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08/09/06

The Star Spangled Banner

Filed under: Politics, Musicjksterup   @ 05:05:29 pm

I first fell in love with Sufjan Stevens' interpretation of this song when I heard it on a live bootleg I downloaded. Sufjan has inserted some of his own words into the song that change it into a beautiful protest song. Here are the words:

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, and the bombs in air
Gave us proof through the night that our flag was still there

And the flag marked with blood, with the blood of our hands
And our hands marked with death, with the blood of a man
And a man on the cross, and the cross on our hearts
Has it done nothing more, than to drive us apart?

And the rockets' red glare and the bombs in the air
Gave us proof through the night that our flag was still there

And the flag marked with blood, with the blood of our hands
And our hands marked with death, with the blood of a man
And a man on the cross, and the cross on our hearts
Has it done nothing more, than to drive us apart?

Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

8 comments

Comment from: anonymous-kwood [Visitor]  
anonymous-kwood

You’re kidding right? What an utter mockery of our national anthem. His own verse is neither beautiful nor prolific. It’s slanderous. In fact it’s so anti-American, that I’m sure even the grand Ayatolla himself would approve. Judging from the limited amount of Sufjan’s work I’ve been exposed to, this is definitely his worst. This reminds me of his obnoxiously long titled instrumental, “The Black Hawk War, or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience But You’re Going To Have To Leave Now, …". Which is clearly a slander against the American military. I’m telling you, some of his stuff reads just like the propaganda from the likes of Hizbollah and al Qaeda. This is not to compare Sufjan to a terrorist or to question his patriotism. I’m simply pointing out the similarities shared in sentiment. For all I know, Sufjan could be more of a patriot than the Superman comics of old. Just leave my Star Spangled Banner and my brothers in arms the hell alone! :)

10/07/07 @ 01:37
Comment from: jksterup [Member]  
Kyle

You call him slanderous and anti-American, but then claim you’re not questioning his patriotism? What exactly would you say if you were to question his patriotism?

I think it’s time we stop calling anyone who criticizes our country’s actions anti-American. It is possible to be genuinely devoted to one’s country yet be unhappy about the direction its leaders have taken it.

Thanks for commenting.

10/07/07 @ 05:17
Comment from: anonymous-kwood [Visitor]  
anonymous-kwood

“You call him slanderous and anti-American, but then claim you’re not questioning his patriotism?”

I resent being accused of name calling here, I only implied he was being anti-American in action. I would never characterize anyone based on a single piece of their work. I’m simply criticizing his actions. It’s just that I have a problem with the ambiguous manner in which he criticizes America in his addendum of our national anthem. His criticisms are disingenuous at best (Star Spangled Banner verse) and downright slanderous at worst (The Black Hawk War). In retrospect, one might ask why he chose to remain so ambiguous while modernizing a simple poem, about Americans defending their freedom from the British Empire, instead of draw the more obvious parallel to the acts of heroism on 9-11-01.

“I think it’s time we stop calling anyone who criticizes our country’s actions anti-American. It is possible to be genuinely devoted to one’s country yet be unhappy about the direction its leaders have taken it.”

I’m sorry, but anyone who criticizes our country in a *disingenuous* manner or slanders the U.S. military in a song title on an album titled “Illinois", is fair game in my book. These are not valid criticisms of America. I wish Sufjan continued success, but it’s safe to say, I don’t agree with his political views or his apparent lack of candor.

10/07/07 @ 13:49
Comment from: jksterup [Member]  
Kyle

Please forgive me for suggesting that in saying “In fact it’s so anti-American, that I’m sure even the grand Ayatolla himself would approve” that you were actually accusing Sufjan Stevens of being anti-American. The last thing I would want to do here is to make exaggerated and baseless accusations about someone I clearly know little about.

Seriously, though, I would encourage you to expose yourself to more of Sufjan than the lines I reproduced above and the tracklist to Illinois. You’ll find he draws from a long tradition of folk music and poetry that’s as American as apple pie. He has composed album-long tributes to Michigan (his home state) and Illinois, both of which celebrate the spirit of the American people in a way reminiscent of Walt Whitman.

The other major theme of Sufjan’s music is Christianity, which is seen most clearly on Seven Swans, but is also evident on Michigan and Illinois.

I mention this because I think it’s important to be aware of both of these themes of his music to understand his performance of The Star Spangled Banner.
Of course, I can’t speak for him, because nobody but him knows what he was thinking when he wrote it, but I can testify to what this song does for me.

First of all, I don’t think the song is disingenuous at all. It’s a genuine expression of love for America and what it represents. There’s a bit of sorrow, though, in the tone and in the additional lines, that laments what has become of America’s great promise.

“And the flag marked with blood, with the blood of our hands
And our hands marked with death, with the blood of a man
And a man on the cross, and the cross on our hearts
Has it done nothing more, than to drive us apart?”

In just a handful of words Sufjan conjures images of war and Christianity, and the shedding of innocent blood that has been involved in each. The juxtaposition of these symbols sends a powerful message about violent union of church and state and the negative effect it has had on both.

The key line for me is “Has it done nothing more, than to drive us apart?” It resonates powerfully for me because I too am a loyal American and a devoted Christian and I have watched with dismay as patriotism and Christianity have been used as tools for political power that only bring out the worst in people. Loyal citizens who disagree with the ruling party’s policies are branded anti-American and unpatriotic; church-goers are told that they are not real Christians if they don’t support the Republican party. Worst of all, an unnecessary war is being fought in the name of America and Christ.

I know you don’t agree with my politics, but I hope you can at least see that my disapproval of the current administration’s actions stems from a genuine commitment to the principles of liberty America was founded on and the humanistic values of the Christian faith, and this is exactly what I see in Sufjan Stevens’ music as well.

10/07/07 @ 17:54
Comment from: anonymous-kwood [Visitor]  
anonymous-kwood

Thanks, I appreciate your ability to be forthright about your opinions and religious beliefs.

You touched on something else that bothers me, which is the melancholy way the song is performed. I think it’s much more powerful than Sufjan’s verse. I say this because if I was to interpret the meaning of the words as you do, I have to confess, that I believe such sentiment holds far less relevance today than near the time the Star Spangled Banner was written. When we still had “Christians", deists, and agnostics *publicly* debating religion’s role in our country.

Today, the precedent set forth by Everson vs Board of Education (1947) has held more weight and authority than our own history, Constitution and Bill of Rights. So, I think it’s a little absurd to warn us about the dangers of mixing religion and politics when we are living in an era where religious expression has been largely, aggressively stripped away from public view. Because of this, I find it impossible to sympathize with Sufjan’s Star Spangled Banner which is in protest of reconciling religion and state. Perhaps a noble cause, but an alarmist’s one at best. However, there is a real threat from Islamic extremists and it’s a wonder to see how eagerly we embrace a Muslim prayer on the floor of our Senate in the name of political correctness, while at the same time we want to take God out of the picture.

To quote our ever misquoted and MSM embattled Thomas Jefferson (emphasis is mine).

“In the middle ages of Christianity opposition to the State opinions was hushed. The consequence was, Christianity became loaded with all the Romish follies. Nothing but free argument, raillery & even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion.

But how can we have free argument about religion when we are so deeply opposed to having it’s views expressed inside the “State” in the first place?

I wish I could say that Sufjan was playing a critical role here, but with respect, I’m afraid his peculiar artistic approach to the Star Spangled Banner contributes very little in that regard.

I live in Ohio and several months ago half the senate nearly walked out upon hearing the traditional prayer end in “Jesus name". As a Christian, I would hope you’re not swept up in that same irrationality and hostility that greets such a traditional form of religious expression in our government.

It saddens me to think how unsophisticated our views on politics and religion has become. And how secularized and distorted our history has become.

Regards,
anomymous-kwood

10/11/07 @ 15:35
Comment from: LindseyK [Visitor]
LindseyK

Kyle definitely wins that argument.

That was the most well stated defense of anything I’ve seen on the internet in a long time.

Well written.

.LK

01/24/08 @ 22:22
Comment from: Kester [Visitor]
Kester

Goodness! That song is fantastic! Reminds me of an (african-american) art teacher at a school where I used to teach who wouldn’t let her daughters say the pledge until there was really “liberty and justice for all.”

I’ve never been a big fan of the anthem, or the flag-worship that went along with it (seems to border on the idolatrous to me), but I could listen to this rendering many times over. Thank you!

04/21/08 @ 10:58
Comment from: Jay Carlyle [Visitor]
Jay Carlyle

Um, no one should ever quote Thomas Jefferson without a giant grain of salt. The guy is inconsistent and even outright contradictory in nearly everything he ever said. Ever. No religion has ANY place in the government, just as government has NO place in religion. You can’t have it both ways, anon. Unless you’d like to give up your religious freedoms, keep your religion out of my state. It made me physically ill that you would link all of Islam to terrorism. Remember, Christians have killed in the name of God more than just about anyone, so I’d keep my mouth shut. (For the record, I’m catholic.)

07/27/08 @ 16:08