Oh Say, Can't You Sing: Celebs Who Tortured the National Anthem
May 2, 2006 — -- The way some people have performed "The Star Spangled Banner," you might wonder if the national anthem begins, "Oh Say, Can't You Sing?"
With the controversy over "Nuestro Himno," a Spanish version of the anthem that debuted last week, it's worth noting some of the many times that "The Star Spangled Banner" has been reinterpreted -- and sometimes hideously mangled -- with traditionalists rushing to the song's defense, and innovators welcoming the change.
Perhaps no other rendition has been more derided than Roseanne Barr's hideous caterwauling at a San Diego Padres game in 1990. Sung deliberately off-key for laughs, she topped off this failed stab at humor by scratching her crotch and pretending to spit, like a ballplayer who needed to be sent to the minors.
The reaction was a national outcry. "The Fat Lady Sings (Poorly)" the San Diego Union declared in a front page headline.
Even President Bush's father, who was then commander in chief, chimed in on the issue. "It was disgraceful," Bush told White House reporters on Air Force One. "I think a lot of the San Diego fans said the same thing."
Tom Arnold, Roseanne's former husband, was one of the few who came to her defense. "Most people can't sing the song," he told The Associated Press. "She represented those people. She sang her heart out."
Arnold does have a point. Singers will point out that the song requires considerable range to be sung properly. To be crooned properly, you must raise the pitch of your voice an octave and a fifth by the time you get to "... and the rocket's red glare."
Still, Roseanne wasn't even trying to sing on key. She was trying to do comedy. We might have a little more pity for Olympic sprinting champ Carl Lewis at a 1993 basketball game between the New York Nets and Chicago Bulls. Lewis seemed to struggle harder trying to reach the high notes that day than he did in winning his nine gold medals.
Midway through, Lewis paused to apologize to the crowd, saying, "I'm going to make up for it." But it got no better, and when the TV camera panned to Michael Jordan, he was laughing derisively.