I love the Fourth of July. I am totally down with celebrating our country’s independence from British imperialism. The only thing I can’t stand about it is the excessive playing of patriotic music.
Not that I have anything against patriot songs, as a concept—they just tend to be artless bursts of propaganda and often downright false. Sometimes I worry that I think this way because my soul is a cold, black, petrified chunk of coughed-up lung cancer, but I just spent the last couple of days perusing the anthems of the world at Nationalanthems.info, and it confirmed that most are enormous pieces of patriotic caca.
You know how these things go: Every country is the best country. Every motherland is the most beautiful, inhabited by the bravest and most industrious people, who are loved by God more than anyone else. And they all have passages about opposing tyranny from other countries, which is funny when you think about it because, if all the countries are fighting tyranny, then which countries are doing the tyrannizing? Well, all of them, of course!
Even the most brutal dictatorships in history had anthems against tyranny. Take this passage from East Germany’s national propaganthem: “Risen from the ruins. . . / Germany, united Fatherland / Let the light of peace shine, so that a mother never mourns her son again.”
Oh, that’s rich. “Germany, united”? They built a fucking wall through the middle of Germany.
“Let the light of peace shine so that a mother never mourns her son again”? Really? How many mothers’ sons were shot trying to cross that thing?
The hypocritical anthem of Gaddafi’s Libya asks you to “Seize the forehead of the tyrant and destroy him!” which is appropriate, I guess, considering the propensity for despots to have offensive foreheads.
The American confederacy had an anthem, which called for “Freedom or death,” which meant, I guess, they would give their lives before giving up their freedom to keep slaves.Incidentally, the only modern country without a national anthem was Afghanistan, during the reign of the music-prohibitive Taliban. It’s probably why they were so easily defeated—no anthem to rally behind. It’s too bad, because they could’ve easily gotten around the no-music problem. For instance, say they wanted to sing the anthem before one of their national sporting events, like a public flogging perhaps; well, they could randomly pick someone out of the crowd, have him sing the anthem, then shoot him in the head for breaking Sharia law.
Even better, they could’ve had someone perform the anthem in slam-poetry form: [Snapping fingers] “Afghanistan, oh great Afghanistan / Greatest when ruled by Tal iban / Of which the west is not a fan / Death to all Americans.” [Snap, snap, snappity snap]. “Sharia law is our mandate / Lo, you may not masturbate / or even think to fornicate / And certainly not homosexualate.” [Snap, snap snap-snappity, snap snap.]
As for “The Star Spangled Banner,” it’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but I never thought about the lyrics before. I just assumed them to be more artless propaganda and have always tuned out the song. So, I was quite surprised to learn, upon deeper analysis, that our anthem doesn’t suck at all.
As is commonly known, “The Star Spangled Banner” was originally a poem by Francis Scott Key. It was about how he witnessed the 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British navy on Sept. 13, 1814. Less known is that Key was actually watching the battle from the deck of a British ship, with a small group of Americans with whom he’d been detained. From the deck, they watched in horror as the British armada besieged Fort McHenry with everything it had. They knew the country’s sovereignty lay in the balance, and when night fell, it got so dark and smoky that they couldn’t see what condition the fort was in—only the flag, which eventually became obscured by smoke and darkness, too. It was not till the next morning that Key was able to see that the flag had survived, meaning the fort had survived, meaning America had survived.
“Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light? / What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”
I never realized it before, but that stanza is Key telling his pals, “Hey, fellas, look! Remember the flag that flew during last night’s shit-storm? It’s still freaking there!"
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars / thru the perilous fight / O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.”
Can you imagine that feeling, watching from the ramparts of the enemy’s ship as his outgunned countrymen sucked on British cannonballs all day and into the long, scary night of blackness—black but for the exploding British rockets that illuminated the flag? The next morning, when the sun rose—and he saw his flag, his country, still intact—Key must have thought, Well, holyfuckingshit, man, I have got to write a poem about that!
Honestly, I’m not crazy about the land-of-the-free-home-of-the-brave business, since all the other countries’ anthems have a variation of the same sort of free / brave lyric—which tells me that free / brave people don’t only live in America. However, with a minor rewrite, something to make it more realistic, more self-actualized, I could learn to love it.
How about this?: “O’er the land of the largely free, and the home of some brave.”
Happy birthday, America. We’re probably not the best, but we don’t suck as much as some other countries do.