she now labels anyone who is the least bit critical of Israel as a Nazi, in 2009 she did a photo shoot for something called “Heeb Magazine”. She dressed as a (from the story) “Nazi domestic goddess”, wore a Hitler mustache and swastika armband. Some of the pictures showed her pulling “burnt Jew cookies” from the oven.

      She and the publisher claimed it was satire, but the magazine’s editor noted that “she had a theory that she was the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler” and requested the photo shoot setting to make a statement. Later in 2009 she declared Israel was a “Nazi state”.

      She has since changed sides: in 2016 she said “(hrc) is surrounded by jew haters who make fun of the holocaust and jewish suffering yet her mkultra supporters call Trump a bigot”.

      There’s a lot more about her that marks her as currently a horrid person, but that’s enough for now.

      It should be said that her TV show was, originally, important: it showed again that a strong female character could anchor a show and be funny (much like Maude had a long time ago). Those times are long gone. Whether she has deteriorated in real life the way the Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond had in Sunset Boulevard or she simply feels comfortable being her real self I don’t know, but there is no good reason to view her with neutrality.

    2. “It should be said that her TV show was, originally, important: it showed again that a strong female character could anchor a show and be funny”

      And that a woman who’s not cover-girl beautiful could anchor a show and be funny …

      Sad to see her descend to such depths.

    3. Just about everything she does pisses people off, including just talking. Ken Levine at his blog has talked about how hard she is to work with, like Bill Cosby and Cybill Shepherd.

      Lately, some leftists are upset because she supported Trump and also changed her mind about Israel, and now opposed the BDS movement.

  6. “And that a woman who’s not cover-girl beautiful could anchor a show and be funny …”

    Again, like Bea Arthur on Maude.

    “Sad to see her descend to such depths.”

    True for anyone.

    1. Id be rather interested in reading an autobiography or diarist type book by someone that candidly writes about such changes in their life.
      For some time ive been interested in creeping normalicy on a more macro societal level, but to get a first person personal sorta introspective account
      would be great.
      If anyone knows of such a thing.
      Perhaps someone turning into a nazi.
      Or a climate scientist turning denialist.
      Or visa versa.
      Id like to understand the process how people rationalise change to themselves.

    2. “Lately, some leftists are upset because she supported Trump and also changed her mind about Israel, and now opposed the BDS movement.”

      You are as woefully informed on why she is not viewed well as you are on most other things.

  7. Informative article thanks Greg Laden.

    Had heard of the “Hireling and slave” verse bit before but not the part about the battle referenced in the song actually being a British victory.

    Tangentially of interest here, I like the Isaac Asimov (very) short story that talked about the destruction of a special (military) starship by a Black Hole that ended with the line that all they found was one star-mangled spanner! 😉

  8. Why have either an anthem or pledge? OH! Right! it publicly shows those that don’t participate, are DIFFERENT!!! Death to the traitors!!!!

    1. The anthem requirement arose when Olympic athletes in the early day of the Olympics were getting their medals, and a band played an appropriate song. The countries could pick their song. Some actually had anthems, some didn’t. But some of the ones that didn’t then did, including according to one recounting of events, the US. The band had prepared two songs, the SSB and another song, and at the last second somebody picked SSB.

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