Anthem about patriotism, not performance/The Red Line

Forced to come up with a new idea after realizing it is somehow too early on May 1 to write a “when are the golf courses opening” column, I was at a loss.

I sat down to chain-watch a bunch of Game 7’s on TV. As is customary for the postseason, NBC Sports Network showed the performance of The Star-Spangled Banner by Madison Square Garden by longtime vocalist John Amirante. As he approached the conclusion, he used the hand not holding the microphone to fumble around inside his suit jacket for a white ‘rally towel,’ which he began waving around above his head while ending the song, nearly knocking off his obvious toupee in the process.

As you may know, I often volunteer to sing the national anthem at local sporting events. I’m proud to come from a musical family and am happy to apply my favorite hobby in a patriotic manner, so long as I’m not denying the same opportunity to others (such as students of the school in question). It’s the least I can do as a citizen.

I’ve been doing it a long time – just ask my parents, who can confirm how I, when put to bed before another grueling day at Gilbert Elementary School, would sign off for the night by singing The Star-Spangled Banner (and occasionally, O Canada) in bed with the lights off.

(That is an absolutely true story.)

Therefore, I’m going to offer some thoughts on the subject and try do so without sounding like a music snob, my own publicist or “Sam the Eagle” from the Muppets. We’ll probably get letters anyway.

I don’t think the national anthem should be used as a ‘partisan’ rallying cry, referring to the specific incident mentioned above in New York. The ‘rally towel,’ which is really just a quieter version of the Thunderstick craze of the early 2000s, can just as easily be deployed for a Macklemore or Black-Eyed Peas song before or afterwards.

The United States Flag Code offers protocols for military and civilian personnel to follow during the presentation of national symbols. For civilians, that means “stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.”

This does not include rally towels, or the screaming of random words in the lyrics pertinent to their teams such as “O!” (Baltimore Orioles), “Stars!” (Dallas Stars) or “(Houston) Rockets.”

In Chicago, it has become customary to cheer continuously throughout the anthem, a tradition I feel does not square with these protocols, either. I object to tenor Jim Cornelison’s style (adapted from that of Wayne Messmer, whose similar rendition during the 1991 NHL All-Star Game in the midst of the first Persian Gulf War provided it a national audience), mostly because it sounds like screaming. Then again, I object to a lot of things related to Chicago, including all the Blackhawks, the Bears and Hawk Harrelson.

Heck, in Philadelphia, they decided back in the 1970’s it was cool to just substitute the national anthem with “God Bless America,”?which is a lot of things to a lot of people but isn’t the national anthem.

I understand why one might want to offer a patriotic tribute that is unique to their city or fans – but it can be done in a dignified manner: just ask the Calumet Jr. ROTC. I knew about their skating color guard before I’d even moved to the Copper Country.

The reason I’m getting all persnickety about this is because I think the national anthem should be a moment for reflection about the many things that make this nation great, not an opportunity to impress with one’s vocal melismas, to scan the scenery or psyche out the opposition.

Because for all the rally towels waved inside the rink, the most important piece of fabric is the Stars and Stripes hanging from the rafters.

Brandon Veale can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at