They’re playing our song. By Trevor Plumbly
As dirge-like and uninspiring as it was, I still remember being obliged to stand for the national anthem which at that time played in British cinemas and theatres at the conclusion of every performance. Generally, those renditions were more dutiful than enthusiastic and kids found it far more uplifting to sneak out the back door than to join in. It seems to me that the problem with national anthems is that some just don’t hit the mark.
If we start with England (where else?), ‘God save the Queen’ hardly qualifies as the mantra for heroes. Unlike ‘Land of hope and glory’, it makes no attempt to glorify England; it just expresses the hope that the reigning monarch doesn’t croak early. Judging by the body language and vocal enthusiasm of English sportspeople singing the thing, I reckon a lot of people don’t care either way. The Irish are up there with the best, great hulking rugby players tearfully belting out ‘Ireland!-Ireland!’ If national pride and fervour related to points on the board they’d win every time. ‘O flower of Scotland’ is a bit stodgy and tends to lose its message in history rather than geeing up today’s troops. The Welsh were the greatest: when ‘Land of my fathers’ rang across Cardiff Arms Park it was awe-inspiring and totally unique, but sadly those days seem over. France, as you might expect, has a revolutionary chirpiness to its anthem and while its sportspeople joyfully lend tongue, it always seems to me as if they’re in a bit of a hurry to get it over with.
Further south in New Zealand, the anthem calls for God to defend and guard the place from the ‘shafts of strife and war’ which considering its geographical isolation shouldn’t be too tough. The banality of this one is always relieved by the ensuing obligatory haka. The Australians do OK with uplifting lines mentioning ‘young and free’ and ‘wealth for toil’; all good stirring stuff! The South Africans seem to want a few rand each way by opening with a merry little ditty that few seem to be able to understand or sing, then closing with great gusto and an almost Germanic marching song.
And the winner is? Sorry folks, it’s the Yanks again. ‘The star spangled banner’ has got it all: proudly raised flags, the home of the brave and the land of the free. And if that don’t stir the old patriotic juices, they could just chuck in ‘God bless America’ as a bonus. Both delivered hand-on-heart of course and facing the flag. I kid you not, gentle reader; these guys have got it in spades. Compare, if you will, Sylvester Stallone bare-chested, dripping with loaded bandoliers and American pride, facing the never-ending, but undefined enemy up front, whilst over the ocean James Bond is slinking around under cover in an Aston Martin between bonking bimbos. And much as I admire Michael Caine, if the effluent was about to hit the fan, militarily speaking, I’d rather be with John Wayne. It doesn’t stop there: Bruce Springsteen vs. Elton John, Dolly Parton vs. Kylie Minogue, I tell you the stuff’s force fed to these guys via song and it works! Just mention ‘Old Glory’, whistle ‘Dixie’ and they’ll fight any bugger, anywhere, while the rest of us are either squirming with embarrassment trying to entreat the Almighty to guide our Monarch safely towards senility, struggling to sing in an enforced language, or mumbling dirges more suited to a funeral service than national celebration.