ROCKET’S RED GLARE …

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To be honest, I’ve always wondered how people of color feel about hearing the National Anthem or pledging allegiance to the flag. The National Anthem was written 50 years before the slaves were freed. Why should a person of color stand and put their hand over their heart for it in the first place?

To fully appreciate the American National Anthem you have to put it into context …

It was written during the war of 1812 (the forgotten conflict) by a lawyer named Francis Scott Key. The war of 1812 isn’t a popular war because it was a bit convoluted and not as noble as other American wars. We actually declared it on the British a mere twenty-three years after ratifying our beloved constitution. It was fought over shipping routes, blockades, Canadian territory, something to do with Napoleon and I’m sure a host of other complications I slept through in history class.

There were those who opposed as they called it, “Madison’s War” (referring to President Madison). One of those in opposition, was Mr Key himself. He had been an opponent of the war when it started, but through a strange turn of events, found himself negotiating a prisoner exchange on a British ship, overlooking Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, in September of 1814. Suddenly, all hell broke loose.

The British began bombarding the fort mercilessly. Contrary to most opinions, the Americans weren’t fighting back. They didn’t return any fire that night at all – the enemy ships were too far out of range. The Americans were dug in and simply taking a bloody beating. The “bombs bursting in air” weren’t American bombs of aggression, they were enemy bombs trying to annihilate the American stronghold. History says that all the lights in Baltimore were extinguished that night and the only light at all was that of the horrible deluge of cannon fire. I’m sure it was a terrible thing to watch.

Mr Key and his friends saw the bold stripes and bright stars waving proudly atop the fort from their ship, as the sun went down that twilight, in 1814. When the smoke was clearing the next morning, he strained through the early mist, to see if they were still there.

Our National Anthem is not a statement of blind, ignorant patriotism. It is a deep question …

“Oh say, can you see by the dawn’s early light – what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?” …

Can you see it this morning? Can you see it through the smoke? Is it still there? The flag was raised last night when the sun went down. We saw it waving through the night …but, did it survive? Did WE survive?

“Who’s broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, oe’r the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming” …

They kept it flying – those beautiful, defiant sons-of-bitches kept it flying even though the city was blacked out and they could have taken it down to make their position harder to find …they kept it flying. My God, they kept it flying!

“And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there” …

All night long, the only way we knew it was there was through the violence being showered on it. The terror lighting up around it only made it more illuminated. When the bombs went off – we didn’t see an empty, dark, defeated sky – we saw hope in the wind …all night …no matter what. Thank God they kept it flying.

“Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, oe’r the land of the free and the home of the brave?” …

Please tell me it’s still there! I haven’t agreed with it’s policies and actions, I don’t support it’s current leaders. But when the bullets start flying and the chips are down, I still need it to be there. I need those gaudy, tacky, primary colors to still be flying. I need the IDEA of America to still be there. I need to know there’s still a government of the people, for the people, by the people left on the planet. Is there still a place where the huddled masses can breathe free? Are there still those brave enough to fight for it? I need it to be there. The world needs it to be there. Tell me …is it there?

The melody resolves deceptively. But actually, Mr Key’s lyric never answers the question. And it is open ended to this very day.

It’s a question that must be answered by every generation. The founding fathers had to answer it by putting it all on the line. Abraham Lincoln answered it by winning the civil war and then losing his life. The doughboys answered it in the bloody mud of the western front. My grandfather answered it in the volcanic ash of Iwo Jima. Rosa Parks answered it by sitting wherever she damn well pleased. Martin Luther King answered it on the capital steps, in front of a million people, then later on a hotel balcony, in Memphis. Neil Armstrong answered it on the moon. John McCain answered it strung up by his two broken arms in Hanoi. Ronald Reagan answered it at the Berlin wall.

Is Colin Kaepernick answering it by sitting down when it plays? Maybe. But maybe he should remember that there are a few professions that are at the white-hot center of the American ethos. They are fully immersed in the system of America on every level. They cannot escape her protections and privileges: the pampered rock star, the successful entrepreneur …and, of course, NFL quarterback.

If you take snaps and throw passes on Sunday, you are – just by showing up for work – approving of feeding the western beast. You are a part of it. And when you are the main attraction, on AMERICAN TV, to households who buy products that pay for your air time and salary, who pay taxes in to a government you say you oppose, that props up a military you thumb your nose at, so you can play a game without fear of threat, because you’re being protected by a hoard of police officers you say are racists …you might just be the VERY thing you say you’re against.

If Colin Kaepernick wants to sit out the National Anthem, I couldn’t care less. It’s certainly his right. That country he seems to oppose so vehemently …gives him that right. But he won’t really be starting any meaningful conversations or making any meaningful statements until he stops participating in the system he’s now perpetuating.

My government and I are currently at odds. My government has let me and my songwriting brothers and sisters down on almost every level. I’m not happy with my government at the moment.

But I still fully participate in the American idea and ideal. And I rise for the National Anthem and put my hand over my heart when it plays. Because I still believe in those ideas and ideals …despite what people in America might do.

I still want to hear Mr Key’s question. And I still want the the answer to be YES!

So, before you sit down on the National Anthem …listen to the lyrics one more time.

R

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13 thoughts on “ROCKET’S RED GLARE …

  1. I really appreciate you writing this, Regie. Really helped me understand your criticism of Kaep’s protest. Makes total sense.

    And so beautifully written. I’ll never hear the national anthem the same way again. Well done.

    Let me play devil’s…I mean, Kaep’s advocate for a minute. The two of you sing this song for different reasons. You sing it as an affirmation of what America could be. He sings it as an affirmation of what America is.

    He treats the anthem the way I treat a hymn. I’ll sit silently during “I Surrender All” if I know I’m nursing a grudge and I’m not about to let go of it. If I won’t surrender, I best not say I will. If Kaep can’t honestly affirm America (specifically, her justice system) at the moment, he won’t say he does by standing for the anthem. He’s refusing, in his mind, to be a hypocrite.

    The two of you sing this song for very different reasons: you to affirm what could be, and him to affirm what is. Are both reasons valid? I think so.

    So affirm what could be, Regie. But I can’t fault Kaep for wanting what could be right now.

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    • I fault no one for taking a stand. I didn’t fault him in the piece. In fact I intimated he might be doing exactly what Americans are supposed to do. But don’t participate in a system while trashing it. If you don’t want to sing I Surrender All for personal reasons that’s fine. I don’t participate in organized religion anymore. That’s the main reason I left Christian Music. It would be hypocritical of me to fully participate in something I didn’t believe in. Being a highly paid NFL quarterback is FULLY PARTICIPATING in the American experience.

      If Kap said, “I’m not standing until black people can vote.” Or, “I’m not standing till restrooms and water fountains are integrated.” Or, “I’m not standing until gays can get married,” I would get it. But his stance is abstract and places some nebulous blame on the fans who support him and the police who protect him, without some call to action we can understand.

      I hope that makes sense.

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  2. IRONICALLY. I’M LISTENING TO GOSPEL MUSIC WHILE I READ THIS POST…AND RIGHT AS I START TO WRITE MY COMMENT…THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER STARTS, WITH THE GAITHER VOCAL BAND SINGING IT LIKE NO OTHER CAN…I KNOW HOW I FEEL WHEN I HEAR THE SONG TODAY…PRIDE, HOPE, AND FEAR…OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS DOING EVERYTHING THEY CAN TO DESTROY OUR COUNTRY AND OUR CONSTITUTION…THEY HAVE ALMOST OUTLAWED ANY PATRIOTISM…ILLEGALS HAVE MORE “RIGHTS” THAN DO OUR LEGAL CITIZENS…BUT, IF WHEN WE WAKE TOMORROW AND FIND OURSELVES AT WAR ON AMERICAN SOIL, WE WILL BE LOOKING FOR OUR FLAG…IT WILL BE THE RALLYING SIGHT THAT MILLIONS OF AMERICANS WILL STAND BESIDE AND BEHIND TO DEFEND THIS COUNTRY ONCE AGAIN…MAKE NO MISTAKE, WE DO NOT WANT OR DESIRE A WAR…BUT WE THE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN BLESSED TO BE RAISED IN THIS COUNTRY AND WE WILL NOT SIT IDLY BY AND LET AMERICA BE DESTROYED WITHOUT A FIGHT….ONCE AGAIN AMERICANS WILL STAND WITH AND FOR OUR FLAG…YES IT WILL STILL BE WAVING AS A SIGN OF LIBERTY AND A COUNTRY CREATED BY GOD-LOVING PEOPLE LOOKING TO MAKE BETTER LIVES FOR THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILIES. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

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    • Francis Scott Key is my ancestor-cousin. Since I learned this, as a child, those words have filled me with pride, and love for this country. This is a very smart, well written article, that brings another angle of thought to those words, of our anthem. Are we willing to allow people, or countries, that want us to conform and change for them, end the true moments that defined this country? The land of the free, and the home of the brave? I hope not?

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  3. Great blog!
    I wish some singer , at a game, would sing one or all of the verses! Especially the 3rd and 4th!
    O! 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, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
    O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
    In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
    ‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
    A home and a country, should leave us no more?
    Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
    No refuge could save the hireling and slave
    From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave![19]

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  4. I taught where kids were required to sing the NA every Monday. It irked me to see anyone approach the “practice half heartedly. So I often reminded them of folks who were victims of bombs bursting in air and rockets red glare. I say if for no other reason we sing out of love for our countrymen who gave their all in the fight for freedom. That is reason enough. Great article.

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  5. I really liked this, appreciated reading the history of our anthem once again because like you I had forgotten it from high school days. But, I didn’t like the lead in about wondering how people of color feel about hearing the anthem, etc. That made me upset because I didn’t know it was going to be about the football player and felt like it set them apart from being regular Americans. I know he says he wouldn’t stand because we are a racist society, etc. I started reading the article expecting a diatribe against our anthem and flag and planning a rebuttal. Instead got a defense of her, and a history lesson to boot. I actually thought the anthem was written during the Revolutionary war. I did know it was written when we were fighting the British so I get points for that. When I share this post I’m going to put the following section as a comment of why to read the article so people don’t think it’s just going to be about how people of color don’t feel good about the anthem and maybe have a right to feel that way. I just didn’t like that, but I really like the article. Here’s the part I’d put as a lead in:

    If you take snaps and throw passes on Sunday, you are – just by showing up for work – approving of feeding the western beast. You are a part of it. And when you are the main attraction, on AMERICAN TV, to households who buy products that pay for your air time and salary, who pay taxes in to a government you say you oppose, that props up a military you thumb your nose at, so you can play a game without fear of threat, because you’re being protected by a hoard of police officers you say are racists …you might just be the VERY thing you say you’re against.

    I like that, but maybe I wouldn’t have read the article if it started that way. I don’t know. So there’s my comment for what it’s worth. 🙂 Good job!

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  6. Yes listen to all of tbe lyrics, including those that have been so conveniently dropped over the years.. Additionally, if tbis is tbe land of tbe free then Collin can respond in whatever legal manner he so chooses, and the brave should celebrate that choice.

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  7. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I have one major disagreement. You seem to imply that one must remove oneself from the system to be able to criticize it. By this logic, and I am open to the possibility that, this is not what you meant, no one, who takes part in civil life in America at all, can stand up and point out a failure. This is a direct contradiction of perhaps one of the most important elements of the IDEA of America.
    What good is it to have freedoms, if we can’t exercise them?

    I am an immigrant and I had to earn my citizenship. I choose to stand for the anthem. But one of the things I am most grateful for about being an American, is my right to think, and to speak the truth as I perceive it. So, I celebrate the gentleman’s exercise of his rights. I celebrate the fact that we are indeed, that free.

    Thank you for your contribution to this important national discussion.

    Very best wishes.
    Jorge

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