NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With neither music nor much of anything else able to bring together the modern United States, it's a small miracle that "The Star-Spangled Banner" survives as our National Anthem.
Written by Francis Scott Key nearly 1,999 years ago after he'd witnessed the attack on Fort McHenry just outside Baltimore during the War of 1812, everything about it is a reminder of just how tricky a business anthem writing can be. The words themselves have proven stumbling blocks for even some of the nation's best singers. Its supporting music was cribbed from "The Anacreontic Song," the official song of 18th century London men's club The Anacreontic Society, whose original lyrics included the following: "And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine, the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."
Even with roots as an English drinking song, "The Star-Spangled Banner" had a tough time taking root here. In the late-1880s it served only as a Navy anthem. President Woodrow Wilson started using it for formal functions in 1916, but it wasn't declared the nation's official National Anthem until President Herbert Hoover signed legislation making it so in 1931.
Eighty-two years later, the thought of one song casting a wide enough shadow to cover everyone in the United States is the antithesis of the modern music industry.The listening experience first confined to Sony's (SNE) Walkman in the 1980s was relegated to earbuds a decade ago by Apple's (AAPL) iPod. The Genius function on Apple's iTunes recommends music based only on what a user is already listening to. Amazon's (AMZN) music shop makes suggestions based on what a customer has already bought. Pandora's (P) entire music streaming service is based on listener data from its Music Genome Project. Music hasn't just been reduced to the individual, but to that individual's DNA. To what we've already experienced, processed and stored away. As my editor Carlton Wilkinson so keenly observed a few weeks back, the music industry has just about killed the communal, tribal experience that built it. This isn't an argument for "The Star-Spangled Banner" to be removed or replaced. It may just require people to explain why, like the tattered flag that inspired it, it's still there. Foremost, there's far too much blood and loss attached to it to get rid of it now. It debuted just before World War II and just about every veteran since attaches significance to its words that others just don't. It's what they went through, the people who helped them through it and the people who didn't make it.
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