Friday, February 25, 2011

We are a nation of drinkers

Hey all you Neo-Prohibitionists out there... can you answer the following multiple choice question?

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is:
  • A poem
  • America's National Anthem
  • A drinking song
  • A banner with a lot of stars on it
  • What's a spangle?
  • All of the above
  • None of the above

In case you didn't pay attention in history class... the lyrics of TSSB were taken from the 1814 poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry," written by lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key. He witnessed the British Royal Navy blast the bejesus out of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore (War of 1812) - while being detained on a British ship! After the smoke cleared our flag was still standing and - BAM! - his famous tale was penned and immortalized.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was first recognized by the Navy in 1889. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it become the national anthem, but his decree didn't take hold like he wanted.  It wasn't until President Herbert Hoover signed a Congressional resolution in March of 1931 that it was galvanized as the National Anthem that we know today.

Now, here's the big reveal...

"The Star Spangled Banner," the national anthem of these United States of America - the very song that more than just the velvet-voiced Christina Aguilera has botched up on - was set to the tune of a drinking song.

Oh yes it was.

In the mid-1760's teenager John Stafford Smith wrote a little diddy called "The Anacreontic Song" for one of London's many men's social clubs - The Anacreontic Society.  The four stanza song was first published in The Vocal Magazine in 1778. Interestingly, the fourth stanza includes the line "And this be our motto: In God is our Trust," which we Yanks ultimately adopted as our national motto, "In God We Trust."

Back in the day this song was frequently used as a sobriety "test" because of its difficult melody. If a person could sing just one stanza - and stay on key - they were deemed sober enough to continue drinking. Due to the song's raunchy lyrics it quickly gained popularity and spread beyond the walls of The Anacreontic Society. It was so popular that it eventually hopped the pond and by the time Key wrote his famous poem the song was well known in America.

As the legend goes... as soon as Key's brother-in-law heard the poem he realized it fit the tune of "The Anacreontic Song." They set Key's poem to the music, renamed it "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the very first American Idol was born.

We are a nation of drinkers... and karaoke singers.  Get over it.

Class dismissed!

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