Patriotic? These days, more like idiotic

May, 19, 2010
05/19/10
10:31
AM ET
More and more, through the years, as one country singer after another has warbled and gargled and dragged out some perverse rendering of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at NASCAR races, I have grown wearier, sadder, more disgusted.

Not that NASCAR is the only offender. All major sports have let performances of our national anthem lapse into loosey-goosey "interpretations" by the "artists."

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Jimmie Johnson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJimmie Johnson and his wife, Chandra, have listened to numerous renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- some good, some not so -- while competing in the Cup circuit.

But NASCAR tries to posture itself as the most patriotic of sports, and yet on any given Sunday, it treats the anthem like just another Nashville hit.

I reached the breaking point on these cheap imitations last Friday, when, for the first time in a long time, I heard our national anthem sung right.

A young tenor named Jerel Ely stood before 3,000 of his fellow graduating seniors (my son among them) and 9,000 or so guests at Auburn University, accompanied by the music department's wind ensemble.

The song rang pure, mighty in its discipline, beyond stirring in its perfect notes and timing, through the coliseum.

There could not possibly have been a dry eye, or a throat without a lump, nor a less-than-heaving chest, in the place.

It was a precious memory of the way I'd heard it as a kid, at football games and heavyweight fights and the World Series, and all gatherings of great importance in this country, when it was all about the anthem, not the "artist" performing.

There was no need in those days for vast waste of military fuel in fighter-jet flyovers for jingoistic jacking up of the crowds. The anthem itself was plenty rousing enough.

And now, having heard it done right, once more, I never again will be able to bear hearing this sort of butchery:

"Oh-wo-wo … sa-ay-ay-ay-ay … kin u see-hee-heee-heeee …

"Bahhhh thahhhh dawn's uuuhly ligh-igh-igh-ight …"

Torturing us on through:

"O'r the la-a-a-nd of tha free-hee-heee-HEEEEEEEEEE!

"And thah ho-wo-wo-wome …

Of tha-ah-ah-ah, brah-rah-rah-ray-yay-yay-yayve …"

And that is just the desecration of the lyrics. The notes themselves are wretched runaway roller coasters from tradition.

Now you may say you love that sort of rendering. If you do, God help you, you are too young to have heard it sung right.

Several years ago, many of us in the NASCAR media grew so sick of these casual renditions that we took to timing the performances for their agonizing length. I think the record was 2 minutes, 5 seconds. This, for an anthem a good military band performs -- correctly -- in about 1 minute, 3 seconds.

I began to wonder if these half-baked country crooners didn't drag it out, hogging the stage, just to get a little more national television time for promotion of themselves and their new CDs.

Want to lead all sports in patriotism, NASCAR? Then take "The Star-Spangled Banner" back from the warblers, the garglers, the whangayangers and the wo-wo-wohers.

And require that it be played with dignity. Every Sunday. It needs no jazzing up. It needs no "interpretation." It just needs playing right.

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