The over-under line on the length of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl by opera star turned pop singer, Renee Fleming, is 2 minutes 25 seconds.
It’s the Super Bowl. Everything is a hustle. Denver by two.
Earlier in the week, Pete Seeger, the wonderful American folk singer, died at 94. Could you ever imagine Pete (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”) singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at The Meadowlands?
Funny thing. I love the Super Bowl, with its $4 million a pop ads, and I love the old lefty guitar picker, Seeger. They are both my America, at its pure and phony best.
The Super Bowl has become our winter July 4th. It’s a pageant, a day of parties and pigging out and a celebration of the Flag and what we love about the country. It’s patriotism, bimbos, gambling and quarterbacks rolled into a piano roll of clever and terrible TV ads we forget instantly. It’s America, Baby.
The Super Bowl retains its authenticity because it is still a football game with phenomenal players who go all out to win. Quarterback Peyton Manning versus defensive back Richard Sherman, the Stanford thug. Manning, who improvises every play at the line, risks his mended vertebrae on every snap. Sherman is a bright guy who plays like a maniac.
Which brings me to Beyoncé. She has sung some nice National Anthems, but I cannot forgive her for lip-syncing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the Presidential Inauguration in 2012. So what if you miss a note or flub a line like Christina Aguilera did at the Super Bowl in 2011, as long as you give your all. When you fake it as Beyoncé did, and then ask the Marine Corps Band to cover your lovely behind, that offends me.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” is a challenging song with somewhat archaic words about the War of 1812. But if you are going to take the credit and the cash Beyoncé, go for it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I marvel at Sam Cooke on his Copacabana Live album singing “If I Had a Hammer,” when he mixes up two verses and then laughs as he keeps going. At the Super Bowl, the Inauguration, the World Series there is no do over, and there are also no excuses.
I asked Noah for his opinion on the greatest National Anthem performances. He immediately said Whitney Houston, at the 1991 Super Bowl. We played it on You Tube. Fabulous. That was going ALL OUT.
Another memorable performance of patriotic music that comes to mind for me is Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” in the second game of the World Series following Sept. 11, 2001. The purity of the visual images brought to life by the remarkable blind performer always gives me chills. Jose Feliciano’s unique “Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1968 World Series also stands out for me.
Queen Latifah is doing “America the Beautiful” at The Meadowlands this Sunday. May she play it straight and sing from the heart. We deserve her real best.
Question I: What is your favorite National Anthem performance?
Question II: Denver or Seattle?
Watch Whitney Houston’s 1991 Star-Spangled Banner Performance
Watch Leslie Nielsen’s Star-Spangled Banner Performance in the Naked Gun