"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Toward sweeter sounds for celebrating USA

It's appropriate that during this time when memories of Leslie Nielsen are still so fresh, a performer has a screw-up with the National Anthem for a sports event.
It was a shocker when we learned of Nielsen's death. It was in his role as Lt. Frank Drebin that he sang the National Anthem for a major league baseball game. Drebin was an imposter. He and his Police Squad had to prevent an assassination attempt on the queen of England. Access to the field was a must.
The real singer, an operatic star, was tied up for this good cause.
Yesterday (Sunday) we learned what a struggle our National Anthem can be, even for the intended performing artist. Christina Aguilera will have an extra paragraph added to her Wikipedia profile. She enters the trivia annals of people struggling with our national song in various ways.
I'm not sure how this custom began of having this song precede sports events. Perhaps it was in a mood of reflection following a major war. It trickles all the way down to high school sports.
The incident yesterday shows that Aguilera at least wasn't lip-syncing to a recording. I give her major kudos for that.
We don't even know if there will be a Super Bowl next year. There's a work stoppage or strike or whatever that's looming.
The Drebin character was funny partly because he had such an obsessive focus on accomplishing his mission, no matter what idiotic or oddball means were employed.
George Kennedy was the straight man (an underrated role) and O.J. Simpson took the pratfalls. Priscilla Presley was the romantic interest.
Three men doing ridiculous things is remindful of the Three Stooges of course. Don't think the Naked Gun creators weren't aware of the Stooges' chemistry.
The Drebin character belted out the National Anthem like he really had his heart in it. He groped to try to find the right words. Aguilera had a lapse with her grasp of the lyrics but I'm hearing that she covered well, minimizing the embarrassment.
I have heard for years that our National Anthem is difficult to sing. The needed vocal range is wide. So, if you accidentally start out on the wrong note, you're in trouble.
High school pep bands need a lead trumpet player who can reach up to a high note in one spot. I think this is where Nielsen as Drebin sang "Oh the home of the land. . ."
Some critics have felt distressed through the years about how the lyrics are all about war. I agree this should be an issue.
Is "the national anthem" really a settled issue?
I recall hearing as a child that "America the Beautiful" might be a better choice. For that matter, Ben Franklin felt that the turkey rather than eagle should be our national symbol.
So can't we allow some room for debate in these issues? Franklin admired the turkey because it was industrious. The eagle is a predator.
"America the Beautiful" speaks for itself. As an alternative to "the bombs bursting in air," there is much to be said for it. And I think singers everywhere would say "amen."
And isn't it a shorter song too?
Really, is there anything more excruciating than listening to a self-absorbed performer who chooses a slow tempo for The Star Spangled Banner? I could swear those bombs start bursting in my head.
America would applaud in unison if we made the switch to "America the Beautiful."
How about a nationwide songwriting contest to come up with something new? We want a song that accents our best traits.
War is a necessary evil that has arisen in our past and not something to be heralded. Go see a John Wayne movie if you must. How about "The Green Beret?" That one was about Viet Nam.
That debacle of a war colored my whole generation through our formative years. Sometimes when I hear the war lyrics of the National Anthem, I don't even want to look at the flag.
Maybe we could make two changes at once: retire the Star Spangled Banner, and opt for Franklin's suggestion on the national symbol. The turkey is a peace-loving fowl. Franklin was a man defined by wisdom.
And this revered Founding Father would want a song that accents our nation's aesthetic richness, not its guns blazing.

On the Super Bowl of 2011. . .
I'll readily admit here and remind you that I picked the Steelers to win the big game. I felt that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had that intangible talent factor like John Elway, that would propel him and his team past the opponent.
I wasn't sold on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, yet. I am supremely happy that Rodgers has now managed to step out of the shadow of Brett Favre.
I am happy that Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, despite losing Sunday, is solidified among the league's elite coaches. He came from the ranks of the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff. It's sad that we groomed him but couldn't keep him.
There's no way to predict, but the Vikings could be headed on a very bumpy road. The fact that Leslie Frazier seems likable - by all accounts he is - will be rendered meaningless if the losses mount. And they most certainly could mount.
The Metrodome was once a marvelous defense against our adversarial winter elements. We have learned in the last few months that this adversary can defeat us. Our domed refuge in winter was crushed by snow. And we have no clue who our quarterback will be.
Conventional wisdom in sports has it that when you fire a coach under duress, replace him with an assistant and then decide after a few (honeymoon) weeks to promote the assistant, it's the sign of a losing franchise. How strange if I'm more familiar with this than Zygi Wilf.
But stranger things have happened.
Remember, there may be no NFL season next year anyway. We had all better get ready to follow college football more seriously, or take up crocheting.
The U of M Gophers look to be as stagnant as ever. Comedian Norm Crosby mistakenly used the word "stagnant" when he meant "pregnant."
On that note, I'm wrapping up this post, written in the dismal mid-winter throes of 2011.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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