07 February 2011

What the Hail?



Christine Aguilera’s performance of the National Anthem at Superbowl XLV was marred by a lyric malfunction. The pop star botched the ramparts verse and instead sang “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming”.  This echoed a prior line, which she also flubbed.  Aside from the lyrical miscued, Aguilera tried switching up the melodies a couple of time, to less successful effect than Whitney Houston at Superbowl XXV.

 Personally, I was watching in a boisterous space where viewers were more capable of witnessing how adeptly Aguilera’s wardrobe covered her tattoos. Our crowd cheered along with the crowd in Dallas when the video feed switched to our troops serving in Afghanistan.

If Simon Cowell was offering a critique, he would certainly say that a singer needs to know her lines, especially for a familiar short song that is to be sung before a billion people watching.  Such an analysis would be spot on.

 But at least Aguilera’s rendition was respectful, unlike Rosanne Barr’s 1990 San Diego Padre’s atrocity of an anthem.  It is a wonder that Keith Olbermann did not name Barr “the Worst Person in the World”.  But this was before and after Olbermann's stint on MessNBC.

But I suspect that Aguilera was quite nervous, as some of her prior renditions of the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events were outstanding.  And it seems that she was concentrated more on changing the melody than on the lyrics.  That is appropriate if one is “Listening Electively” in the early Presidential Primaries, but not so much when being a professional singer.

Lyrically, Francis Scott Key’s poetic magnus opus is poignant, but he conveniently set it to “To Anacreon in Heaven”, an English pub song used as a sobriety test. For me, the only more testing melodic line in America's songbook standard is the genius who set Happy Birthday to the children's song  "Good Morning to All" from 1893.

Even spirited and heart felt renditions of the National Anthem can cause controversy, as Jose Feliciano’s rendition during game 5 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit did, or Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar version at Woodstock in 1969.

While cynics may chuck about Aguilera’s gaffe, what remains with me is how the crowd cheered for our soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan, as did the room where I was watching the spectacle. As I rewatched the video, I noticed the shot of Pittsburg Steelers Cornerback William Gay chocked up with emotion during the National Anthem.  At a time when American foreign policy is embarking on an agonizing reappraisal and the left savaged security commitments made during the last administration, it is heartening to know that people between the beltways and in the heartland honor those who risk their lives to protect our freedoms.

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