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O’ say, can we find a better national tune?

POSTED: July 3, 2011 12:30 a.m.

On the day before we celebrate our nation's 235th birthday, I thought I would take a moment for my biennial rant on the national anthem.

I love my country. But if our national song was being newly auditioned on "America's Got Talent," it would have gotten buzzed.

That might not be a good example, given that two of the judges are from the very country from which we declared our independence.

The tune of our anthem is from a song that was popular in taverns. The song, "Anacreon in Heaven," was about a Greek poet who lived until 485 B.C. His only surviving poems were about the goddess of love and the god of wine.

Obviously, the ancestor of Tom T. Hall, who wrote, "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine," did not live anywhere around those who were paying tribute to Anacreon.

In England, their anthem is "God Save the Queen," which we took and wrote our own "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

George Washington, who was a smart fellow, insisted that we not have a king in the United States. I'm glad of that.

I'm also glad that when we borrowed the tune to the British anthem, we didn't make it "God Save the President." Based on polls and recent elections, about half the people haven't cared for this or any of the preceding presidents. It wouldn't be a crowd pleaser of a song.

Most folks don't have a clue about the national anthem or Independence Day. While we don't do well in math or English, our citizens have a limited knowledge of history.

In order to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, you have to take a test on some important facts in U.S. history such as what we celebrate July 4, and other questions, such as what the stars on our flag mean.

There are people who have given answers (unfortunately on TV) that the Fourth of July was the day fireworks were first invented and that we were declaring our independence from France.

The national anthem was written during the attack on Baltimore harbor during the War of 1812. A poet, Francis Scott Key, wrote as he watched to see that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.

It was a great moment in American history, but couldn't they have found a better tune?

A national or state song or anthem is not an easy thing to come by. The folks in the Commonwealth of Virginia have been without a song for years. Their old one, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," was written from a slave's perspective and had a line about laboring for "Old Massa." They couldn't agree on a new one and gave up.

I think our chances of changing ours is slim and I can only muster the words to complain about it every other year.

I used to think that the appropriate song was "America, the Beautiful." It is a word picture of our nation.

If we continue to offer our anthem at wrestling matches, college football games and stock car races, I would offer up Merle Haggard's "Fightin' Side of Me."

"If you're talkin' down my country, hoss, you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me."

Even our terrorist enemies would understand that.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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