Tag Archives: national anthem

Lord knows I can’t change

You might know me as the mild mannered janitor of this esteemed property, but I have a secret. A secret dark enough that it only speaks its name to a select few. A secret that I only shared with The Special One a few months before our wedding, for fear that she would call the whole thing to a grinding halt. It was touch-and-go for a while, it has to be said, and the secret still regularly brings her to the point of tears whenever it pops involuntarily into her head.

But now I don’t care who knows – I love “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners with a passion. Say it once, say it loud, I too-rye-aye and I’m proud.

I don’t know what it is about the song that I adore so much. Maybe it’s the feelgood intro, the “poor old Johnny Raaaaaaaay” lyrics, or the impossibly catchy piano line – but whatever it is, I can’t get it out of my head for about three weeks after I’ve heard it again. No wedding is complete in my mind without a bit of “Come On Eileen”, and the mere sight of dungarees (or overalls as I laughingly believe they’re called over here) can send me into a Dexy’s whirl.

Now clearly, not everyone is as comfortable as I am in their own musicality but I promise you that – deep down – half of Britain feels exactly the same as me. Admittely the other half would rather have rusty nails hammered into their skull, but that’s a side issue. The thing is that certain pop songs are irrevocably specific to one country and its people. Name a Brit who doesn’t know all the words to Robbie Williams’ “Angels” and I will show you a liar. As I mentioned here, the Special One is still recovering from the stampede to the dancefloor which occurred when “Dizzy” by Vic Reeves & The Wonder Stuff was played at a wedding we attended a couple of years ago. And it’s probably best not to talk about her reaction to the playing of the theme from “Minder”.

Obviously, America has its own selection of songs that do exactly the same thing – most of which mean absolutely nothing to me. I’ve lost count of the number of times The Special One and I have been in the car, and she’s suddenly turned the sound up on the radio to listen to a top tune, only for me to find out that it’s something along the lines of “Born To Break The Levee” by Harry Walton & The Tennessee Turncoats. I count myself as a man who knows a bit about music, but here it’s almost as if I’ve had all my cultural reference points removed in a botched surgical operation that was merely meant to take out my tonsils.

However, the one epochal American pop song that I’m all too familiar with is “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Mention “Free Bird” to any American, and their eyes drift off mistily to college days and their time with long-haired Megan with the impossibly flexible limbs/the night with butch quarterback Howie (and his roommate Mitch). Mention the song to a Brit, and they’ll ask “is that the one that Will To Power combined with Peter Frampton’s ‘Baby I Love Your Way’?”

The fact is that “Free Bird” is effectively the American national anthem – a statement of the country’s unwillingness to play nicely with anyone else, and its insistence on independence at all costs. And despite its dubious intentions, it’s universally loved and remains one of the most played songs on American radio.

But why for the love of all that is good and virtuous does it have to be so sodding long? The song came on the radio when The Special One and I were leaving Rhode Island on Sunday afternoon, and I would swear it was still playing when we entered New York state three hours later. I’ve had shorter relationships than that song. If US forces ever need to employ noise warfare techniques again to force Central American drug barons into the open, they could do worse than to consider the “Free Bird” guitar solo.

Send us victorious

My attempts to immerse myself into American life continue apace. This week, I took The Eldest to his (and mine) first NBA game when we travelled to the ‘world famous’ Madison Square Garden to see the New York Knicks take on the Charlotte Bobcats. To say it was a clash of the titans would be a gross exaggeration. Both sides have lost twice as many games as they’ve won, and languish at the bottom of their respective sections of the leagueconference. It’s like Fulham playing Derby County, only with more armbands and less booting of the ball into row Z.

It’s kind of difficult to take the teams too seriously, given their respective names. The NBA contains Wizards, Timberwolves, SuperSonics, Raptors and Pistons. Call me old fashioned, but I like to see my sports teams with descriptors such as Town, City, United or Rovers. The Knicks’ full title is the New York Knickerbockers. Sure, maybe they trace their moniker back to Dutch settlers and their propensity to wear a specific type of pants, but that doesn’t mean I expect to be watching the Swindon Shell Suits or the Louisiana Legwarmers in years to come.

Actually the game itself was pretty enjoyable, especially given that the Knicks won by almost 25 points. But, like the ice hockey game I saw last year, it has to be said that the occasion was particularly without atmosphere – even a match between Chester and Mansfield, attended by 3000 people or less, can produce more chanting and singing than an NBA game it would seem.

Then again, that’s probably not surprising for a sporting occasion at which vendors walk around selling candy flosscotton candy.

Waiting for the start of the game, I was struck again by the determination of Americans to celebrate their national identity and patriotism. Sure, the person who was wheeled out to sing the national anthem was merely a local radio personality, but she belted it like there were 90 million people watching her at the Super Bowl, and had her fellow Americans whooping and hollering before she’d even got to “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

It’s a mighty contrast to the occasions on which Russell Watson or Hayley Westenra step up at Wembley or Twickenham to sing “God Save The Queen”, where the reaction varies from indifference to contempt. “The Star Spangled Banner” is a rip-roaring barnstormer of a tune in comparison – even an American Idol reject could sing it and get a standing ovation.

Fortunately, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly has got a few ideas about how the British can up their game when it comes to the national anthem. “The Archers” may not mean much to Americans right now, but you’ll all be humming it by the time of London 2012.

We interrupt this game for a display of patriotism…

I wouldn’t call myself a baseball fan – in fact I’m not sure that I’ve even sat through a whole game in my life. But burning some calories at the gym tonight, I found myself strangely gripped by the Yankees vs Red Sox game on the TV above my head. So much so that I even turned it on when I reached home to catch the last three innings.

In the middle of the seventh innings – the seventh-inning stretch, I think it’s called – just before the Yankees were due to bat again, everything suddenly came to a halt to honour servicemen in action across the world, with a ‘rousing’ rendition of “God Bless America”. Apparently Major League Baseball directed teams to play the song before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They scaled back the request a year later, saying teams only needed to play the song on Sundays and holidays, which remains the case to this day.

Not for the Yankees though. They still bring everything to a halt two and a half innings before the end of every game, and even use ushers to prevent people moving during the performance with the help of the odd chain or two. It’s like Manchester United playing Liverpool, and the game being called to a halt for five minutes for a performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. And fans being stopped from making their way down to the concourse to buy a steak and kidney pie.

They say that the temporary break in proceedings can offer a competitive advantage to the Yankees, with the opposing pitcher unable to warm up while the performance takes place. It certainly didn’t harm them tonight – the Yankees won 4-3 in the ninth innings.

PS They say Americans will never properly ‘get’ football soccer because there are too few goals. But baseball is this country’s national sport, and yet so little ever happens. The Red Sox didn’t even score until the sixth innings, and there were only three home runs in about three hours of ‘action’. Maybe there’s a chance for Beckham and co after all?