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The National Anthem at this year’s Super Bowl: forget about flubbing the lyrics, it was everything I dislike about the modern renditions of the song…all about Me instead of Us. Vocal acrobatics, self-aggrandizing performance, “listen to me, listen to me!” American Idol-atry. Impossible to sing along with, even for those few of us who actually know the words. And as a composer, it’s the trend of songs reduced to mere vehicles to show vocal skill. Why bother to write lyrics?
Now, I know that the Star-Spangled Banner is a re-working of an old English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” somehow how appropriate to the party-atmosphere of Super Bowl Sunday, but this performance trend is hardly peculiar to this event. Give me the children’s choir and church groups I hear at Braves games rendering sweet versions of the song. And the occasions I’ve been asked to sing before an event I’ve always felt that it was incumbent upon me to represent rather than to wow. Maybe if I had the chops of a Christina Aguilera I might be tempted to show off as she did. Luckily, I don’t. It reminds me of sitting on the hillside of the Carter Family Festival years ago with the great Scott County, VA fiddler, Beachard Smith. He and I were listening to a band with a fantastically gifted fiddler who was all over the fingerboard. Beachard turned to me during one frenetic solo and said, “John, I wish I could do that…and then not.”
In the wake of the shootings in Tucson last month there was a wave of finger pointing and attempts to simplistically advantage the tragedy to personal agendas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to connect the dots of causation? “This resulted directly in this.” There was another tortured attempt to draw Sarah Palin into the center of every event in American life. (When will the Left and the media get over their obsession with this woman? She gets far more press than she warrants. The longest 15 minutes in history…) The assailant seemed to have no political agenda and plenty of mental health issues. That being said, to ignore the issue of near-complete access to firearms by anyone…even people with obvious and well-documented mental health issues…is something that no reasonable person can reasonably ignore. And to refuse to initiate a discussion about this issue is irresponsible to the point of a similar national mental health problem. Or political cowardice. How many more?
Lost, often, in such instances is the story of those lost. Good people exhibiting acts of selflessness and courage that we can only aspire to. It reminds me of what I see daily in my travels to many parts of this good nation: good people doing good things in unsung ways. And there are too many of them, ordinary people performing extraordinary acts who make me refuse myself the luxury of despair.