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Posted at 10:59 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Christina Aguilera didn't botch the national anthem. Francis Scott Key did.

By Alexandra Petri

America, we need to talk.

It's been the elephant in the room for a while. It's awkward. It's uncomfortable. And it's inescapable. It's like that man who shows up at all your family reunions and refuses to introduce himself, even though you think he might not actually be related to you.

I'm talking about the national anthem.

After Christina Aguilera, who has confessedly been singing this since she was seven (and if you don't believe me, check YouTube), memorably flubbed the lyrics at this year's Super Bowl, it seems as good an occasion as any to point out what an utter miscalculation this song is. It is a botch of nature. It combines the tune of a drinking song -- "To Anacreon in Heaven" -- with some of the most bizarre and dated lyrics ever attached to any song in history. Force a crowd to sing this song, and it is the musical equivalent of a party you send to climb a mountain that loses a couple of guys in the first pass and a couple more in the next pass and finally comes straggling back to camp, irredeemably broken in spirit, having eaten Jeff.

Anyone who even casually glances at our national anthem cannot escape the conclusion that it is in no way, how shall I put this, singable?

If you just sort of strayed across this tune, you would assume that it required years of training to hit any of the notes with any degree of consistency. You would be right. Then you would look at the lyrics and think, "This seems oddly specific! What a bizarre relic from the War of 1812." You would be right again.

Have you ever heard someone sing the national anthem and thought, "Hey, that was even slightly pleasant! That bore no resemblance to the sound a large group of cows would make if you herded them into an enclosure not designed by Temple Grandin and told them about their mortality"? No. Frankly, you have not. At best, it is barely -- barely -- palatable. At worst, it is the most unbearable song ever created, including "Baby" by Justin Bieber and the Aqua classic "Barbie Girl."

And there is a clear reason for this. Singers, especially the ones whom people ask to sing at large events, have a marked tendency to gussy up songs with vocal flourishes. They do this by adding notes seemingly at random, by subtracting other notes, by bouncing their voices up and down as though someone was driving them quickly over cobblestones in an angry carriage, and by holding other notes long enough for Abraham Lincoln to deliver the entire Gettysburg Address. Many songs can handle this. Take a song like "God Bless America." A child could sing it. There's only one high note, and the song works up somewhat gradually towards it, not springing it on you without warning like "rockets" or "free."

Then there's the Star-Spangled Banner.

The idea that this was once a drinking song is something that sometimes causes me to awaken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. The only possible thing worse than the sound that sober people make while straggling through this impossible tune would be the sound of drunk people coaxing it from their gullets.

It's not only that the tune is terrible. It's that it's unoriginal. I can understand that, back in 1812, there were maybe three lyricists and no working composers in America, but this is no longer the case. So why do we have to keep this ungodly anthem, which makes even the best singer on earth sound like she swallowed a demonically possessed cat? Are we being quaint? Are we being ironic? Is it just that we intensely dislike Christina Aguilera and take pleasure in watching her fail -- but not enough pleasure to make us pay for tickets to Burlesque?

But it's more than the tune. The only original part of the song, the lyrics, are even worse. In case you don't remember them (be honest, you probably don't) here they are. Just read them.

O 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 O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Not only is this terrible, dated, and irrevocably attached to an oddly specific incident that Francis Scott Key suffered through during the War of 1812 -- it is a question. As a nation, whenever we sing this anthem, we are asking whoever is listening if our flag is still waving. "We saw it last night when there was a lot of artillery fire," we are saying, "but hey, is it still up there? Could you check?"

This is, how do I put it, ABSURD? TERRIBLE? EMBARRASSINGLY INCOMPETENT-SOUNDING? ALL OF THE ABOVE?

If anyone has anything more than a sentimental attachment to this from having heard it played at the Olympics, I'd eat my hat. And to be honest, you could play "O Canada" at the Olympics as our flag slowly rose and our athletes received medals, and we would develop a sentimental attachment to it.

It is, frankly, worse than Liechtenstein's national anthem. And until 1963, Liechtenstein's anthem included lyrics about "the German fatherland" and standing "on guard for Germany." It is definitely worse than China's, which talks about the New Great Wall and urges people to Arise! and March!

For once, I'm with Xtina. She didn't botch the national anthem. Francis Scott Key did.

By Alexandra Petri  | February 7, 2011; 10:59 AM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  America, Super Bowl, oops  
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Comments

For those people who do not get the Star Spangled Banner, maybe it is time to revisit history. I understand every single word in that song, and I also know what prompted Key to write it. It is not outdated. Americans have become such a bunch of lazy sods that they don't bother to figure out what it means. That is pretty sad, especially in this day of the Internet when we can pretty much look up anything.

Posted by: SkitzoidLady | February 7, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Family Guy explains why Aguilera is literally offensive to all 5 senses.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E15hF1Em6RE

Faith Hill demonstrates how to sing our National Anthem
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJI_rlar68M

Don't hate America your whole life.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | February 7, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri, perhaps you might consider taking a couple classes on English literature and the rules of English punctuation. Better training would allow you to understand the lyrics instantly -- and to appreciate them. Your ignorance in this regard shines through your every sentence. Instead of saying "America, we need to talk," you might consider reading.

Posted by: Wise3 | February 7, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Aguilera botching the words was embarrassing, this article was a disgrace. Yes, the tune is not original or easy. The words are a bit tricky as well. We have all failed in our personal attempts to master the National Anthem at least once or twice. I don't fault Aguilera for messing up, I fault her for messing up at a major event she should have prepared for. I blame the author for a serious lack of understanding of our history and how relevant history is today. Through our trials and struggles, from international policy to personal tests, we can look to the Star Spangled Banner as a beacon of hope and stability in the values it symbolizes. As for the difficulty in singing it, may I suggest we strive to better ourselves rather than dumb everything down until nothing has any meaning.

Posted by: iss88 | February 7, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Talk about un-American. As if Christina did not hurt enough, The Washington Post has to put this up??? I'm very offended.

Where did our culture go? At least the Muslims show their discontent when they are offended, albeit radical and inappropriate; we as Americans just lie back and take it and forget about it tomorrow. Signing off from this website permanently, thanks Ms. Petri...

Posted by: davidwhalen | February 7, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

alexandra petri, made with a finger poor thing

Posted by: johnsingleton1988 | February 7, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

alexandra petri, made with a finger poor thing

Posted by: johnsingleton1988 | February 7, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm shocked at the incredibly poor quality of this blog post/article. The author's knowledge of history seems to be lacking in the extreme. Within its historical context, there is absolutely nothing unusual about reusing the tunes of older songs with new lyrics. The lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner are not arcane or difficult to understand in the least (have the good grace to be ashamed, rather than arrogant, about your ignorance), and many singers seem quite able to pull off the admittedly challenging tune without a problem. One would think that most multi-grammy winners would be in that camp.

That said, I agree entirely with the categories you've associated with your post. This article was both an epic failure and one of the worst things ever.

Posted by: hxart | February 7, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The screwing up of the anthem was not in Christina's forgeting a few words, it was in the bending of notes and the adding of syllables. It's something that nearly every pop singer now does and it's really, really awful.

Posted by: WMFletcher | February 7, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

WOW, sounds like a selfish American is playing the blame game again.

Maybe you should move to a different country.

Absolutly Inexcusable!!

Posted by: juliemarie30 | February 7, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

WOW, sounds like a selfish American is playing the blame game again.

Maybe you should move to a different country.

Absolutly Inexcusable!!

Posted by: juliemarie30 | February 7, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

WOW, sounds like a selfish American is playing the blame game again.

Maybe you should move to a different country.

Absolutly Inexcusable!!

Posted by: juliemarie30 | February 7, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

This article is absolute rubbish. The Star Spangled Banner is a beautiful song. Listen to Whitney Houston's rendition at the Super Bowl about twenty years ago and tell me with a straight face that it isn't.

Is the song challenging? Yeah, it is. So what? Many beautiful works of music are difficult to perform. Aguilera actually had the vocal chords to pull it off if she didn't insist on embellishing the heck out of every note, and sang the song properly like a real musician would. And as far as the lyrics are concerned, going through a few practice runs before appearing before a national stage should give one ample mental preparation to remember a song that most of us have heard hundreds and hundreds of times over the course of our lives anyway.

In short. She screwed up. She didn't prepare and sang in a disgracefully exhibitionist manner, and for you to defend her by trashing our national anthem is a disgrace.

Posted by: reg1971la | February 7, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

This article is absolute rubbish. The Star Spangled Banner is a beautiful song. Listen to Whitney Houston's rendition at the Super Bowl about twenty years ago and tell me with a straight face that it isn't.

Is the song challenging? Yeah, it is. So what? Many beautiful works of music are difficult to perform. Aguilera actually had the vocal chords to pull it off if she didn't insist on embellishing the heck out of every note, and sang the song properly like a real musician would. And as far as the lyrics are concerned, going through a few practice runs before appearing before a national stage should give one ample mental preparation to remember a song that most of us have heard hundreds and hundreds of times over the course of our lives anyway.

In short. She screwed up. She didn't prepare and sang in a disgracefully exhibitionist manner, and for you to defend her by trashing our national anthem is a disgrace.

Posted by: reg1971la | February 7, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"This is, how do I put it, ABSURD? TERRIBLE? EMBARRASSINGLY INCOMPETENT-SOUNDING? ALL OF THE ABOVE?"

------------

Alexandra, you're an idiot. I respect differences of opinions, but not when they're based on ignorance. First of all, there are two questions in the stanza you quoted, and four in the song. And I seriously doubt you've ever read the lyrics to the second, let alone third or fourth stanzas. The fact that a song poses a question doesn't make it inherently "absurd" or "terrible." And just because the battle at Fort McHenry wasn't the most significant in the war, or the inspiration for the song was an "oddly specific incident," doesn't mean your point is supported. The question to which you're referring leads right into the rest of the song; it has a purpose. Retake a high school English class before sharing your lack of insight and analysis with the rest of us.

Posted by: mytwocents | February 7, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem several years ago... gives me the chills just thinking about it. She didn't get too crazy with it, she knew the words, and you could feel and hear her pride. There is nothing wrong with our National Anthem. What is wrong is the author of this article's complete lack of understanding of our Flag, patriotism, the National Anthem, and pride in general. Alexandra Petri, I promise I will never read another word you write. You're exactly what's wrong with this country today.

Posted by: wikidbee | February 7, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Gawd Forbid.. That a professional Singer... know the words of the song they are paid to sing...... It's the songs fault

roflmao

Posted by: donabernathy | February 7, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I wish people would get as outraged about all the pointless wars, genocides, and mass starvation happening in the world as they get when people poke fun at their symbols of nationalism.

Posted by: grey_fox37 | February 7, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

It's not that the lyrics are hard to understand. It's that their meaning is not taught when most people learn them.

It's not that she reinterpreted the tune. It's that if anybody played the tune as written these days, you'd see an even larger flood of comments about how that person "changed it", and the comments would come from people who have no clue what the tune sounds like without somebody's arrangement on top of it.

If I ever did hear the tune performed in public as written, it was certainly not in the past few decades.

I didn't care for her performance, but it didn't take long to find that the people who are most critical have no idea what the tune sounds like as written.

The everyday version that people think is "singing it straight" has become so pompous and solemn that it sounds like a dirge.

Yes, she butchered it. But maybe instead of criticizing her it might be a good time to read all four verses, and find the sheet music to To Anacreon in Heaven and find out what the tune really sounds like without being reinterpreted.

Posted by: Hagrinas | February 7, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

It's not that the lyrics are hard to understand. It's that their meaning is not taught when most people learn them.

It's not that she reinterpreted the tune. It's that if anybody played the tune as written these days, you'd see an even larger flood of comments about how that person "changed it", and the comments would come from people who have no clue what the tune sounds like without somebody's arrangement on top of it.

If I ever did hear the tune performed in public as written, it was certainly not in the past few decades.

I didn't care for her performance, but it didn't take long to find that the people who are most critical have no idea what the tune sounds like as written.

The everyday version that people think is "singing it straight" has become so pompous and solemn that it sounds like a dirge.

Yes, she butchered it. But maybe instead of criticizing her it might be a good time to read all four verses, and find the sheet music to To Anacreon in Heaven and find out what the tune really sounds like without being reinterpreted.

Posted by: Hagrinas | February 7, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

This article is so un American. Doesn't surprise me you are writing for the Washington Post.

Posted by: kahoo | February 7, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

This article is so un American. Doesn't surprise me you are writing for the Washington Post.

Posted by: kahoo | February 7, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

If Ms. Petri's aim was to bring light to her own sophistication by means of a critique on our national anthem, she's certainly missed the mark.

She has, however, managed to highlight her own pomposity at the same time as completely ignoring the purpose of our anthem.

She is right in saying that the events captured in Key's poem relate to a very specific occurrence. But her understanding of his poem approaches a depth so shallow it's only marginally eclipsed by her own forced irony and humor. That, friends, warrants the labels "absurd," "terrible," and "embarrassingly incompetent-sounding."

We are not called to remember the events of mid-September 1814 by Key's poem, just like our wedding anniversaries shouldn't only bring to memory moments of our wedding day. Rather, we're called to remember the spirit of these events that still drive us to this day.

We are called to remember the relentless American tenacity that was impressed upon Key's heart not fifty miles from where Ms. Petri's vitriolic critique was published. He penned his poem not to remind us of a battle, but rather of our spirit.

We are called to think of all the times the American flag has continued flying despite threats, foreign or domestic; throughout our proudest times and our most shameful times.

No, the anthem is not about the night of September 13, 1814. It's about American persistence and resolve.

Ms. Petri would do well to inform herself of the stories of those who embody that responsible spirit in the past and to this day.

The Post would do well to put Ms. Petri in her place.

We would all do well to take inspiration from Key's words.

Posted by: paulcauchon | February 7, 2011 2:27 PM | Report abuse

The author is right on ONE point. It does end in a question. Sung alone, the first verse reminds us that we must ever be on our guard to preserve the liberties that were being defended in that battle.

However, the 4th verse, which most Americans don't even know exists, answers the question and provides us with hope for the future:

Oh thus be it e'er
When free men shall stand
between their loved homes
and the war's desolation

Bless'd with vict'ry and peace
May the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made
and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must
when our cause it is just
and this be our motto
"In God is our Trust"

And the Star Spangled Banner
in triumph shall wave
o'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave!

(note, no question mark!)

Posted by: zj8674 | February 7, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Good lord, this is probably the most poorly written blog post I have ever seen on this website. Just highlights the authors narrow mindset,ignorance, and lack of historical knowledge. Sophistication? Ms. Petri has none.

Posted by: shhhhhh | February 7, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Good lord, this is probably the most poorly written blog post I have ever seen on this website. Just highlights the authors narrow mindset,ignorance, and lack of historical knowledge. Sophistication? Ms. Petri has none.

Posted by: shhhhhh | February 7, 2011 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Good lord, this is probably the most poorly written blog post I have ever seen on this website. Just highlights the authors narrow mindset,ignorance, and lack of historical knowledge. Sophistication? Ms. Petri has none.

Posted by: shhhhhh | February 7, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Japan has a good anthem. Only 50 seconds long and words too controversial to sing.

Posted by: blasmaic | February 7, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm no history buff, so I can't comment on how we got our national anthem or as to the specifics of the time or the situation under which it was penned. I don't know Francis Scott Key personally, so I don't know for sure what he intended by posing a question in the midst of, "The Star-Spangled Banner". In my own opinion, however, I think it is both relevant and appropriate. I can't speak for the millions of people that call themselves Americans as to what goes on in their minds when the national anthem is played, although I doubt the average person instantly thinks about Olympians receiving their medals. I can speak for myself, though. I think of those who gave their lives for the hope of a good cause. I'm sure there is a great deal of pertinent information that I am completely oblivious to. Maybe not all who have died fighting for America did so with the intent to preserve a freedom that is often times taken for granted. Maybe the list can go on for days of things that are wrong with America today. Maybe, though, that is exactly the point. Could it be that herein lies the relevancy to the question that is posed in the national anthem? In spite of the difficulty, America still came to be. In spite of the trials, America still exists today. Will you and I be willing to keep this hope of freedom alive, this Nation we live in called America, in spite of the difficulties, the things we find that are wrong, the troubles and trials we will face? Will we endure the "perilous fight", or the "the bombs bursting in air"? It scares me sometimes to think if I really would be THAT brave. I don't believe the question was posed to other nations. I don't believe that we are "as a nation" asking someone else. I think the point is that we should each, individually, be taking the time and consideration to stop every now and then and check for ourselves to see if the flag is indeed still there. This poses another question. Do you even look at the flag when you sing the National Anthem? Many of us started out looking at flag during the National Anthem because we were told to in grade school. Is there a chance that somewhere along the line understanding kicks in and we finally realize just why it is that we remove our hats rather than try to eat them? I guess people could label me. Old-fashioned; Patriotic; Conservative; Naive; Clueless. Ah well. At least I'm not unproductive. What's the point of spending the time to complain and point out faults when no viable solution is ever presented. If we were to discontinue the National Anthem, what would we put in its place? Will you be the one to pen the new anthem? I am in agreement with iss88. I think that before you decide for me what the national anthem means in my own mind, you should "sweep around your own front door".

Posted by: lsmith30 | February 7, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Still though, SB 45's rendition was better than having 'Mr. Rogers' sing it.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | February 7, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

There is a reasonable argument that artistically, the Star Spangled Banner lacks a good bit. I believe (hope) that's the message Petri very, very poorly was trying to express.
The anthem's true beauty is in what it stands for.

Posted by: jeadpt | February 7, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

You left out the last two words of the National Anthem: "Play Ball!"

I hear tell there are other nations that get along just fine without having to tart up professional sporting events with over-the-top patriotic displays or hanging oversized national flags from every car dealership and family restaurant near a major highway. Perhaps if we were to follow the example of most of the rest of the world in this area we wouldn't have to complain every few years about pop stars butchering the Star-Spangled Banner.

Personally, I prefer the Jimi Hendrix version.

Posted by: ex-Virginian4 | February 7, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

... okay, so it may not be the greatest song ever ... but a lot of the problem is in the arrangement ... best ever doing this song: Marvin Gaye at the NBA Finals, shortly before his death ... most excellent military-style arrangement, the the vocal arrangement was/is the best ever ... sorry Whitney and the heavy-set screamer of today ... ya'll can't touch Marvin's version ...

Posted by: drobbins2 | February 7, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

... okay, so it may not be the greatest song ever ... but a lot of the problem is in the arrangement ... best ever doing this song: Marvin Gaye at the NBA Finals, shortly before his death ... most excellent military-style arrangement, the the vocal arrangement was/is the best ever ... sorry Whitney and the heavy-set screamer of today ... ya'll can't touch Marvin's version ...

Posted by: drobbins2 | February 7, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I am a proud American and think our national anthem is a disgrace, a dated and horribly unmusical paean to boneheaded nationalism and constant war. I would submit This Land Is Your Land as a replacement but the outraged chickenhawks posting most of the responses here would crack the main frames of their recliners and choke on their potato wedges at the very thought.

Posted by: dnahatch1 | February 7, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Yeah it's a bit conveluted, and yes, there has been some classic misfires in the singing of the song. A copyright violation of a drinking song? Bring it! It's a point in our proud history, set to poem and music, that has become an icon of our country...for better or worst. There's no issue with FSK lyrics. It was an inspired moment for him, which by the way, we usually call creativity! If your going to hang it out there, know that this knife can cut both ways. I have a performer (Nancy) who has done our production of the Nat. Anth. dozens of times. For Presidents, Bowl Games, large corporations and 1st grade classes! Like any performance, if you sing from the heart, there is no pressure and hence, no flubs. C.A. is a remarkable performer, but sometimes the better performance is one that comes from the heart, not vocal gymnastics. So, in the future, stand up, put your hand over your heart, and if the performer buckles under the pressure or there's a technical glitch, take a lesson from Mo Cheeks, or the hockey fans that helped Miss Hughes when the mic cut out... come together as Americans and join in. Don't try to find blame. Don't believe me that this is better when it comes from the heart?...listen to this: http://www.admaginationstudios.com/audio/natanthdemo.mp3

Posted by: ADmasterTF | February 7, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Uh oh, the attack of the dummydowns to the rescue of a dummy who has fallen down on the song, and can't get the words right, the way they have been sung for hundreds of years. Must be that spanish version stuck in her head, with little room for anything else.

Posted by: hared | February 7, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

The last thing we need is for someone to blame the author of the song because a singer messed it up. That is ridiculous to a fault. The fact that Aguilera wasn't born in the century this song was written has nothing to do with her (in)ability to sing it accurately at a national event.
I think it is a sign of our writer's mentality to displace blame in such a way. America is steeped in traditions and saturated with history based on wartime events. The National Anthem is a traditional song - if you are going to sing it and represent our country, then sing it accurately! Do not embarrass yourself, the military soldiers in attendance and yes - other Americans who didn't bother to learn the lyrics properly yet stand "proudly" to recognize the reverance at the event.
If you do, then you deserve to be embarrassed for whatever reason.
I too learned the National Anthem as a child in grade school. I was singing it at home when she made her mistake and I recognized it immediately. Aguilera didn't sing that song for free - and she will pay for that mishap (error) for quite some time.
But for whatever the excuse, don't blame Francis Scott Key. That is ridiculous. But then, I have read several Post articles about how the Constitution should be updated.
Basically, we are Americans and should be of higher ("Super Power") standards. Don't water it down to satisfy the ignorance or ambivalence of a perceived few.

Posted by: ReadON88 | February 7, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Yeah it's a bit conveluted, and yes, there has been some classic misfires in the singing of the song. A copyright violation of a drinking song? Bring it! It's a point in our proud history, set to poem and music, that has become an icon of our country...for better or worst. There's no issue with FSK lyrics. It was an inspired moment for him, which by the way, we usually call creativity! If your going to hang it out there, know that this knife can cut both ways. I have a performer (Nancy) who has done our production of the Nat. Anth. dozens of times. For Presidents, Bowl Games, large corporations and 1st grade classes! Like any performance, if you sing from the heart, there is no pressure and hence, no flubs. C.A. is a remarkable performer, but sometimes the better performance is one that comes from the heart, not vocal gymnastics. So, in the future, stand up, put your hand over your heart, and if the performer buckles under the pressure take a lesson from Mo Cheeks, or the fans that helped Miss Hughes when the mic cut out... come together as Americans and join in. Don't try to find blame. Don't believe me that this is better when it comes from the heart?...listen to this: http://www.admaginationstudios.com/audio/natanthdemo.mp3

Posted by: ADmasterTF | February 7, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I was once a newspaper editor. Does the Post still have any? This trash would never have gotten by my desk.

Posted by: qoph | February 7, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I was once a newspaper editor. Does the Post still have any? This trash would never have gotten by my desk.

Posted by: qoph | February 7, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri writes, "Have you ever heard someone sing the national anthem and thought, 'Hey, that was even slightly pleasant!'"

Yes, in fact. Myself. And I'm not a trained singer. I love our anthem because I've (a) spent time reflecting on the lyrics; (b) tried very hard to put myself in the shoes of Francis Scott Key and seen in person the very flag he saw "still gallantly streaming," which helps; and (c) sit in awed gratitude that words he penned now still, in large measure, fit who we are as a nation: the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

Even in a crowd of tone-deaf fellow Americans, most of whom can't carry a tune in a paper bag (myself included), chills run up and down my spine because Key's words still ring true today...nearly 200 years later.

I am humbled and grateful that we live in a land where all are free to speak their minds, Ms. Petri, and my fondest wish for you is that you use your mind in a more rigorous and high-minded fashion before opening your mouth to spew drivel. Surely you have something better to do?

Good luck, and good night.

Posted by: soonerfan | February 7, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

No surprise to find that knee-jerk nationalists dominate the comments here, deriding Ms. Petri for daring to (however comically) call a spade a spade.

"The Star-Spangled Banner," point blank, is a horrible national anthem. Apart from its last line, it celebrates nothing beyond the fetishizing of the flag and the ability of the troops at Baltimore's Fort McHenry to withstand a nightlong onslaught by the British navy. (It doesn't matter what the rest of Key's poem says, zj8674, because nobody knows the rest.)

It has a tune that fails as the basis for a populist anthem, simply because most of the masses can't sing it passably. Its theme is purely militaristic, which is fine for a nation whose self-image is dominated by war but kind of sad for a nation like ours that has so much else going for it.

It would be lovely to take the line "The land of the free, and the home of the brave" -- the song's only redeeming quality -- and attach it to some sort of mashup of "America the Beautiful" and "This Land Is Your Land." Too bad we're stuck with what we've got -- an anthem so bad that Canadians (who have probably the best anthem on earth) probably laugh at us while they cover their ears at Blue Jays games.

Posted by: jonfromcali | February 7, 2011 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri writes, "Have you ever heard someone sing the national anthem and thought, 'Hey, that was even slightly pleasant!'"

Yes, in fact. Myself. And I'm not a trained singer. I love our anthem because I've (a) spent time reflecting on the lyrics; (b) tried very hard to put myself in the shoes of Francis Scott Key and seen in person the very flag he saw "still gallantly streaming," which helps; and (c) sit in awed gratitude that words he penned now still, in large measure, fit who we are as a nation: the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

Even in a crowd of tone-deaf fellow Americans, most of whom can't carry a tune in a paper bag (myself included), chills run up and down my spine because Key's words still ring true today...nearly 200 years later.

I am humbled and grateful that we live in a land where all are free to speak their minds, Ms. Petri, and my fondest wish for you is that you use your mind in a more rigorous and high-minded fashion before opening your mouth to spew drivel. Surely you have something better to do?

Good luck, and good night.

Posted by: soonerfan | February 7, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Touchy, touchy people. My goodness. I'm pretty sure the author of this post was just jesting. While I think the song is silly, lyrically, that doesn't mean I still don't get an overwhelming sense of pride when I hear it. And, I should throw in, I'm what most of you would consider "liberal" or "progressive." [For those that can't understand negatives, what I was saying is that I swell up with overwhelming pride when I hear our National Anthem.]

As for the commentator who said "if she didn't insist on embellishing the heck out of every note" -- that is pretty much what defines Aguilera. I cannot stand her. Sure, Genie In A Bottle was catchy, but then she got, well, like Family Guy described her.

Posted by: cartoonsrock | February 7, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

This commentary certainly puts that "dumb" in dumbing down...

Posted by: 4Redskins | February 7, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I have an American way to solve this problem--put it to the vote. I'd expect a new song to be chosen.

Of course, Congress has more pressing matters.

Posted by: amaikovich | February 7, 2011 4:42 PM | Report abuse

The National Anthem is pure marching band material and needs, above all, to sung "straight," in tune, in rhythm, without anyone's personal embellishments. It belongs to us as a nation and Christina Aguilera doesn't need to "make it her own," especially since the project obviously didn't interest her.

Posted by: ZenMan1 | February 7, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

The National Anthem is pure marching band material and needs, above all, to be sung "straight," in tune, in rhythm, without anyone's personal embellishments. It belongs to us as a nation and Christina Aguilera doesn't need to "make it her own," especially since the project obviously didn't interest her.

Posted by: ZenMan1 | February 7, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Ever since I was a kid I liked the Star Spangled Banner.

I liked the lyrics, the drama, the history behind it, and the music.

Anyone who advocates something as vapid, sappy, and transparently pro-Christian as "God Bless America" needs to sing their lungs out...in church.

Hands off the anthem.

Posted by: yellowtavern2 | February 7, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

The present National Anthem contains the phrase "In God is our trust", which is much liked by the religious right. So it can't be canned.

We also, by now, have a firmly-established tradition of having the National Anthem sung by vocalists, whose duty is to sound like strangled cats.

Igor Stravinsky's excellent revision of the music was, unfortunately, firmly rejected. I've heard just one recording, by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who knew Stravinsky and is a big fan. Actually, there's still a fair number of aging Stravinsky fans out there. The great composer was an avid American of the California variety.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 7, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Aguillera must give this guy the hot and sweaties.

What a pathetic apologist for a woman, one of them there divas, who simply screwed up. I don't care if she was singing the SSB or I Want To Hold Your Hand - screwing up the lyrics, which happens to every musician at some time, happened to her.

Period. She'll learn and be better prepared next time.Turn off those crocodile tears and come up with a better national anthem.

Posted by: 2229 | February 7, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I sincerely hope Alexandra Petri never has the chutzpah to intimate -- ever again -- that someone like Sarah Palin is not intelligent.

Because this is, without a doubt, the dumbest, most God-awfully ignorant piece of tripe that has ever been written (and yes, I am including just about everything Dana Milbank writes).

And that is even ACCOUNTING for the fact that a lot of it is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.

Really? You don't understand the anthem? Are you impaired in some way?

And, by the way, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people sing it fairly flawlessly (if not expertly) every day.

Maybe you and Ms. Xtina are just plain silly, dumb bints.

I think we should seriously consider that possibility.

FAIL.

Posted by: etpietro | February 7, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

It's a song involving courage in the face of adversity, alcohol, and blowing things up. What could possibly be more American? I'm not even being sarcastic, I f'ing love this song. Xtina messed it up, possibly by fueling her courage with a bit too much alcohol.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 7, 2011 5:27 PM | Report abuse

wow, I am with gray fox. I can't believe people are that upset over this article. To call someone unamerican for writing this article is ridiculous. I am surprised people are even offended. It wasn't even the national anthem until 1931. I agree. There are better songs to choose from like America the beautiful. And for the person that things sara palin is smarter than the other....this piece of writing is actually cogent thought and an interesting take on an American tradition.

Posted by: pcire22 | February 7, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

"The Star Spangled Banner" is a paean to war. While I am grateful to all of our ancestors who fought to make America, I would prefer "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem since it is a hymn to much more of what makes America great. There is a nod in the third verse to the ultimate sacrifice made by our heroes but war and conflict are not the main theme. It's also easier to sing and easier to remember. I guess the atheists would object to the God references but TS to them...generic God references are everywhere in our nation's government.

I might accept "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" aka "America" but for the fact that the melody is "God Save the Queen".

Posted by: mraymond10 | February 7, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

wow, I am with gray fox. I can't believe people are that upset over this article. To call someone unamerican for writing this article is ridiculous. I am surprised people are even offended. It wasn't even the national anthem until 1931. I agree that there are better songs to choose from like America the beautiful. And for the person that things sara palin is smarter than the author....this piece of writing is actually a cogent thought and an interesting take on an American tradition.

Posted by: pcire22 | February 7, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Petri has her head stuck so far up aguillera that all you can see are her shoulders. Is she wrangling for some free concert tickets from her. Simple rule at this level, if you cant close your eyes and sing it 10 times without a hitch, don't do it. My guess is Palin can sing it acapella without adding 10 syllables to some of the 2 syllable words and sound better.

Posted by: jjlj | February 7, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I'm usually amused by Alexandra Petri, but this column is a sad misfire. I kind of have to agree with the commentators who accuse her of mental sloth. Maybe it's because I was born in the sovereign state of Texas, but I take our national anthem seriously, and I am definitely not alone. In fact, I deliberately mute the sound when it is sung at sports venues because it is so frequently butchered.

It harks back to a time when there was a lot of doubt about our survival as a nation. It says a lot about patriotism, tenacity and courage.

I recently heard it sung by a young woman who was being naturalized as a citizen of the United States, and she was wearing the uniform of our country's armed forces. She was not a bleached blond. In fact, she was not blond at all. She had a magnificent voice. She stood up straight, put her hand over her heart and sang it straight and true. I had tears in my eyes. After the ceremony was over, I had the opportunity to hug her. I wish Ms Petri had had the opportunity to share this experience. She would perhaps be less flippant about something that means a lot to many of us.

Posted by: carolyn4driving1 | February 7, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

i'm not surprised at the less than warm reception, but she makes good points. It is a really really specific event, even though its inspiring and patriotic.

Posted by: batigol85 | February 7, 2011 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Petri ... You are an idiot ! And your piece is idiotic !
Aguiler (or whatever her real name is) is also an idiot !
We are talking about our Country's NATIONAL ANTHEM.
I have sung it in my Marine Corps uniform and in my civilian clothes. It is "singable" ... it is wonderful and ... again, it is our NATIONAL ANTHEM.
I demand that it (and our Country) is respected ! !
The HELL with self-important "artists" ........... BS ...............

Posted by: loretoguy | February 7, 2011 6:00 PM | Report abuse

That's funny dnahatch1. It's just too bad that before "This Land Is Our Land" became the new National Anthem people would find ways to criticize it. Some would want to change the part where it says, "this land is MADE for you and me" because they would argue that it is too Christian and implies that this world was created. Others would want to change some of the words like....walkin'.....and tress passin' because they would argue that it is outdated and nobody talks like that anymore. I would say, though, that the last part of the song is quite fitting and still paints a pretty honest picture...."And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."
I sometimes wonder. Especially when everything is just fine as long as it is comical. I mean, let's just say anything we want as long as its "just a joke". Right? I love to laugh just like the next guy, but I would gladly lose my sense of humor before I lost my sense of discernment. By the way, I'm 25 years young and I'd have to say I can get around pretty well. I also hate potato wedges. Good try, though.

Posted by: lsmith30 | February 7, 2011 6:04 PM | Report abuse

OK, I think Alexandra got maybe a wee bit too worked up about this. But that being said, she has a point about the archaic lyrics. (Go to Nationals Park on any given day and ask a group of folks, either in the President's Club or drinking at the Red Porch, what "ramparts" are. I think you'll get a confused stare.) But then again, national anthems, like alma mater songs, tend to be sentimental glop. We like them because of our deep affection for our nation or our school, not because they're great pieces of music. I'm very proud of our country. I'm sure Canadians are proud of theirs. But nobody could say that "Oh Canada" is a thrilling piece of music either.

One other thing. Several people mentioned Whitney Houston's great delivery of the Anthem years ago. THe unfortunate thing is that the "Whitneying" of the anthem seems to be the norm now (complimented by the "Reba McIntyring" version for country music lovers) where singers of much less skill try to emulate what these two skillful singers did but instead make a mess of it.

My favorite singer of the anthem at Nationals games is DC Washington. He moves through it at a brisk, firm and fairly unadorned clip. It makes it sound joyful.

OK so there's my two cents.

Posted by: cjwolf1 | February 7, 2011 6:11 PM | Report abuse

This article is correct, the song is atrocious. If you can't take criticism of a freaking song without getting so mad you hit the "post" button four or five times in a row, maybe you need to reassess your priorities.

Posted by: Potter2 | February 7, 2011 6:11 PM | Report abuse


If this isn't the stupidest column ever written, it's in contention.

How many millions have sung the glorious
standard perfectly? If the new 'stars' are too careless, scared or stupid, blame the song?

Posted by: whistling | February 7, 2011 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri certainly demonstrated one technique clearer than the rest: hyperbole. Ms. Petri defends Aguilera with the voracity of one who has just witnessed her own family name dragged through the mud. Whether the anthem is a good one or not, it is incorrect to say that Key screwed it up since, last time I checked, he was dead. The anthem might be clunky to sing, but Aguilera is supposed to be a professional singer. What an interesting society we have in America where it isn't even your fault when you actually screw up... actually it is the lyricist's fault for not foreseeing the poor pop singer's difficulty almost 200 years into the future.

This article is a sad defense of a "big-whoop" moment from the Super Bowl. By the way, check this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWj9TdfRrgA&feature=player_embedded . An eight-year-old doesn't seem to have nearly as much trouble with the anthem as Ms. Petri's Xtina (talk about stupid names).

Posted by: mikenvp | February 7, 2011 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Oh thus be it e'er
When free men shall stand
between their loved homes
and the war's desolation

Bless'd with vict'ry and peace
May the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made
and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must
when our cause it is just
and this be our motto
"In God is our Trust"

And the Star Spangled Banner
in triumph shall wave
o'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave!

(note, no question mark!)

Posted by: zj8674 | February 7, 2011 2:35 PM
*************************

I think most Americans actually have heard, if not memorized the 4th verse.

However, your posting it here and my re-reading it reminds me exactly how bad this poetry is. Sheesh, I can't remember the last time I saw so much twisting and gyration just to create a scan!

Posted by: abqcleve | February 7, 2011 6:33 PM | Report abuse

I would like to suggest a compromise on our National Anthem. I agree with mraymond10 that the "Star Spangled Banner" (SSB) is a paen to war, and since circa 1815 we have been at peace with the United Kingdom, which is now among our closest allies, so I think it is a bit insulting to this friendship to have the SSB as the National Athem. I also agree that "America the Beautiful" not only is much easier to sing, but it also proclaims the greatness of our many natural wonders of our nation--really inspiring in my opinion. My solution: let's have two national anthems--play the SSB on June 14th, Flag Day, which should also make everyone appreciate the flag on its special day, but let's use "America the Beautiful" the other 365 days of the year.

Posted by: LFS1952 | February 7, 2011 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Sorry I meant to say 364 days of the year (except for leap year).

Posted by: LFS1952 | February 7, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Awful. Simply Awful. They should have invited Tony Bennett to sing it. He did a surprisingly great job at the World Series.

And who invited Black eyed Peas? Was that TALENT they were displaying last night in Jerry's Place ? I think they might have been thrown off American Idol - along with Christine Baby.

Posted by: Beankountr | February 7, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

1. Children can sing this song. Go to a minor league baseball game an inevitably a school chorus will sing the National Anthem - AND get all the notes and words right.

2. Boo hoo hoo that history is too hard for the author - but millions of Americans bothered to learn about the symbolism in this song.

3. I am so tired of lazy people who want to dumb down everything. They won't be satisfied until we can play the national anthem using 5 notes and kazoos. Next up - change the national bird to the pigeon and remove the dangerously sharp point on the Washington Monument.

Posted by: mwcob | February 7, 2011 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I have always loved the National Anthem. I'm no super-patriot, but I've always loved the "tune," musically speaking and have found the lyrics evocative and inspiring.

Posted by: sistererasma | February 7, 2011 7:24 PM | Report abuse

The “National Anthem” is a tribute song to our Country and those like me who fought in a foreign land and others who died defending our principles. She “CA“ is a paid, seasoned, award winning professional Singer. Professionals don't make those mistakes unless they are totally unprepared and that's not very professional. I know many amateur singers who have never botched this tribute to America. The Super Bowl Committee should think about having an International Gold Medal Barbershop Quartet from the Barbershop Harmony Society sing this tribute next time. Our National Anthem and the Writer Frances Scott Key are not at fault and "SHAME" on the Washington Post for suggesting such a thing.

Posted by: docsquid77 | February 7, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

It's not an easy song to sing, but maybe that's the whole point. I've heard some superb renditions of it that would stir the soul. And maybe that's the point.

Posted by: brewstercounty | February 7, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Could we have a prettier, more singable national anthem? I guess. We could have had better looking kids, too. Certainly, in my case, less difficult ones. But I guess I'm stuck with the ones I have.

The anthem has been sung over millions of graves, thousands of ball games. It's our history. It's ours. We couldn't get rid of it if we wanted to. I don't want to, just as I'll stay with my children.

The singer messed it up. She committed the cardinal singer sin: she got wrapped up in her own vocals and forgot the words. The sentiment behind them, too. This blog is truly offensive.

Posted by: JosephGAnthony | February 7, 2011 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Christina Aguilera is a genius! This is the most buzz anyone has gotten from a Superbowl performance since Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." I think we should call this version of the song, "The Star Spangled Nipple."

And can you believe the WAPO lets this Petri character insult our country like this? I was at the WAPO building this week, and someone (Petri?) put American Flag toilet paper in all the bathrooms! I had to use those cheap, paper towels to keep from defecrating our flag.

Every morning, I sing all 4 verses of the National Anthem in the shower, at the top of my lungs. All the dogs in the neighborhood join in too, but they sing the Aguilera version.

If you'd like to lead the dogs in your neighborhood in song, be sure to get the lyrics right. You can sing along with the bouncing ball here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg0Vfctbeag

Posted by: divtune | February 8, 2011 2:06 AM | Report abuse

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRvVzaQ6i8A

Posted by: music4 | February 8, 2011 2:46 AM | Report abuse

Who am I? I am someone who still gets goosebumps when I hear the national anthem played or sung correctly. If wearing a hat when the anthem is sung, I take it off. Tears well up in my eyes. I think of the fallen men and women who died to protect us from aggressors. I think of Old Glory waving over a July 4th parade watched with family and friends on a sunny day. I think of our Olympians on the medal stand (1980 Miracle on Ice). I think about Captain Sully and his heroics.

Why do I do this? We are influenced by those we are surrounded by. I was taught to respect the national anthem at an early age in grade school and at home. We sang the anthem during ceremonies and (oh, yes) we also said the pledge of allegiance every morning before classes started. I will pass this legacy on to my family and grandchildren so they know who they are. I am proud of the national anthem. Thank you, Alexandra for reminding me.

After reading your blog post in the Washington Post paper on 2/8/11, I found your article blaming Francis Scott Key instead of Christina Aguilera for HER mistake, incredulous. I really didn't know who Christina Aguilera was (nor did I care) when I heard she was going to get the PRIVILEGE to sing the anthem. I did expect her to have rehearsed and know the words for the PRIVILEGE given to her to sing it. She didn't. I always practiced whatever I have to present BEFORE making the presentation. If not, I knew my chances of success diminished. Christina didn't practice. Her BAD not Francis Scott Key's.

Your viewpoint makes me wonder where you came from and who you are? Why don't you tell us in a blog post. I would like to know.

I generally see the Washington Post subscription salesman at Safeway where I buy groceries. I hope he has the power to cancel my WP subscription. I plan to.

Posted by: bossardmark | February 8, 2011 6:22 AM | Report abuse

Back in the 1970s, Albert Brooks did a routine on re-writing the national anthem. (You can find it on YouTube.) I believe the point was, would anything else be any better?

Posted by: annbwass | February 8, 2011 7:32 AM | Report abuse

An' them that have sung it would agree.

Posted by: dshepherd2 | February 8, 2011 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Although I agree with your view on Christina, you blew it in your title. Francis Scott Key only wrote the words. The tune is an old English pub song, "To Anacreon in Heaven". I guess after so many pints, your vocal folds are too numb to notice how much it hurts to sing it. I agree that we should change it to one that is more singable and expect all in attendance to sing, at least if they are Americans. I sang along at a Cardinals game once and at least 100 people turned and stared.

Posted by: Miataboy | February 8, 2011 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I agree that the anthem is awkward in music and dated in lyric. And I understand that this blog is intended to be humorous. But I find myself in such complete disagreement with its conclusion that the intended humor is lost on me.

Christina Aguilera is a professional. She was paid handsomely to sing what must be the most universally-known song in America -- along with the opportunity for a global spotlight. Nervous? Overwhelmed? That's for first-try "American Idol" wannabes. If I paid Alexandra Petri to write an article about the kings of Bablyon and she got three of their names wrong, and I complained, would she whine about how it's a difficult and arcane topic that doesn't really have any contemporary meaning?

It does not matter whether the National Anthem is a drinking song or a Gregorian chant. It doesn't really even matter if it is horrible (maybe some future Congress might change it?). But it is, for better or worse, a national historic symbol of great importance. This column is just not funny.

Posted by: tommyg2230 | February 8, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The song was made the National Anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301. So, if anyone is to be "Blamed" for the "Star Spangled Banner" being a not particularly attactive piece of music, it is the U. S. Congress, for making it the National Anthem, not Francis Scott Key for writing the lyrics. It is oddly interesting that a drinking song is the National Anthem.

Posted by: duryeezouave | February 8, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

A little Googling tells me Ms. Petri went to Harvard and majored in English. And yet a simple verse taught to fourth-graders befuddles her, and she writes a sentence containing the phrase, "who has confessedly been singing."

So much for the Ivy League.

Posted by: nnall | February 8, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

In the olden days, an editor would gather these comments and sit down with Ms. Petri and have a talk with her about humor, good writing, quality control and job performance. Then, he or she would have a cigarette with the linotype guy out on 15th street. Meanwhile, one would hope, Ms. Petri would try much harder next time, or begin to pack her belongings. Ah, for the olden days.

Posted by: jcburns | February 8, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think what Ms. Petri was trying to illustrate in a humorous way (Lighten up, people) is the difficulty in singing a song that is supposed to be a unifying force. What good is it when the words are quaint, the meaning is obscure, and the melody is beyond the range of most people? The lowest note to the highest is an octave and a fifth. I think Roseanne sang it better than most people are capable of. America the Beautiful is a better song in every respect. So why are we clinging to this one, that has not been our official anthem for even 100 years?

Anthems should be sung by everyone, there is a real beauty and catharsis in group singing, it should not be left only to the artists and those with the vocal chops to pull it off. Give us a song we can all sing.

PS: I'm from Baltimore, home of the anthem, and even I recognize the SSB is a relic.

Posted by: bunkymark | February 8, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the explanation, bunkymark. Your comment is so much more concise and clear than the opinion-slash-humor piece it appears under...maybe we can swap the two out.

My take on the comments, in summary: regardless of Ms. Aguilera's singing or our country's choice of an anthem, this piece is not worthy of the Washington Post.

No, not even the website.

Posted by: jcburns | February 8, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Alexandra Petri = MORON!!!

Posted by: doughless | February 8, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

When I first read this in the Post I was quite dismayed. I have to agree with paulcauchon, wise3, lss88 and others. Blaming Key for the writing is foolish; I guess we should also blame Shakespeare for his "difficult" writing. The language has changed through the centuries but not the meaning behind the words. It is a shame that Alexandra Petri has joined in the dumbing down of the knowledge of American history.

Posted by: AlfromAlexandria | February 8, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

This article is, at best, rubbish! Christina, the one who butchered the national anthem, is an American embarrassment. I fail to understand why "entertainers" continue to feel they have to "express" themselves by warbling pieces that were meant to be sung as written and not embellished. Where is Kate Smith when we really need her. If Petri were to take the time to look at every verse I would hope she'd clearly see that this anthem is as profound today as it was the day it was written. Anyone can take selective portions of any script and make it support any point they are trying to make. What should really be happening is someone screen performer's impending performance beforehand to prevent the performer and the general public from being embarrassed. But, then, "columnists" such as Petri wouldn't be able to write anything at all that resembled a subject to be taken seriously. Puns or no puns. Some are just best left alone and not said or printed. The Post continues to embarrass itself...no wonder circulation is down.

Posted by: tfinneyclan | February 8, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Y'all left out the 3rd verse about how much we hate the Brits: "Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution!"

And the next line which calls them "hirelings" and "slaves". Noble words, those.

We all know the better choice: America The Beautiful. Singable and peaceable.

Posted by: laboo | February 8, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm having a good laugh at the expense of all you first-time blog commenters who have no clue that, opposite to article comments, blog comments go all the way to the bottom.

On reading the contents of your multiple, sequential, identical comments -- I have to conclude this is a deliberate Darwinian test on the WaPo's part. A test that's proving hilariously successful.

And since the topic is music from America's early battles, there's one that applies peculiarly well to this. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered his British Army outside of Yorktown. And the British band played -- "The World Turned Upside Down"!

Yo, newbs! Your comments are at the BOTTOM here!

Posted by: laboo | February 8, 2011 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Just FYI, the Fairfax Jubil-Aires sang the National Anthem in four-part harmony at George Mason University's basketball game on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday without flubbing the lyrics. (It's not all that hard, if you can sing to start with.)

Posted by: singasong | February 8, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri, I suppose you would prefer "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)"?

Posted by: Law-abiding_citizen | February 8, 2011 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Given the way the US is going, maybe we ought to go back to the original lyrics to the melody - Only in America would a drinking song become a national anthem:

To ANACREON in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That He their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be;
When this Answer arriv'd from the JOLLY OLD GRECIAN
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
"No longer be mute,
"I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
"And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine
"The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS's Vine.
2
The news through OLYMPUS immediately flew;
When OLD THUNDER pretended to give himself Airs_
If these Mortals are suffer'd their Scheme to pursue,
The Devil a Goddess will stay above Stairs.
"Hark! already they cry,
"In Transports of Joy
"Away to the Sons of ANACREON we'll fly,
"And there, with good Fellows, we'll learn to intwine
"The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS'S Vine.
3
"The YELLOW-HAIR'D GOD and his nine fusty Maids
"From HELICON'S Banks will incontinent flee,
"IDALIA will boast but of tenantless Shades,
"And the bi-forked Hill a mere Desart will be
"My Thunder, no fear on't,
"Shall soon do it's Errand,
"And, dam'me! I'll swinge the Ringleaders I warrant,
"I'll trim the young Dogs, for thus daring to twine
"The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS'S Vine.
4
APOLLO rose up; and said, "Pr'ythee ne'er quarrel,
"Good King of the Gods with my Vot'ries below:
"Your Thunder is useless_then, shewing his Laurel,
Cry'd. "Sic evitabile fulmen, you know!
"Then over each Head
"My Laurels I'll spread
"So my Sons from your Crackers no Mischief shall dread,
"Whilst snug in their Club-Room, they Jovially twine
"The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS'S Vine.
5
Next MOMUS got up, with his risible Phiz,
And swore with APOLLO he'd cheerfull join_
"The full Tide of Harmony still shall be his,
"But the Song, and the Catch, & the Laugh shall bemine
"Then, JOVE, be not jealous
Of these honest Fellows,
Cry'd JOVE, "We relent, since the Truth you now tell us;
"And swear, by OLD STYX, that they long shall entwine
"The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS'S Vine.
6
Ye Sons of ANACREON, then, join Hand in Hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
'Tis your's to support what's so happily plann'd;
You've the Sanction of Gods, and the FIAT of JOVE.
While thus we agree
Our Toast let it be.
May our Club flourish happy, united and free!
And long may the Sons of ANACREON intwine
The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS'S Vine.

Posted by: larryclyons | February 8, 2011 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps this version would be more befitting to Peetri:

Far-Left Socialistic-Extremist Liberal National Anthem

O, say can you see, by the Extremist Liberals’ rabid light
What so defiantly they say, all day they are gleaming
Their Socialistic, Fascist mouths forever sound off into the night
O’er all the Liberal news media, they spew out Socialistic lies
While they are constantly screaming
Nevertheless, they fear the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air
This gives proof that our freedom is still there
O say can’t they see that we believe not in them or their way
For we still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave
Made up of fine women and men prepared to defend our freedom
Moreover, if they not like it here let us show them the way,
For them to discover new lands that don’t permit them to sway,
O say does our star-spangled banner yet wave,
Let us get rid of the Socialistic, Fascist, Non-Progressive, and Hard Line Left,
For they are not worthy of the effort to save, or the freedom they have!

Posted by: Jack75 | February 8, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

NewsBusters| WaPo Humorist: Don't Blame Christina Aguilera, It's Francis Scott Key Who Botched the National Anthem
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/ken-shepherd/2011/02/08/wapo-humorist-dont-blame-christina-aguilera-its-francis-scott-key-who-

Posted by: StewartIII | February 8, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

I am so sorry that The Star Spangled Banner cannot handle someone's free interpretation. It shouldn't have to. I am inspired when it is played at the Olympics. The other countries show proper respect and we don't have to hear somebody moaning, groaning and wailing. When I play it you can hear a pin drop. I am a retired Music teacher and I remember teaching it to my children. We told the story. It was in a few library books and I had a recording. We thought about how Francis Scott Key must have felt being detained on the British ship awaiting the outcome of the battle of Fort McHenry. He didn't have a cell phone, radio or even a flashlight. He watched the bomb blasts and watched our flag still flying. Then there was dead dark silence. When the sun came up,He exclaimed in the language of 1812 "Oh Say! Can you see?" The American flag was still flying and the battle was won. These lyrics were the language of the time and they make more sense than rap lyrics. Key was also a lawyer so he must have known what he was talking about. By the end of my 50 minute period my 8 year olds on up could sing this piece. Down below some of the soldiers were singing Anacreon in Heaven. They sang because they didn't have radios, jukeboxes, or karioke. I find it ironic that our national anthem is set to a British; the British anthem is set to music written by an American. If a bunch of common soldiers could sing this melody drunk or sober, why can't 21st century intellectuals?

Posted by: cahHood | February 8, 2011 8:44 PM | Report abuse

I am sorry that the Star Spangled Banner cannot handle someone;s free interpretation. I should not have to. I am always inspired when I hear it at the Olympics. I don't have to hear somebody moaning, groaning and wailing. Other countries respect it and the Americans respect the anthems of other countries. When I play it you can hear a pin drop. I am a retired Music teacher and I remember teaching it to my children. We told the story. We thought about how Francis Scott Key felt being detained on a British ship while awaiting the outcome of the battle of Fort McHenry. He watched the bomb blasts to see if the flag was still flying. Then there was dead dark silence. Key didnt have a cell phone, radio or even a flashlight. The sun came up he saw the American flag still flying. The Americans won the battle. In the language of 1812 he exclaimed, Oh say! Can you see?"He began writing a poem that became the lyrics. Francis Scott Key was also a lawyer so he must have known what he was talking about. By the end of my 50 minute period my 8 year olds on up could sing the Star Spangled Banner. Some soldiers were drinking and singing Anacreon in Heaven. They sang because they didn't have radios, jukeboxes or karioke. I always found it interesting that our national anthem is set to a British song; the British anthem is set to a song written by an American I some common soldiers could sing that melody drunk or sober, why can't some 21st century intellectuals?

Posted by: cahHood | February 8, 2011 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Alexandra Petri, we need to talk.

your grasp of even the most basic historical signifigance or even historical context of our nations anthem is a disgrace. You are now the white elephant in the room. Your entire post has killed the conversation at the party and everyone is shuffling around awkwardly trying to figure out how to change the subject you so borishly brought up. Like a teenager sure of their own brilliance at an adult party, you professed to have an intelligent opinion, only to spew uneducated rhetoric. Francis Scott Key didn't screw up. You did. Go back to history class.

Please understand, many many many millions of Americans have sung this anthem obver and over again without missing a note. Just because you are not a singer doesn't mean the song can not be sung. Just because a note is missed, doesn't mean the song is bad. The song is more than a snapshot of a bad night aboard an enemy ship. It is representative of our nations spirit and desires - a spirit and desire that has not vanished despite what you might choose to print in your column.

If you are indeed losing sleep over this, may I suggest therapy after your history lessons. Could be helpful. Until then, try putting your hand over your heart and singing without reservation and with a loud, proud voice the next time the national anthem is played. Try thinking about how the spirit fo a nation as it was captured so beautifully by this song is the same spirit that created the bill of rights - the most important document in your professional life. The one that gives you a protected right to write this garbage.

Posted by: danielnick | February 9, 2011 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Petri = Jackass

Posted by: rowedoug | February 10, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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