Oh Say Can You See?

Ron Coffey mentioned on his blog about Jose Feliciano’s singing of the Star Spangled Banner at a Detroit Lions game in 1968. Feliciano, a gifted blind guitar player/singer from Puerto Rico, decided to do a changed up rendition of the anthem and the traditionalist in the crowd didn’t take kindly to it.

The late 1960s were a time of change and controversy and much of the disagreement was centered around America’s involvement in Vietnam. I was teaching high school at Villa Park, CA, a pretty upscale and conservative community in the heart of Orange County, and there wasn’t a lot of tolerance for anyone with a liberal, anti-war train of thought. Most of the students at VP were against the war while most of their parents were hard-core America, love it or leave it types. One of the easiest ways to arouse the establishment in those days was to engage in anything approaching desecration of a national symbol.

I was a pretty smooth dresser at the time and had purchased a wide silk necktie that closely resembled the American flag. It had red and white vertical stripes and a blue patch with a few white stars. Every time I wore it to school it caused an uproar within the staff and administration. All the liberal anti-war crowd thought it was simply too cool while the conservative hawks wanted to carve “commie” on my chest and send me packing!

It’s pretty amazing how much less controversial such things are today. In the 1980s I owned a number of knitted polo shirts with red, white, and blue patriotic themes and the general attitude was total acceptance.

I don’t recall the controversy surrounding Feliciano but a year later, in 1969, Jimi Hendrix helped close out Woodstock with his now famous distorted guitar version of the nation’s anthem. Even today rock historians can’t agree on just what Hendrix had in mind but I’m certain there were a lot of Captain Americas who went ballistic when Jimi turned his Stratocaster’s knobs all way to the right!

Between 1968 and today countless performers have put their personal twist on the anthem and most of us have come to accept and even enjoy it. But, while I was reading Coffey’s blog I couldn’t help but wonder what those fire-breathing conservatives at the 1968 World Series would have done with a Roseanne Barr?

One thought on “Oh Say Can You See?”

  1. This reminds me of one of the most moving renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” I have ever heard. It wasn’t sang well. It probably wouldn’t be nearly as moving via listening to a recording of it. It was on the outskirts of Chilicothe, Ohio at the closing ceremonies of an Easy Rider Rodeo.

    What made it special? I can only provide some guesses. The amount of feeling the singer put into it? The perceived freedom within an Easy Rider Rodeo, you know a bunch of motorcyclists who sometimes push being free and the idea of freedom to its limits? The normal pangs of something fun coming to a close and, in this case, having to resume contending with the real world?

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