Isaac Asimov: “I Am Crazy, Absolutely Nuts, About our National Anthem” (1991)

The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner became the nation­al anthem of the Unit­ed States in 1931, thanks to Her­bert Hoover. And, ever since, the anthem has had its detrac­tors. The Kennedy Cen­ter acknowl­edges on its web­site:

Some Amer­i­cans com­plain that it cel­e­brates war and should be reserved for mil­i­tary cer­e­monies. Oth­ers sim­ply grum­ble that it is too hard to sing with a range that is out of reach for the aver­age vocal­ist [any­one remem­ber Carl Lewis giv­ing it a try?]. Sug­gest­ed replace­ments have includ­ed “Amer­i­ca the Beau­ti­ful,” “God Bless Amer­i­ca,” and “This Land is Your Land.”

And don’t for­get that singers, ama­teur and pro­fes­sion­als alike, often have dif­fi­cul­ty remem­ber­ing the com­pli­cat­ed lyrics. Yes, The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner has its crit­ics. But the great Isaac Asi­mov wasn’t one of them. In 1991, Asi­mov wrote a short piece called “All Four Stan­zas” that staked out his posi­tion from the very start. It began:

I have a weakness–I am crazy, absolute­ly nuts, about our nation­al anthem.

The words are dif­fi­cult and the tune is almost impos­si­ble, but fre­quent­ly when I’m tak­ing a show­er I sing it with as much pow­er and emo­tion as I can. It shakes me up every time.

I was once asked to speak at a lun­cheon. Tak­ing my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our nation­al anthem–all four stan­zas.

This was greet­ed with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dish­es and cut­lery was loud and dis­tract­ing. “Thanks, Herb,” I said.

“That’s all right,” he said. “It was at the request of the kitchen staff.”

I explained the back­ground of the anthem and then sang all four stan­zas.

Let me tell you, those peo­ple had nev­er heard it before–or had nev­er real­ly lis­tened. I got a stand­ing ova­tion. But it was not me; it was the anthem….

So now let me tell you how it came to be writ­ten.

And, with that, he takes you back to The War of 1812, which start­ed 200 years ago. It’s large­ly a for­got­ten war. But it did leave us with our most endur­ing song.  Per­haps you’ll find your­self singing it in the show­er today too.

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  • Lacey says:

    “And, with that, … ” ?

    And there you left it?
    No link to the short piece, just high praise and the intro­duc­tion ?

    Hey guys, great sto­ry about a whole and all.
    “Call me Ish­mael” and with that the sto­ry is told.

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ”
    and with that Dick­ens writes some­thing about anoth­er thing or so.

    “Fore score and Sev­en year ago,”
    and with that a real­ly great polit­i­cal speech was start­ed.

    Yea, twit­ter lit­er­ary his­to­ry.

    (BTW — FInd the arti­cle here

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