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Song of the Day #1651

Song of the Day: The Star-Spangled Banner features lyrics taken from an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key, "Defence of Fort M'Henry," written during the War of 1812, with music based on a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club for amateur musicians. In truth, my personal all-time favorite "patriotic" song remains "America the Beautiful" (especially as delivered by the great Ray Charles [YouTube link]). Quite apart from the controversies that have surrounded the U.S. national anthem over the years (and to all my 'anarchist' friends, chill a moment!)---from those who claim that one of its rarely sung stanzas expresses racist content to those who have taken to kneeling during its presentation prior to sports events---I have marvelled at the way it has been performed by some of the most diverse artists through the years, including Yankee stadium stalwart, the late opera singer Robert Merrill, the late Whitney Houston [YouTube links], who delivered a heartfelt rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl XXV, and the "controversial" Latin-tinged, acoustic version performed in Detroit in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series by Jose Feliciano [YouTube link]. His version became the first recorded rendition of the anthem that ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #50; Whitney's version peaked at #20). But in keeping with the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival, there remains one truly electrifying instrumental rendition of the anthem by rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who performed as the last artist to appear at Woodstock [YouTube link]. To some, this performance was a sacrilege; to others, it was a sign of the turbulent and violent era to which it spoke. Hendrix actually plays a couple of notes from 'Taps' to drive home the point of a nation at war abroad---and at home. Nearly all the critical commentators on the event have viewed this as the most iconic performance of the four-day festival. It reflects both the fireworks of its time and, in a twist of irony, the fireworks set off on this day in 1776 when American rebels---whatever their own flaws, embodied in the contradictions of their time---pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, in declaring their independence from the British Empire. A Happy and Safe Independence Day to all!

Postscript #1: Context: I'm a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores.

Having been on the Brooklyn Promenade back in 1983, when there was a fireworks display to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, I thought I'd never see a better fireworks display. But the Macy's Fireworks display tonight, which focused its attention on NYC's East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the world's great, iconic spans, against the backdrop of some of the greatest film themes ever written (by everyone from Alfred Newman and Max Steiner to Elmer Bernstein and John Williams) was one of the best I've ever seen.

If the program hasn't reached your time zone yet, I'm sure it will be on YouTube or the NBC site soon. But definitely check it out! You won't be disappointed. Truly wonderful. (Yes, and they even included the love theme from "The Godfather." :) )

Postscript #2: Here is a link on YouTube, starts about 16 seconds in, from the national anthem to Alfred Newman's Fox Fanfare to Casablanca (Steiner), and so forth. Somebody on the YouTube thread objected to "The Godfather" being included. But what's America without the Family? ;) And don't miss Jennifer Hudson's wonderful rendition of "Over the Rainbow," which includes the rarely heard opening verse or that absolutely spectacular John Williams segment. At 55 mins., the fireworks display is shown again, with an introduction by historian David McCllough, discussing the Brooklyn Bridge---built by immigrants---completed in May 1883.

Postscript #3 (6 July 2019): Remarkably, one reader interpreted the fireworks display as symbolizing the destruction of the Bridge. My response was light-hearted, but I think it made a few essential points. As I stated:

Maybe you need a high-definition television. :) I mean, they were by no means "covering" the bridge [with explosives]. They were cascading off the bridge like waterfalls; they were shooting straight out of the cathedral towers of the bridge. And they were---believe it or not---in complete sync with the magnificent film score medley; even during the love theme to "The Godfather" there were red, heart-like shapes forming over the bridge; rainbow colors accompanied "Over the Rainbow", and "celestial" shapes accompanied the John Williams segment, and so forth. But as I said: To each his own. I opened the original thread about this fireworks display with "Context": That I was a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores. I was also there when the Grucci Family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge; here is a link to that fireworks display; Macy's actually adapted the very same "waterfall" and cathedral firework effects from that celebration, as a paean to the Centennial display. Why on earth are we debating this display as if it were a symbol of celebration or nihilism? Inquiring minds want to know...

The reader responded that there was a distinct difference in context between the 1983 display and any displays after 2001. I replied:

Well I appreciate that; but I truly am not interpreting this as some kind of expression of post-9/11 terrorism. Remember that part of the glory of fireworks on the Fourth of July is that despite all the explosives, the iconic image still stands (whether it be the flag in "The Star-Spangled Banner" or the Brooklyn Bridge). To me, the effects highlighted the Bridge and its glory; to you, it is destruction. I just think we should agree to disagree. You're no less a Brooklynite if you despised the display then or now. Cheers!