Category Archives: Art

My take on the SSB

Several people have asked me what I thought about Christina Aguilera’s interesting treatment of the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Here’s the lowdown, but before I get into it:

I see no problem with Christina having muffed a lyric. It happens to the best of singers. Experienced stage actors forget a line once in awhile, even after performing the same scene hundreds of times. Neuron misfire is not the issue here. OK, my take:

  1. It is a difficult song to sing. My own personal feelings aside (oh all right..I think “America, the Beautiful” should be our national anthem*), the tune is a set-up to any solo singer. I don’t know what John Stafford Smith was thinking when he wrote the melody 200+ years ago; he may have wanted to impress the members of the Anacreontic Society, a good-ol’-boy club of amateur musicians in London who gathered together regularly to talk about wine, women and song. And wine. *hic* Truth is, singing a song that spans an octave plus a perfect 5th is no easy feat, regardless of one’s sobriety level.
  2. Too many singers try to sexify it. It’s hideous. And while I’m proud to have been born and raised in the USA, totally missing the point on something like this is so, so American. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for putting a little extra style or personal stamp on the song when performing it, but anyone with marginal sense can listen to what happened last Sunday and think, “Yipes, she is trying way too hard.” The melody is lost, right along with the message. And Christina, please. Open your eyes once in awhile. It’s annoying, and truthfully, I refuse to believe you were that “caught up” in the intensely passionate and meaningful text. In fact, I’d be interested to know how many Americans could correctly paraphrase the first verse of the poem to begin with. Wagers?
  3. We don’t need a “dumbed down” national anthem, as some have suggested. Adopting a national song with a range inside an octave isn’t the answer. Rather, since we seem to be stuck with “The Star Spangled Banner,” the answer is that we need singers who take the song seriously enough to train on it before performing it. Ours is not the only complicated national anthem. Have you heard Italy’s? I had to learn it back in 1976 when I toured Europe with an American choir and orchestra. It was great fun — especially the middle section. Yee haw. However, you don’t hear Italian pop singers trying to pimp it out. It’s done (at least every time I’ve heard it) with authentic  — as opposed to hand-in-the-air, eyes-closed, tragic hipness — reverence and great pride.

* I like “America, the Beautiful” as a national anthem because it actually describes, well…how beautiful America is. What vistas could instill more pride in where we live than spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties? What prayer is more simple and fervent than the entreaty that God bless the country with His grace, and reward its good deeds with a spirit of national brotherhood? Granted, despite Francis Scott Key’s doubts on the matter (what other national anthem ends in a question?), Fort McHenry stood, and a large American flag was raised in victory. Three hundred-some British soldiers died in the battle, while only four were lost on the American side. Cool, yes? I suppose so. Still, the War of 1812 was steeped in greed on both sides — hardly a testament to ardent love of country. Rather, it was the love of other people’s countries (as in, “Hey, we want Canada; let’s go steal it!”) that largely characterized the conflict. Feh.

I’d rather our national song be about nice things. But that’s just me, wanting to feel all the good feelings. That would be unlike the feelings brought about by wind chills of -18. I like winter, but enough already.


But I could have told you, Vincent…

…this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

I love that song. One of the all-time best songs of the seventies. If you don’t know it, you have to listen/watch. It’s an emergency.

This morning I caught a link to “This Day in History.” I found out through more searching that Vincent van Gogh did not in fact “chop off his own ear.” First, it wasn’t his whole ear, but rather just a small part of the lobe. And according to NPR, the police report of the incident suggested a fight with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, who was living with him at the time of the December 23rd, 1888 event.


It’s no secret van Gogh had his demons. They eventually cornered him into shooting himself in the chest, making a wound that would kill him a couple of days later. But what’s the scoop on this ear thing? I always assumed (read: believed what I’d read for decades) that he’d done the deed to himself in a rage of despair after Gauguin walked out on him. But according to a new study, reported by the London Telegraph:

Gauguin, an excellent fencer, was planning to leave Van Gogh’s “Yellow House” in Arles, southwestern France, after an unhappy stay.

He had walked out of the house with his baggage and his trusty épée in hand, but was followed by the troubled Van Gogh, who had earlier thrown a glass at him.

As the pair approached a bordello, their row intensified, and Gauguin cut off Van Gogh’s left earlobe with his sword – either in anger or self-defence.”

Muy interesante. Who says you don’t learn anything on the Interwebnet?


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