Saturday, April 29, 2006

There seems to be something about Latin Americans singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" that gets up some Americans' noses:

The year was 1968....

Enter Jose Feliciano. The young, blind musician from Puerto Rico ... had been invited to sing the National Anthem at the fifth game of the World Series....

And then he sang the anthem like this: (MP3 link). No Spanish. Not even a particularly Latin rhythm. Just a stylized rendition with a R&B and gospel vocal influences. Not all that different from what Ray Charles did when he sang "America the Beautiful" years later, and everyone loved that, including conservatives. But this was 1968.

Veterans, reportedly, threw their shoes at the television as he sang. Others questioned his right to stay in the United States, suggesting he should be deported (to where, exactly, had never been mentioned as those from Puerto Rico are, of course, American citizens)!

I was nine years old. I remember all this. People really were pissed off.

Well, it's not just Americans who are sensitive about these things:

Christmas 1979: … [French pop star/provocateur Serge] Gainsbourg’s acapella version of "La Marseillaise" reverberates across a stunned silence at the now (in)famous Strasbourg "concert." It wasn’t much of a concert because as Gainsbourg finished his "Marseillaise," threats of violence charged the air anew. Some 100 supporters gathered around to protect Gainsbourg from the over 400 incensed paratroopers. What were they so incensed about?

What they were incensed about was that Gainsbourg was singing the French anthem to a reggae beat.

Generals, priests, journalists, and politicians denounced Gainsbourg in the media. Aspects of his career -- even his Jewishness -- were reexamined.

Reactionaries ultimately concluded that he’d defaced "La Marseillaise" expressly
because he was Jewish!

(I was in college at the time, at Columbia. I had a professor who thought he should be killed for this.)

In September, the crusty Paratroopers announced their intent to disrupt any Gainsbourg performance with violence. In Marseilles they threatened Gainsbourg's band, forcing him to cancel remaining concert dates.

...then came Strasbourg ...

One hour before the concert, a bomb threat at his reggae band's hotel spooked them so much that they refused to play.... Gainsbourg went on as scheduled -- alone. Pale and shaking, he faced the crowd: "right wing goons have tried to force a cancellation." He thanked fans for their support, then tried appeasing the paratroopers with a conciliatory gesture of embrace. "My band had to flee a bomb threat but I’m still going to sing 'La Marseillaise.'" ...

The paratroopers ... called for Gainsbourg's head. Serge turned to his uniformed taunters and...flipped them the bird! Some hell broke loose, chairs flew, skirmishes between pro- and anti-Gainsbourg factions were reported near the exits. And by the time people looked back up, Serge had disappeared into a halo of blinding stagelight.

His record sales skyrocketed, however. But there'd been death threats -- all because he'd changed the march tempo of the song to a reggae beat. People really care about these things.

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