Friday, 7 February 2014

07/02/14 - National Anthem

My favourite part of any international football match is the singing of the national anthem at the start. Players fall into three distinct groups: firstly, there are the ones who know the words and sing heartily. There are usually only one or two doing this. David Beckham seems to know the words quite well - I expect Victoria told him to learn them in case it might lead to a knighthood. Secondly, there are the players who are too cool for school; they keep their mouths firmly shut, trying to look mean, or focused, or both. Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole leap to mind. They’re most likely scanning the crowd for women to molest. Thirdly, there’s my favourite group – the ones who don’t know the words but assume no-one will notice if they just open and close their mouths like fish. Steven Gerrard and John Terry do this with gusto. Whether or not this ability to remember a simple sequence of words is emblematic of the players’ respective abilities on the pitch is probably something to be commented on by someone who knows what they’re talking about…

But the national anthem isn’t always used to unite and galvanise – sometimes it’s aggressively and oafishly shouted by people who clearly haven’t paid a lot of attention to the words. It’s interesting that, in just one generation, we’ve managed to hand our national anthem into the sweaty mitts of blinkered nationalists and football hooligans. (Not saying that all football fans are hooligans, or UKIP/BNP/EDL members, obviously. But you know what I mean.) That’s popular culture for you – the same goes for the Cross of St. George; in other countries it’s quite sweet to see a flag hanging in somebody’s window, in France or Italy, say, but in England you know that the people inside will be terrifying nutcases, probably with shaven heads, wifebeater vests and inexpertly-inked bulldog tattoos. National pride is sometimes hard to distinguish from nationalism, but at least we have a song to help us along the way – I guess you just have to sing it in the right way.
If you don’t know the lyrics to the national anthem, you probably don’t feel the urge to sing it that often; what this means is determined by your own views of what’s acceptable behaviour.

The anthem is an interesting concept. God Save the Queen (or ‘God Save the King’, depending on who’s on the throne at the time) is, of course, the British national anthem, and is also so for numerous other countries throughout the Commonwealth; Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Grenada, Belize, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis and Tuvalu all pay tribute to our Queen whenever they participate in international sporting tournaments, as well they should. She’s a nice lady. She looks like she enjoys a sing-song.
God Save the Queen was the first song to be used as a national anthem (although, if you want to be pedantic, Japan’s and the Netherlands’ purpose-written anthems are older, but weren’t made official until after ours, so we win), and it created a huge amount of jealousy among other nations. They wanted songs to reinforce their national identities too. Germany pinched the tune wholesale, as did Russia and Switzerland, although they’ve since displayed sufficient common sense to come up with a different tune so as not to embarrass themselves at the start of World Cup matches. Not so Lichtenstein, however, who have doggedly persevered with our tune with their own lyrics, much to the redfacedness of their soccer fans. Naturally, it just means that when they play England, they get to hear ‘God Save the Queen’ boisterously belted out twice.

There is genius in the lyrics - the second verse is a particular highlight: ‘Scatter her enemies and make them fall, confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks…’ - but many people are unclear as to why we need a national anthem at all. The answer is simple, and two-fold: it stops awkward silences and prevents violence. Think about when it’s sung – at sporting events, medal ceremonies, Remembrance Day services… times when otherwise people would be reduced to wringing their hands and glancing about, trying to establish if things were due to begin or end. And in the case of football matches, it gives people an excuse to band together in harmonious (well, ish) mass-taunting at a juncture which otherwise could well see them punching the shit out of the opposition. It sprinkles oil on the waters.

…but I know what you’re thinking. Lyrically-speaking, it’s not really relevant to modern British life. To crib a line from Eddie Izzard, ‘the Queen lives in a very big house, she has barbed wire outside, and people with guns in front of that. That's one saved fucking Queen’. The idea of ‘sending her victorious’ is, for the youth of today, confusing at best. So, the safest thing to do is just make up your own lyrics and sing them with gusto at the appropriate times. Don’t worry, everyone around you will be concentrating so hard on their own caterwauling that as long as you’re yelling something, no-one will notice. I won’t attempt to create a new, modern set of lyrics for the national anthem here, because it will undoubtedly be awful and something I’ll read back in a couple of years’ time and regret. But, for inspiration, let’s look across the Atlantic…
You’re probably familiar with punk jesters The Bloodhound Gang. With brilliant song titles like ‘I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks’, ‘A Lapdance Is So Much Better When The Stripper Is Crying’ and ‘Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo’, their lyrical credentials are strong. And their first attempt to musically represent a geographical area was a success. (The track ‘The Ten Coolest Things About New Jersey’ was just ten seconds of silence.)
So we can take a lesson from their idea to write the official state song for their home state, Pennsylvania. The song was called ‘Pennsylvania’. OK, the plan didn’t work, but it’s nice to think that at least some of the residents of the 2nd state have adopted it as their own – a celebration of things that are a bit disappointing. You might have to Google some of the references, but here’s how it goes:

We are Cop Rock, we are Screech, we are Z. Cavaricci
We are laser-removed Tasmanian devil tattoos

We are Third String, we are Puck, we are Special People's Club
We are the half-shirts with irreverent spring break top-ten lists

We are Munson, we are squat, we are flashing twelve o'clock
We are spread out butt-cheeks, pulled apart so just the air leaks

We are Ishtar, we are Tab, we are no right turn on red
We are the moustaches The Beatles grew when they dropped acid

You are the heart dotting ‘i’ in the word ‘apologise’
Scribbled drunk on a postcard, sent from somewhere volcanoes are
I am the heart with no name, airbrushed on the license plate
Of a Subaru that was registered in Pennsylvania

We are Zima, we are Barf, we are cinderblock yard art
We are Baldwin brothers, not the good one but the others

We are Amway, we are Shemp, we are Sir David of Brent
We are the queef after a porn star breaks the gangbang record

You are the heart dotting ‘i’ in the word ‘apologise’
Scribbled drunk on a postcard, sent from somewhere volcanoes are
I am the heart with no name, airbrushed on the license plate
Of a Subaru that was registered in Pennsylvania

Do you even know what a Wawa is?
Do you even know what a Wawa is?
I'm in a state of P fuckin' A

Something in that vein – but, y’know, more Britishy - would undoubtedly make Her Maj smile and help to contemporise the anthem for today’s youth.
The place to develop our new lyrics? Why, the terraces, of course. If there’s one thing football fans do better than anyone, it’s create inspired derision in song form. Perhaps that’s something our tattooed lager enthusiasts can get together before the World Cup kicks off…?

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