Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Isaac Asimov: “I Am Crazy, Absolutely Nuts, About our National Anthem” (1991)

From OpenCulture:  Isaac Asimov: “I Am Crazy, Absolutely Nuts, About our National Anthem” (1991)

The Star-Spangled Banner became the national anthem of the United States in 1931, thanks to Herbert Hoover. And, ever since, the anthem has had its detractors. The Kennedy Center acknowledges on its website:
Some Americans complain that it celebrates war and should be reserved for military ceremonies. Others simply grumble that it is too hard to sing with a range that is out of reach for the average vocalist [anyone remember Carl Lewis giving it a try?]. Suggested replacements have included “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” and “This Land is Your Land.”
And don’t forget that singers, amateur and professionals alike, often have difficulty remembering the complicated lyrics. Yes, The Star-Spangled Banner has its critics. But the great Isaac Asimov wasn’t one of them. In 1991, Asimov wrote a short piece called “All Four Stanzas” that staked out his position from the very start. It began:
I have a weakness–I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem.
The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible, but frequently when I’m taking a shower I sing it with as much power and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time.
I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem–all four stanzas.
This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting. “Thanks, Herb,” I said.
“That’s all right,” he said. “It was at the request of the kitchen staff.”
I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas.
Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before–or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it was not me; it was the anthem….
So now let me tell you how it came to be written.
And, with that, he takes you back to The War of 1812, which started 200 years ago. It’s largely a forgotten war. But it did leave us with our most enduring song.  Perhaps you’ll find yourself singing it in the shower today too.

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?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power 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


1 comment:

  1. The above is not what Asimov really wrote, but a badly edited version. The following blog entry is very informative: