'Star-Spangled Banner' renditions to take on extra emotion

Celebrations ensued Sunday night in New York City after news broke of Osama bin Laden's death.

I had no more spoke these very words to a friend of mine as we “celebrated” the news out of Pakistan when I stumbled across this piece form Ray Ratto:

Monday marks a seminal moment in the history of ballpark/arena national anthems, and if you don’t think so, watch this YouTube clip of the Chicago Stadium national anthem before the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, days after the first Iraq war started.

The combination of patriotic fervor, the cavernous Stadium, the cathedral-quality pipe organ and Wayne Messmer’s shake-your-shoes voice created a wall of sound that is copied (yet not replicated) before every Blackhawks game ever since.

This will be that night, we suspect, only repeated in the 15 venues where baseball, basketball or hockey are played this evening after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Plus the 61 minor-league baseball games, countless (at least uncounted by us, lazy swine that we are) college and high school events across the country and, we presume, Canada.

In short, whatever shards of the why-do-we-even-bother-with-the-national-anthem-at-sports-events argument remain will be swept aside in a cascade of flag-waving and singing, and in all likelihood in the classic Chicago Stadium tradition.

YouTube, after all, is a powerful thing for the “Copycat Generation”.

Now we’re not steering you either way on this debate; based on the fact that the anthem remains a staple of sporting events, usually enhanced by a later rendition of God Bless America, that debate was settled on the side on the flag.

In other words, don’t email with patriotic screeds about anything here. The anthem won. That argument is over. Calm down.

We’re just doing what our kids say they’re doing when they offer an opinion that makes us smack our foreheads — just sayin’.

This is a force of nature that one could see all Sunday night, with the masses of hooded college sweatshirts and their teenaged and early-20s owners in every open space they could find, singing another anthem — Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, by Steam.

Yeah. Steam. Not exactly the U2 of its generation, and in fact it was actually not even a group but a bunch of guys who put together some A-sides looking for an album.

But, hey, you take what you get. In fact, that became an anthem in another part of Chicago, when Nancy Faust, the organist at Comiskey Park, used to play it after every White Sox win during the Bill Veeck era in the mid-70s — and it took off from there to the point where, and we swear to you on this, it became the song in a Kohler high-efficiency toilet commercial.

But now we’ve become Casey Kasem, and who needs that this early in the morning?

The point is, the immediate reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden will create a newfound fervor for the national anthem at sporting events, and even those who typically stood and took off their hats but mouthed the words will belt out a line or two tonight.

Is it appropriate? That’s another argument you can have among yourselves. We just know that you play the cards the way they’re dealt, and this is what you’re going to get, like it or not.

For crowd reaction gimme the NHL All-Star Games rendition. For pure performance it's all about Whitney.

Nobody’s rendition will be quite like the Chicago Stadium’s that night in 1991, because it was spontaneous as well as deafening.

The wall of noise alone will put chills up your spine if only for the instinctive fervor, the organ (which should be brought back in all its splendor to every arena in the country, damn it) and Messmer’s operatic stand-under-an-idling airplane voice. Watch it, remember the context (quite like the current one), and remember nobody planned it or marketed it. It just happened.

We don’t do spontaneous well any more. We look for scoreboard operators to guide us far too often.

But there will be moments — there will be moments. And take that for what it’s worth. Argue if you like, but acknowledge the fact that there will be lots more singing before games for the next few days.


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