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What So Proudly ...

Sometimes you get the National Anthem you deserve.

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A few weeks ago, I was at a Grizzlies game, dreading my most loathed part of every sporting event in this country: the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner." I say "singing" because I can handle even the worst instrumental rendition of our anthem with dignity and aplomb, but even the best a cappella versions are generally wobbly and interminable and leave me wishing we could just all agree to listen to a recorded version of Whitney singing at Super Bowl XXV.

I appreciate the cobbled-together aspect of our anthem. It's a poem set to a drinking song from an English gentlemen's club. Learning that, I have to say, made me almost like our anthem. In the same way that enough single malt makes me like listening to "Scotland the Brave." What I don't appreciate is the bone-headedness of having a song that everyone in the country is expected to sing span almost two octaves. And who knows what a rampart is anyway? No one. That's why half the time the lyrics become something like, "What so proudly we hailed at the rampart's early light."

I also find something distinctly surreal about starting out a game of seven-foot millionaires running around in shorts chasing a ball with a song whose lyrics read in part, "Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution." Was the blood British? Was it slaves' blood? Moreover, I find the anthem to be too much like the War of 1812. It rather fizzles out, and no one can remember why it started in the first place.

“Giant, Plush Man-Ribs”
  • “Giant, Plush Man-Ribs”

It's not catchy like "O Canada" or stirring like "Gimn Rossijsko," nor does it have simple lyrics like "God Save the Queen." If you're a natural-born American, it's easy to take it for granted. If you're an immigrant, it's confusing. You just have to commit to it and plod through. In that way, I'd say it's the most American song we could possibly have.

There was something that night that particularly struck me about our anthem. As I sat there at halftime watching three human-sized, velour ribs race each other to the finish line of a foot race, and as the person next to me gleefully licked barbecue nacho sauce off his fingers, I realized the anthem is very Memphis. It's anachronistic. It's a little old-fashioned. When you try to gussy it up and modernize it, people make a stink. We built a Chick-fil-A inside a church, bringing a whole new spin on the second verse of the anthem, "What is that which the breeze/o'er the towering steep/As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?" Little did Key know one day that would apply to the chicken franchise flag flying o'er Union Avenue.

"Then conquer we must/when our cause is just" is the perfect rallying cry for the pro-annex caucus. "Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam/In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream" reminds me of the light hitting the Pyramid. "In God is our trust" is the prayer of every woman who has had to figure out where to go for birth control when funding for Planned Parenthood is cut yet again.

I see little difference in telling me that I'm going to be the one to sing the anthem at all Tigers games and telling me I'd be the one to come up with a plan for the Crosstown building. Both overwhelm me. The thing is that no one would deride me for not having the vision to repurpose Crosstown, but that I find the idea of starting a Little League game with the anthem ridiculous makes me an American-hating pinko. I'm okay with that, by the way. Anyone who wishes to measure my patriotism by my dislike of our anthem is really jumping the gun, because I haven't even told you how I feel about pledging allegiance to a flag.

I was impressed with the singer the night of the game. Her voice was as well suited to the song as any voice could be. She didn't force it or do that weird thing so many women do when we sing using our head voice when we need to be giving our diaphragm a workout. Her version was Memphis in spring.

There's no doubt I'd make a mess of the damn thing, so I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who would publicly put themselves through that torture. I feel the same way about running for a Shelby County school board seat or city council.

But for what it's worth, I think the giant, plush man-ribs should sing the anthem at Grizzlies home games.

Susan Wilson also writes for yeahandanotherthing.com and likethedew.com. She and her husband, Chuck, have lived here long enough to know that Midtown does not start at Highland.

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