Tag Archives: star spangled banner


The Star Spangled Banner didn’t begin with bombs bursting in air, it began with veins bursting in noses.

No, I don’t mean the stirring martial lyrics written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, but the melody he borrowed.smith and key

The tune Key set his words to was an old English drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven, written in 1780 by John Stafford Smith. It was the official song of the Anacreontic Society of London and was sung at the beginning of club meetings by all club members.anacreon gerome

Anacreon was a Greek poet of wine, women and song who died in 478 B.C. at the age of 86, from choking on a grape seed.

The club celebrated the grape, also.anacreontic society

Although, rather than wine, women and song, the Anacreontic Society seems more like booze, floozies and caterwauling. Imagine everyone at your local tavern or strip club getting up and singing a theme song before opening for business.

The society met every other week at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand, London, for a concert, dinner and a night of carousing. Each concert was formally opened by this song, performed by the president and joined by the company on refrain lines.

The curious Duchess of Devonshire, barred from the society by its all-male membership rules (barmaids were allowed, since they weren’t members), sometimes hid in a secret room under the stage in the tavern to hear the goings-on, enjoying the bawdy songs that were sung. Unfortunately, the duchess was a dampening influence on the society. Because the men were mortified that a woman of rank would hear them being so obscene, they disbanded in 1786 rather than continue, never knowing when the duchess would be in obscure attendance.fortmchenry_attack

Twenty-eight years later, Key penned the more familiar words during the siege of Fort McHenry outside Baltimore, on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814. The song was formally adopted as our national anthem by Congress in 1931.

For those who are curious about such things, these are the original words, or the first and last stanza, anyway, written by society president Ralph Tomlinson to Smith’s tune. Try singing it at the next baseball game.

To Anacreon in Heaven

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,

A few sons of harmony sent a petition

That he their inspirer and patron would be;

When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian —

(Refrain) “Voice, fiddle and flute, no longer be mute,

I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot;

And besides, I’ll instruct you like me to entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.

And besides, I’ll instruct you like me to entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.”

Ye sons of Anacreon, then, join hand in hand:

Preserve unanimity, friendship and love;

’Tis yours to support what’s so happily planned:

You’ve the sanction of gods and the fiat of Jove,

(Refrain) While thus we agree, our toast let it be

May our club flourish happy, united and free!

And long may the sons of Anacreon entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.

And long may the sons of Anacreon entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.

Glen Rio, Tex (N.M

It is hard to describe to anyone not born and raised in the eastern portion of this country what a shock it is to see the American West for the first time. One gets used to the thick forests and twisting roads and the dense population of the East.

I had managed not to see the West until I was nearly 35. I was unprepared for what I found. There were mesas, buttes, mountains, geysers, chasms, canyons and prairies. There were deserts, high plains, cactus and arroyos. My eyes were pie plates. It was all new. We’re not in New Jersey anymore.Dawn, Grand Canyon

The air was crisp and dry. You could see 50 or 100 miles through it. Every day, there was something I had never seen before and had never even imagined.

This was in 1982, and in one single summer trip my wife and I put 10,000 miles on our car while driving in a huge loop around the Western half of the continent, and we saw everything from the Grand Canyon to Mount Rainier. We felt like mere babes, dumbstruck by a world we only knew through paintings by Thomas Moran, movies by John Ford and photographs by Ansel Adams. We hadn’t really believed what we had been shown: Nothing is really that gobsmacking.Goosenecks of the San Juan

We had some incredible luck. By accident, we came to Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona by the back roads and found a place along the edge of it that was not crowded with tourists. We sat alone on the rim looking down into the abyss for hours, listening to the breeze and the birds, before another car even drove by.White House Ruins

We were lucky enough to drive through California’s Death Valley in June. It was empty also. Few people are crazy enough to go there when it is 115 degrees. But it meant we saw Death Valley at its most characteristic. It is well named.Zabriskie Point

We were lucky to pass through Depuyer, Mont., when the cottonwood trees were shedding their ”fluffy-duffies” and coated the whole town like a blizzard.

”I love this time of year,” the woman behind the store counter told us. ”When I was a little girl, I would collect as much fluff as I could and make little doll quilts from it and use it to stuff doll pillows.”

There was a mile-long climb up the Lake Angeles trail in the Olympic Mountains of Washington, and at the top we came to a fog-skimmed lake with the rocky precipice of Mount Angeles on the other side, looking like a living, breathing Thomas Moran painting.Hurricane Ridge

There were the steaming clouds of limestone piled up in Yellowstone National Park, at Mammoth Hot Springs, glistening with trickled water.Mammoth Hot Springs

And driving east from Yellowstone, down the Shoshone River Canyon, dropping off the eastern face of the Absaroka Mountains, we passed rock formations and river rapids.shoshone canyon

About 20 miles west of Cody, Wyo., we passed a road sign that read ”Weather Info Tune to 1610 AM.” We had seen such signs before, but this time we thought we’d try it out. Just as we did, the land opened up in front of us and we saw the sweeping plains that spread out towards the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, about 10 miles in front of us. The scene was perfect: Purple mountains trailed off into the distance, broad plains and a lake intensely blue spread like a feast before us, a sky higher than any we had seen, filled with four or five different kinds of clouds and interspersed with an ultramarine, rippled out to a visual infinity. I clicked on the radio, and instead of weather, we heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the Star-Spangled Banner with the richest kitschiest accompaniment the Philadelphia Orchestra could muster.Wheatfield, Pendleton, Ore

I’m not much given to patriotic sentiment, but I could not hold back a tear. I felt as much an American as George M. Cohan ever did. I felt the shores of Tripoli, the amber waves of grain, home of the free. The choir sang all the verses and at the very end, in a vocal trick now commonplace but brand-new then, the choir jumped an octave on ”free-eeeeeeeeee” as it ended, and I swear it sounded like Beethoven’s Ninth.

SaguarosOf course, when we later moved to Arizona, some of the glory wore off. We lived in Phoenix, which is pretty much Cleveland in the desert, and after 25 years working there — it isn’t that we didn’t still love the beauty of the landscape, but that it became familiar; it no longer astonished us. The human psyche can get used to almost anything.

“Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

“Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”

Now that we have moved back to the Blue Ridge Mountains — an entirely more comfortable, less spiky, less prickly landscape, softened with humidity and afternoon showers, green of the forest replacing the tawn of the desert — now that we have moved back, the night splashes full with dreams of distant impossibly white clouds with charcoal bottoms floating over red buttes and vast bajadas.