Jose, Can You See?

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Reader James Blakey sends in a fascinating story about Jose Feliciano and the 1968 World Series. Up until now, I had thought the sentiment expressed in Fargo—"With Jose Feliciano you got no complaints"—was beyond dispute. Not so at Game 5 of the Tigers/Cardinals matchup, where the sightless crooner introduced America to the concept of a "non-traditional" rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Listen to Jose's version of the national anthem and you may well think only a maniac could find it offensive; back in ol' '68, boos, catcalls, hate mail and a starting pitcher who blamed Feliciano for his shaky start all argued to the contrary.

The article, which also includes a good rendition of the game itself, makes clear that we have become more comfortable with snazzy, jazzy, or spazzy versions of the national anthem in the 35 years since. But the central paradox of "The Star-Spangled Banner"—that everybody seems to think it's one of the ungainliest melodies ever written but still fumes at any hint of desecration—remains with us, though in an attenuated form.

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  1. Great article. Ernie Harwell is a baseball hero. Hope the Tigers can be respectable team again before his autumn years draw to a close.

  2. The most amazing thing about the whole story is that Eddie Arnold turned down a World Series gig because he was busy.

  3. This goes back even further. I believe Stravinsky got into trouble for changing the harmonic plan in his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner.

  4. This goes back even further. I believe Stravinsky got into trouble for changing the harmonic plan in his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner.

    You are correct! That’s a great arrangement.

  5. Well, it certainly is no “La Marseillaise.”

    An decent translation found here: http://french.about.com/library/weekly/aa071400ma.htm

    Let’s go children of the fatherland,
    The day of glory has arrived!
    Against us tyranny’s
    Bloody flag is raised! (repeat)
    In the countryside, do you hear
    The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
    They come right to our arms
    To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!

    Refrain

    Grab your weapons, citizens!
    Train your batallions!
    Let us march! Let us march!
    May impure blood
    Water our fields!

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    This horde of slaves, traitors, plotting kings,
    What do they want?
    For whom these vile shackles,
    These long-prepared irons? (repeat)
    Frenchmen, for us, oh! what an insult!
    What emotions that must excite!
    It is us that they dare to consider
    Returning to ancient slavery!

    What! These foreign troops
    Would make laws in our home!
    What! These mercenary phalanxes
    Would bring down our proud warriors! (repeat)
    Good Lord! By chained hands
    Our brows would bend beneath the yoke!
    Vile despots would become
    The masters of our fate!

    Tremble, tyrants! and you, traitors,
    The disgrace of all groups,
    Tremble! Your parricidal plans
    Will finally pay the price! (repeat)
    Everyone is a soldier to fight you,
    If they fall, our young heros,
    France will make more,
    Ready to battle you!

    Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors,
    Bear or hold back your blows!
    Spare these sad victims,
    Regretfully arming against us. (repeat)
    But not these bloodthirsty despots,
    But not these accomplices of Bouill?,
    All of these animals who, without pity,
    Tear their mother’s breast to pieces!

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Sacred love of France,
    Lead, support our avenging arms!
    Liberty, beloved Liberty,
    Fight with your defenders! (repeat)
    Under our flags, let victory
    Hasten to your manly tones!
    May your dying enemies
    See your triumph and our glory!

    Refrain

    We will enter the pit
    When our elders are no longer there;
    There, we will find their dust
    And the traces of their virtues. (repeat)
    Much less eager to outlive them
    Than to share their casket,
    We will have the sublime pride
    Of avenging them or following them!

  6. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a country by its anthem. 😉

  7. They oughta just play Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” before every game

  8. The performance sounded pretty good to me.

    What gets me the most is that most people are unfamiliar with the complete poem, and somehow regard the first verse as ending in a triumphant statement instead of a desperate question. (Of course, the melody certainly assists that misanalysis.) The poem does indeed end triumphantly, somewhat belying Jean Bart’s claim that “it certainly is no ‘La Marseillaise’ “:

    And where is the band who so vauntingly swore /
    That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion /
    A home and a country should leave us no more? /
    Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. /
    No refuge could save /
    The hireling and slave /
    From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.

    Pretty hard stuff. It’s interesting that we sing the arrogant triumph of the third and fourth verses into the despairing words of the first, without even realizing it.

  9. Mess with the national anthem, and you take major flack. Back in the early 70s, I had a reel-reel tape of Jimi Hendrix playing his tortured electric version. Back then, as a high school student, I was as patriotic as I am today toward the ideals of America, while as staunchly opposed to the crimes of its leadership. (The more things change, the more they stay the same, ‘eh?) Anyway, I discovered the Hendrix version one weekend, was fascinated by the arrangement, and wanted to share my discovery with the class that next Monday morning. I threaded the tape onto the big Wollensak deck we had in our Spanish classroom (which was my homeroom), and started to play the Hendrix cut. My homeroom teacher — normally a very skeptical and iconoclastic sort, knowledgeable about pop culture and around whom we self-styled “rebels” felt comfortable, went white, then red, then at the top of her voice demanded that I stop the tape immediately and never play that rendition within her earshot again. She was practically quaking with what appeared to be patriotic rage.

    She might as well have struck me. And as far as she was concerned, I realized after getting past the shock, I might just as well have been burning the flag to which we pledged allegiance every morning. This incident was in the same general timeframe as the Feliciano flap. I remember that teacher whenever I feel twinges of disgust, at hearing some modern-day diva-ed up pop version of the Star Spangled Banner at some sporting event or public function. I tell myself that the manglers of the anthem mean no more disrespect to our nation than I did that day I committed the Hendrixian faux pas. Yet, when you don’t like the arrangement, it is hard not to feel like the musician is dissing the flag. Performer, beware!

  10. Why is it even necessary to play the anthem(s)? Depending on the sport, a large percentage of the players are foreigners and, more importantly IMO, few people, if any, in the crowd know how to behave when the anthem(s) is playing. It seems an outdated tradition whose time should be up.

  11. Our national anthem is a hoary old beast but by keeping we’re at least doing ourselves the service of not having that godawful Lee Greenwood song become the new national anthem. Man, I hate that song.

  12. I’d never seen the last verse before. What a bummer. I liked the idea of a national anthem whose major theme is “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

  13. Verse 4th and last can keep the Muscular Christians happy:

    “O, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must,
    When our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto – “In God is our trust.”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

    Looks like the unofficial motto on our coins and scrip has been around for a while.

    Kevin

  14. Hmmmm. Jose Feliciano sings the anthem at Tiger Stadium before Game 5 of the ’68 World Series. Tigers go on to become only the second team in MLB postseason history to rally from 3-1 down and win a decisive Game 7 on the road.

    Jose Feliciano doesn’t sing the National Anthem at a sporting event for another 35 years. Until Game 5 of the ’03 NLCS in Miami. Marlins go on to become only the fifth team in MLB postseason history to rally from 3-1 down and win a decisive Game 7 on the road.

    Coincidence?

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