Rules for singing the national anthem

FLINT – Me, I’m not that particular about how the national anthem is sung at events. What do I care if someone can’t hit the high note at the end of “And the rocket’s red glare”? I can’t either. When I sing it dogs howl and people – OK, my children – flee. It’s a ridiculously hard song to sing.

So I’m not about to throw stones at Beyonce’s glass house, as so many others are, simply because she chose to lip sync the anthem at President Obama’s inauguration.

I’d probably lip sync it, too. Inaugurations are forever, and who wants to be captured on videotape butchering the anthem? Can you imagine how awful it would be to have people a hundred years from now listening to your performance and saying, “Make it stop! Make it stop! Why didn’t the Secret Service tackle her?”

Pop singers, especially, have a lot riding on sounding good on such a big stage. If she had busted the Plexiglas at the podium with a particularly screechy note, fans would presumably notice and start questioning what they’re hearing on her recordings.

So I don’t blame her a bit. Or all the other inaugural performers before her who did it. You knew, for instance, that Yo-Yo Ma’s performance at Obama’s first inauguration was, for lack of a better term, cello-synced? That bothered some, but I was at that inaugural – it was 100 degrees below zero, or felt like it anyway. He’d have had to play with mittens on.

I will say this, though. If performers are going to lip sync, they ought to let the audience know. The TV screen ought to flash a little message, “Notice: Lip sync in progress” or maybe “Truth alert: Her lips are moving but nothing’s coming out.” Not telling people is a deception, and especially at an a solemn occasion like an inauguration, that seems wrong.

Could we handle the truth, though? Would we think less of performers if they told us they were faking and we were listening to a recording? I wouldn’t. But then I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that a singer can sing studio-perfect while doing a choreographed dance routine on stage. I’d prefer if they just admitted it.

But I think most people would hate being told. We seem to prefer the illusion of perfection. We want performances of the anthem, in particular, to be live and spotless in both pitch and propriety. And when we don’t get it, a fair percentage of us proclaim to be outraged. That’s nuts, but that’s America.

Perhaps a change is needed. Since we have one of these anthem controversies at least once a year, maybe it’s time we were up front with performers about what we expect of them. Therefore, I propose a national standard for public performances of the anthem, which would include the following:

1) Thou shalt sing live and with feeling, and if your voice cracks or you miss a note we promise to not get all bent out of shape about it.

2) Thou shalt bother to learn the words. There’s nothing worse than a singer who goes, “Gave proof through the, uh, blight that our, um, bag wasn’t there?”

3) Thou shalt not grab thy crotch and spit after thou singeth the anthem, or do anything else that’s disrespectful and annoying. (We’ll call this one the Roseanne Barr clause.)

4) Thou shalt sing the song as it is written and not use 15 notes when one is called for just because you want to show off your range.

We’ll need a penalty for violators, of course. I’d propose locking them in a room and forcing them to listen to a looped recording of Roseanne’s rendition, which is hideous beyond belief, and if you don’t believe me, check it out on YouTube.

But that might be cruel and unusual punishment. I’m open to other suggestions.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.