Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dixie is better than the Star Spangled Banner

Without getting into the political and historical arguments, Dixie is a better national anthem than the Star Spangled Banner. I mean this strictly in the musical sense.

It has been a long time since I have heard the Star Spangled Banner sung live in a respectful way in public. Every time I'm told to rise for the national anthem, I literally cringe. It has become a cheesy nightclub act. Instead of calling attention to country and patriotism, hearth and home, valor and sacrifice - the anthem has become a showtune, an American Idol audition-like excuse to warble and show off one's vocal improvisation and embellishment. It is (now) always performed in such a way as to call attention to the "performer" - who typically gyrates and makes hand gestures to the "oohs" and "ahs" of the audience.

While things may have changed since my latest sojourn to the Great White North, I haven't heard O Canada performed in this way that we've come to expect as the "standard" rendering of the American national anthem.

The Star Spangled Banner is the Anthem that has become a pop song.

Ironically, Dixie has had the opposite journey. It was a pop song that became a national anthem. Dixie was a popular minstrel show tune at the time of the secession crisis. Its nostalgic lyrics and peppy beat made it a popular tune in North and South alike - a tune you can whistle. When the Southern states seceded and forged a new "national" identity (the Confederacy carefully avoided centralized political nationalization, while certainly maintaining a cultural identity as a "nation"), Dixie spontaneously became the national anthem of the Confederate States of America. Only, in this case, the pop song became an Anthem - often performed by military bands as a march.

As the losses mounted in the South, Dixie became an emotional reminder of the sacrifices of civilians and soldiers alike to secure independence. After the fall of the government and the imposition of reconstruction, Dixie became a somber tribute to those who fell in battle - as well as to those who endured oppression at the hands of puppet governments. In subsequent decades, Dixie was greeted by moist eyes, standing at attention, doffed hats, and hands raised in salute or placed over hearts - as fallen comrades, fathers, and later, grandfathers were called to mind.

As the deep wounds of war began to heal, Dixie served as a source of regional pride - being used for both civilian and military uses. Football games in the South opened with Dixie. Dixie came to be used as a rousing song to cheer on teams of "Rebels" in the North and the South as the legacy of the Confederate soldier became "nationalized" and came to be celebrated by all regions in the re-United States.

Today, Dixie has largely fallen into disuse - a casualty of political correctness and warped racial identity politics. However, those who continue to sing Dixie (such as members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy) do so reverently - with no ornamentation, embellishment, or other forms of disrespectful caterwauling. Dixie continues to be performed by brass bands and sung both slowly and swiftly at ceremonies honoring the war dead. It continues here and there as a "fight song."

Aside from the Elvis Presley rendition in the 1960s that perversely combined Dixie and the so-called Battle Hymn of the Republic, Dixie has avoided the cheesiness that typifies the Star Spangled Banner. Whether this is due to an increased sense of reverence for the dead in a war-vanquished region that lost its independence by force, or perhaps because it simply isn't performed by pop-star wannabes at sporting events today, I don't know. We have become a "flip-flop" culture bereft of respect and reverence - a phenomenon which manifests itself in the church as well under the guise of "contemporary worship" and the "emerging church."

But I know this much - I know when I do hear Dixie sung, it will be sung with respect and reverence. I stand, remove my hat, cover my hand over my heart, and reflect on the sacrifices of my ancestors. When I hear the Star Spangled Banner being sung, it's all I can do not to throw up.

How sad is that?


Peter said...

Of the three, "O Canada" seems the most beautiful and noble musically. Dixie is a good song, and, ironically, was Lincoln's favorite. Happily, my experience with the Star-Spangled Banner hasn't been quite as bad as yours. At local Wizards games folks take off their caps, and place their hands on their hearts, while others sing along (which, admittedly, isn't easy, certainly in comparison to Dixie's catchy minstrel tune). The self-serving, over-singing of the anthem is captured wonderfully by the Simpsons (In the show, Homer falls asleep while each noted is tediously and bombastically elongated). But, in my experience, at least locally, that trend has run its course, and most singers seem to take their responsibility with due respect.

solarblogger said...

I think "America The Beautiful" would be much better than "The Star-Spangled Banner", and have often heard others say the same.

The "Star-Spangled Banner" does get sung respectfully at the Hollywood Bowl before concerts.

I really like "Dixie," but it is quite capable of some pretty bad renditions. I've noticed that a lot of music from that era seems capable of anything from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Presbytera said...

I can sooo identify with your observation on the singing of the National Anthem. From what I hear, the Higher Things choir did sing the anthem appropriately in Minneapolis. When the National Anthem comes on TV for a ballgame, we quickly change the channel until the entertainment is over.

Lawrence said...

Sad. But true. Sadly enough.

"American The Beautiful" is a great reflection of the natural gifts of our scenery and natural resources. But the "Star-Spangled Banner" is reflective of what forged our nation into a nation in the first place. And that is what makes our National Anthem such a great Nathional Anthem.

Take a group of military service members saluting our flag, have them sing each of the songs noted above, and see which song makes the best anthem.

solarblogger said...

I'll admit the Star-Spangled Banner being better in that sense. It is more of a flag anthem than a national anthem, though. And I'm also weighing the tunes against each other. If we have to got into lyrics, none of them really works. "My Country Tis of Thee" has the right words, but we can't exactly use that tune as a national anthem!

Jay Watson said...

Maybe we need a "contemporary" National anthem that will appeal to the Nascar Mom (as opposed to the Soccer Mom)? I vote for Hank Williams Jr.s
"If the South Would have Won the War."
Me and Bocephus!
Deo Vindice
Fr Watson SSP

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you about Dixie. I was humming/singing it to my son yesterday and said loudly enough for my wife to hear, "And that's our national anthem!"

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Thanks for the comments, y'all. Hopefully, the pendulum is fixin' to swing back the other way toward decorum from vacuity. I don't think America the Beautiful is a fitting anthem. The Star Spangled Banner has a unique history having been composed by a prisoner during an invasion - a song that tells a poignant story. It has so much more meaning than figures of speech about grain and the color of the mountains.

I was teasing our organist after the Sunday service on July 1 as she was using "My Country 'Tis of Thee" as a prelude and postlude. July 1 happens to be Canada Day, and "My County 'Tis of Thee" happens to be the tune "God Save the Queen." I thanked her for her cultural sensitivity to my wife and son...

Father Watson has a point about the Hank, Jr. tune. It is almost as iconic to the South as "Sweet Home Alabama" (in the same way Born to Run is revered by New Jersey rockers). Another possible candidate for Southern Rock National Anthem might be David Allan Coe's "If That Ain't Country" - although some of the words may need bowdlerized for the very young ones (although I have no problem at all with even tiny tots singing "I'm a Good Old Rebel" including the line: "I won't be reconstructed and I don't care a damn." In that context, it's like the word "ass" being used in the King James Version - though it causes some snickers and raised eyebrows, the text is too important to monkey with.

Finally, Southern Lutheran, "I feel your pain." I grew up in the capital of West(ern) Virginia - which is to say: Akron, Ohio. After living an idyllic existence in Forsyth Country, Georgia, God shipped my sun-baked hide to the tundra of Fort Wayne for three long exilic years before mercifully granting me a year in Columbia, SC.

Keep the faith, find a camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, fly your flag (in private if necessary), and teach your children the old songs, old ways, and old customs. Treat your yankee neighbors with deference and kindness never forgetting our noblesse oblige.

I shall pray for you, suh!

Rosko said...

Father, which of our National Flags should the Southern Lutheran fly? I personally like the First National, although the Third National is good too. Unfortunately, the Navy Jack is all too often abused? Which should I fly on my house?

(PS, on the 20' Pole in the yard will the the Flag of the USA, but I will also have a flag bracket on the porch)