Saturday, April 22, 2017

Respecting the national anthems

Though yours truly is not necessarily a hard-core flag-waving, rah-rah type, I most certainly have always respected the national anthems of not only my country, but others. True, it's only a song and accompanying lyrics, but it means a lot to citizens of various nationalities. And well it should. Much like their flag, this is a symbol of their identity.

The recent Colin Kaepernick brouhaha aside (whereby he has refused to stand for his own country's anthem -- and yes -- he has every right to do so), nobody seems to have carried on the tradition better than the NHL.

For the purposes of this argument, we'll only discuss two anthems, those of Canada and the USA. After all, these are the only two countries that have teams participating in the NHL. There are times when only one is played before a game. If it's two Canadian teams meeting each other, there's no purpose in playing the American anthem. And vice-versa. Yet there are also times when both are played, when an American team faces off against a Canadian one, regardless of which country it happens in. Seems fair enough.

But how much do most people actually know about the history of these anthems and how they came about to be what they are today? Let's start with the Star Spangled Banner.

Most everybody attributes this to Francis Scott Key. They would be half right. Key penned the lyrics in 1814, while watching the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. This was during the War of 1812, which lasted until 1815. But Key never wrote a note of the music we know today that goes along with it. He was a poet, not a composer.

The accompanying music came along much later, date officially unknown, and is generally attributed to one John Stafford Smith, an Englishman, of all things. The Star Spangled Banner, with Key's words and Smith's music would become the official anthem of the United States in 1931, oddly enough as it was in the depths of the Great Depression. The very fact that Smith was a Brit might likely explain why he has never been given his due credit.

On that note, it could also be argued that most Americans are much more aware of the melody than the actual words. Everybody can hum it, but many struggle with the lyrics. So who was the most note-worthy half of this creation indeed? Key continues to get all the credit, but it hardly seems fair to Smith.

O Canada has even more mysterious roots. A French-Canadian named Calix Lavallee is given credit for writing the music circa 1880. Another F/C named Adolphe-Basile Routhier penned the original lyrics -- in French. The words changed a bit here and there over the years back then. Yet what most folks know as the English lyrics, which have NOT changed, were written by, yep, another Brit named Robert Stanley Weir in 1908.

However, it was not Canada's official national anthem until quite some time later. Being (still) a British Commonwealth, much debate ensued over the decades between O Canada and God Save the Queen as to which should be their national song. This was not officially decided until as recently as 1980. We know which won out.

At that, the NHL stands heads and shoulders above their professional sports counterparts when it comes to renditions of the anthems being sung before games. The hockey folks won't tolerate some of the nonsense that has been witnessed before baseball, football, or basketball contests over the years.

Obviously, this is much more prevalent in America. It seems many of their leagues and teams have trotted out "entertainers" to perform the anthems -- and butchered them something awful. It was always, and remains highly disrespectful.

Who can forget folks like Jose Feliciano and others jazzing it up? Or Roseanne Barr grabbing her crotch? Others have been trotted out that couldn't even remember the lyrics, or were tone deaf. Rock and movie stars, kids of politicians, you name it, and it seems the anthems are up for bids to whoever can make the biggest splash of the day. This is, and has always been, horribly wrong.

The lyrics and musical notes haven't changed one bit in the last few decades. It's just egotistical wannabes trying to show off, while at the same time slapping an entire nation in the face by abusing their national song.

As mentioned above, it continues to happen at baseball, football, and basketball games. But not in the NHL. These people, God bless em, have the sense to be much more respectful.

Earlier tonight, yours truly was sports channel surfing and came upon a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Out came a man named Daniel Rodriguez to sing both anthems. I had never heard of him. But holy cow, did he put on a performance. Without even the benefit of background music, like the organ every arena has, this man did a masterful job. It was like listening to a world class operatic tenor belting out the songs. Not one missed word. Every note hit perfectly, especially the high ones. No jazzing it up, just flat-out nailing them.

As also mentioned above, I'm not one to be easily moved by listening to national anthems. After all, I've heard them thousands of times -- just like most sports fans. But this guy was so good he gave me goose bumps. I wanted to stand up from my familiar couch-tater spot and salute SOMETHING.

Thing is, Mr. Rodriguez just did it the way it should always have been done. He gave a modest smile when he first walked out on the ice, proceeded to do both national anthems proud with his renditions, then another modest smile before he walked off. No muss, no fuss, and no showing off for his own ego. He had a job to do and he did it in a world-class way. Period.

I don't know who ever won that game between Montreal and NY, because I got busy doing other things. But I won't soon forget Daniel Rodriguez singing the anthems. Bravo indeed sir. You were a class act and the sports world could use a lot more folks like you IN it, instead of the rum-dums it and their fans keeps being subjected to.

Currently, Colin Kaepernick remains an unsigned free agent, in no-man's land, as it were. Many have speculated as to why. CK wants to be a starter. That likely eliminates at least half the teams who are already set. Others might be looking to draft a QB this year. Given his recent dismal performances at San Fran, still others might think he's no good any more. And likely more than a few don't want the media circus that would surely come with signing dear Colin. Right or wrong, he's made himself a bit "radioactive" by his anthem antics.

But it's likely that after the smoke has cleared from this year's draft and free agent merry-go-round, some team will give him a shot.

At that point, I would offer them a suggestion.

Before the first game when the national anthem is about to be sung, trot out Daniel Rodriguez to do the honors. Pay him whatever he wants, although a man like him obviously puts style and substance before the almighty buck. This is generally referred to as "class".

And if HE can't get Kaepernick up off that knee with his goose-bump inducing singing, then it ain't never gonna happen. Though CK may have a point regarding certain injustices in the USA, he also forgets it is the very same country that provided him with a venue to become rich and famous as a football star. This would not have been possible in any other nation on earth. Well, OK, maybe Canada, with their CFL, but to a much lesser degree than what America and the mighty NFL has always offered.

Then go ahead and cut him, because anybody with that narrow a mindset is likely only going to be more trouble later......

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