Which is worse: Forgetting the words to the National Anthem or giving it a new and different interpretation?
For some reason, the baseball World Series usually gives us a chance to kick that question around and this year is no different, thanks to Aaron Lewis’ dirge-like rendition of the anthem before last night’s game between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants.
But his pacing wasn’t the issue, it was his flub of the words that was unmistakable.
You had one job, Aaron.
He apologized on his website.
All I can say is I’m sorry and ask for the Nation’s forgiveness. My nerves got the best of me and I am completely torn up about what happened. America is the greatest country in the world. The Star-Spangled Banner means so much to so many, including myself. I hope everyone can understand the intensity of the situation and my true intent of this performance. I hope that the Nation, Major League Baseball and the many fans of our national pastime can forgive me.
“It’s just an odd reaction to think that people will think you are unpatriotic because you messed up the words,” David Brown at Big League Stew writes today.
True, it’s not as if getting the words wrong is worse than getting them right or anything.
It was 1968 when Jose Feliciano got each word correct when he performed the most criticized National Anthem ever. Coincidentally, that performance was also before the fifth game of the World Series.
But he didn’t sing it like a country boy.
Feliciano writes that the controversy haunted him for years.
I had set out to sing an anthem of gratitude to a country that had given me a chance; that had allowed me, a blind kid from Puerto Rico — a kid with a dream — to reach far above my own limitations. I wanted to sing an anthem of praise to a country that had given my family and me a better life than we had had before.
I played it slowly and meaningfully, feeling the vastness of the stadium and the presence of so many people. But before I had finished my performance I could feel the discontent within the waves of cheers and applause that spurred on the first pitch — though I didn’t know what it was about.
Soon afterwards I found out a great controversy was exploding across the country because I had chosen to alter my rendition of the National Anthem to better portray my feelings of gratitude. Veterans, I was being told, had thrown their shoes at the television as I sang; others questioned my right to stay in the United States and still others just attributed it to the times, feeling sad for the state of our country. But thankfully, there were many who understood the depth and breadth of my interpretation. Those, young and old, who weren’t jaded by the negativity that surrounded anything new or different. Yes, it was different but I promise you — it was sincere.
But Lewis’ botched rendition comes with a fair amount of comeuppance. He criticized Christina Aguilera’s rendition at the 2011 Super Bowl.
“I don’t understand how people who sing the national anthem can be so ***ing self-absorbed, and try to change that ****ing song,” he told a concert audience. “If there’s a single song in the history of this country that deserves no creative interpretation, it’s that one.”