Oh, say — can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets’ red glare. The bombs bursting in air gave proof, through the night, that our flag was still there. Oh, say — does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Why, yes. In fact, there’s one right in front of me, waving o’er the rear windshield of a blue ’87 Tercel. And another 12, above and beside me, waving o’er the 6.9-percent financing available on a brand-new bright yellow Hummer, if you act today. Yes, indeed. Plenty of banners to go around, many of them spangled with stars. And why not? Every 10-year-old with a copy of Photoshop knows how well red and white stars and stripes mix with blue rectangles.
(For the record, the anthem’s three other verses build on this theme of things blowing up all night long, but in the morning there’s a flag.)
According to the U.S. Department of State, there are currently 191 independent states on Earth — that’s just 189 more than the BushAdmin/MurdochNewsCorp’s latest tally of Us™ and Them™ — and almost every one has a theme song with a libretto every bit as inspiring of nationalistic mass hypnosis as our own. While lots of these ditties, ours included, celebrate spectacles of war and make bold declarations as to various gods’ nepotistic leanings, some countries’ anthems feature considerably less action-adventure, yet still do good box office. For example, take a look at one-hit wonder Philips van Marnix heer van St. Aldegonde’s “Wilhelmus van Nassouwe” (“William of Nassau”), often called simply “Het Wilhelmus” (“The William”), the national anthem of the Netherlands, which pays tribute to the patient revolutionary who brought about the Netherlands’ independence in the mid-17th century:
William of Nassau am I, of Germanic descent; true to the fatherland I remain until death. Prince of Orange am I, free and fearless. To the King of Spain I have always given honour. You, my God and Lord, are my shield, on You I rely. On You I will build; never leave me, so that I may remain pious, your servant at all moments, dispelling the tyranny that wounds my heart.
See? Even with all the honour and the religious crap, it’s lines like “dispelling the tyranny that wounds my heart” (“de tirannie verdrijven die mij mijn hert doorwondt”), combined with the widespread availability of high-quality hashish, that makes me want to move to Amsterdam. (I’ll be nice and wait until you re-elect Bush; that way I’ll have more company.)
You want friendly? Take Sweden’s anthem (composer unknown, based on a folk song):
You ancient, free and mountainous North of quiet, joyful beauty, I greet you, loveliest land on Earth, your sun, your sky, your green meadows. You are throned on memories of olden days, when the honour of your name spread over the Earth. I know that you are and will remain what you were. Oh, may I live, may I die in the Nordic North.
Yep. Lines like “ancient, free and mountainous North of quiet, joyful beauty” make me want to join my cousins in Kalmar. Come with, if you like. I think they might still have some hash left, too. But I can see by your rockets’ red glare that you want me to stay and pay taxes to buy more bursting bombs, so again . . . as a patriot, I’ll wait until the right time: Wednesday, November 10, 2004.
Without getting all lock-me-up-Ashcroft about it, unifying citizens around textile-survival themes can get a bit tedious. To that end, and with your permission, I propose that one of the following five popular, easy-to-sing songs (lyric excerpts provided for clarity) replace our current anthem.
1. “Love Is All Around” (theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, by Sonny Curtis)
Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well, it’s U.S. and you should know it! With each glance and every little movement we show it . . .
2. “Fake Contest” (M. Watt)
I’m making my case against a stack full of comix. Here comes the line: “I’m loaded with rocket fuel!” Industry, industry. We’re tools for the Industry. Your clothes in the laundry, bleached of identity. You lie there naked, I lie here naked. Both on the pavement. Why are we different?
3. “The Message” (Grandmaster Flash)
A child is born with no state of mind, blind to the ways of mankind. God is smiling on you but He’s frowning, too, because only God knows what you’ll go through. You’ll grow in the ghetto, living second rate, and your eyes will sing a song of deep hate. The places you play and where you stay looks like one great big alleyway. You’ll admire all the number-book takers, thugs, pimps and pushers and the big-money makers, driving big cars, spending twenties and tens, and you wanna grow up to be just like them: smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers, pickpockets, peddlers, even panhandlers.
4. “She Rote” (Charlie Parker)
No lyrics; citizens issued special National Anthem Kazoos at ballgames.
5. “Desolation Row” (Bob Dylan)
At midnight, all the agents and the superhuman crew come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do. Then they bring them to the factory, where the heart-attack machine is strapped across their shoulders, and then the kerosene is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row.
National-anthem midis and lyrics at Laura’s Midi Heaven