IT was two years ago that this column bravely advocated changing the national anthem from ``Oh, say can you see . . . ?'' to ``Oh, beautiful for spacious skies.'' It brought soap boxes full of letters which were 99 and 44/100ths percent pure. That is, in favor of a change. Recently, like all good Americans, I watched the World Series. ``Oh, say can you see . . . ?'' is still being sung incorrectly, if not jived out of recognition. Meanwhile, lines of ballplayers stand chewing gum and blowing the occasional bubble in what appears to be utter boredom while someone besides themselves is giving the pitch.Skip to next paragraph
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The ``Oh, say'' song doesn't have the sanctity of antiquity. It wasn't officially made the national anthem until March of 1931. No one succeeds in singing it as it is written. It may be that everyone thinks his version improves it, or doesn't know the real words and music, or is embarrassed to be singing it in the first place.
After watching the World Series, I decided that if Howard Cosell could be changed for an allegedly better rendition, anything can. The anthem conjures up the ill-advised War of 1812. It is a period piece and doesn't represent the essence of the United States.
The saving grace of ``Oh, say'' is that its central theme is the flag. But the flag deserves to be seen in better light than the red glare of rockets and the smoke of bursting bombs, which now could be nuclear.
Anthems should express the character of the people who sing them. The US has not only outgrown the War of 1812's youthful stridency but also the one-dimensional patriotism the song advocates.
The 1812-ers may think I'm subversive. While I listen to ``Oh, say,'' I secretly think of spacious skies, fields of grain, majestic purple mountains, and alabaster cities. I even meditate on the good, which Americans -- though still imperfectly -- have achieved beyond every other country in the world.
And I don't think of the Stars and Stripes as a question mark, about which it must be asked: Oh, say, does it still wave? Its symbol waves in us all, like billowing brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.