In a new Op-Ed for the LA Times, journalist Jody Rosen suggests it’s time to cancel the star spangled banner and make “Lean on Me” the new national anthem.
Lean on Me” is a great piece of popular music, to be specific, a supreme piece of African American pop music — which is to say, it represents the very best of this country. Not only is Black music the finest American thing, the greatest gift that the United States has given to world culture, it is one of the deepest, most truthful repositories of American history.
If you would like to compare the two and decide for yourself if this is a good idea, take a look at Whitney Houston performing the Star Spangled Banner.
And compare to “Lean on Me”
Which is more appropriate before major events and sports competitions?
More from Rosen’s Op-Ed:
At a moment when the United States is in the grip of multiple crises — convulsed by debates over racism and injustice, ravaged by a pandemic, with a crumbling economy and a faltering democracy — the very idea of a national anthem, a hymn to the glory of country, feels like a crude relic, another monument that may warrant tearing down. But if we must have an anthem, it should be far different than the one we’ve got now, positing another kind of patriotism, an alternative idea of America and Americanness. It would also be neat if it was, you know, a decent song, which a citizen could sing without crashing into an o’er or a thee, or being asked to pole vault across octaves.
In fact, there is such a song. The song is “Lean on Me.”
Bill Withers’ 1972 soul ballad may seem like a curious choice. It has none of the qualities we associate with national anthems. It’s a modest song that puts on no airs. It speaks in plain musical language, without a trace of bombast, in a tidy arrangement that unfolds over a few basic chords. It doesn’t march to a martial beat or rise to grand crescendos. The lyrics hold no pastoral images of fruited plains or oceans white with foam, no high-minded invocations of liberty or God. “Lean on Me” is a deeply American song — but it’s not, explicitly at least, a song about America.
Traditional national anthems direct our eyes upwards. The vision of these songs is celestial: O beautiful, for spacious skies; the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. Such songs celebrate power, majesty, monumentality; often, their view is militaristic. Our current political predicament is a reminder of how thin certain lines can be, how veneration of country can curdle into nationalism, and how nationalism can tilt toward fascism. Performances of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at political rallies and sporting events are often bombastically staged, with American flags projected on Jumbotrons and flyovers by military jets, kitsch spectacles that aim to stir patriotism through shock and awe.
“Lean on Me” could never inspire such pomp. It is a song that holds its gaze steady at the level of everyday life. It says: What’s important is the stuff happening down here. The dramatis personae are you, me, all of us. We the people.
Of course, the biggest difference between “Lean on Me” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” is obvious to all who have ears. It’s there in the tolling gospel piano chords and in the bluesy bend of Withers’ vocals. “Lean on Me” is a great piece of popular music, to be specific, a supreme piece of African American pop music — which is to say, it represents the very best of this country. Not only is Black music the finest American thing, the greatest gift that the United States has given to world culture, it is one of the deepest, most truthful repositories of American history, far more honest about the failures and possibilities of the country than the triumphalist official history, which flattens the saga into a procession of Great Men, noble principles, virtuous struggles, adversity overcome, wars won, flags whipping above battlements in the sunrise.
At the moment, the “top reactions”; to the story do not like the idea.