Did you miss Aaron Lewis's now-infamous flub of the national anthem at the start of Sunday's World Series game? If so, don't worry -- no fewer than 10 YouTube users have posted a video for you to go back and watch. Maybe you want to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe you couldn't believe it the first time, and want to go back and see it again. Maybe you need to get another look.
Or, if you're one of the many who have criticized him, maybe you just need to get a life.
The rock-turned-country singer is hardly the first to botch "The Star-Spangled Banner," but few have done it on a bigger stage. Why did it happen? How does a rock star who has performed thousands of times for huge crowds get nervous? How does a guy with "Don't Tread On Me" tattooed across his throat forget the words to his nation's most sacred song?
Simple: He's a human being, and human beings make mistakes. Well, most of us do, anyway. Apparently, those who left comments on the YouTube videos of the song -- you know, the experts who said that Lewis "looks like a common criminal on parole," "was most likely under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol," "did it for the publicity," and is a "scumbag" -- are immune to the pressures of singing live and a cappella in front of millions of people.
For decades, the pre-game national anthem has been about music first and patriotism second, so why act now like a crime has been committed? Errors are so common in baseball, there's a separate column for them on a statistics board. Yet when a singer gets the words wrong in a song, people call for his head. The problem, though, isn't that Lewis screwed up; the problem is that some of us are acting offended and judgmental, when the national anthem is routinely disrespected, at sporting events and elsewhere, in ways far worse than what happened on Sunday.
Go to a baseball game sometime, and count the number of fans who don't take off the hat they're wearing. Or those who text or talk on their phones during the performance. Or those who aren't about to let some song stop them from ordering their concessions. Or those who stand at attention, yet converse with the people they're with. Things oftentimes aren't much better on the field... why, for instance, is no one complaining about the players shown on camera smiling and laughing during Lewis's performance?
Still, fan and player conduct during the anthem is only marginally more offensive than some of the professional singers who have performed it at sporting events. Last January's Rose Bowl game featured one of the most overly theatrical performances of the national anthem in recent memory, as stars of the documentary "20 Feet From Stardom" covered more yardage on their vocal runs than either of the teams on the field that day. Michael Bolton forgot the words while singing before a 2003 baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and stopped momentarily to refer to a cheat sheet. And, combining the best of both worlds, Christina Aguilera created both new lyrics and melody when she performed at the 2011 Super Bowl.
Rather than aiming our criticism at Lewis, fans or singers, we could also be examining the problem of commercializing the song. Various versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," including many recorded live at sporting events, are available for sale on iTunes. You can help line the pockets of your favorite performer by downloading their take on the song. Many of the offerings for sale are by acts you've never heard of, acts likely hoping that someone seeking to buy the song will pick their version, enjoy it, and want to seek out (and buy) more of their music.
Fans who were at AT&T Park took it easy on Lewis, but what about the many times others have turned on a singer and booed? As in, booed during the national anthem? The song is sacred enough to want to protect, but not sacred enough to refrain from booing during? Or, not sacred enough to refrain from letting out a big "woooo" once the performer hits the high note at "free" toward the end?
People are making money off the song. They're talking during it. They're even booing during it. All those things are OK for self-appointed guardians of our patriotism, but a guy getting nervous isn't? A singer who has repeatedly volunteered to play USO gigs for troops stationed overseas is disrespecting our country? Attacks on Aaron Lewis, or anyone else who has performed the song before a game, seem hugely disproportionate in relation to the many more egregious ways the song is disrespected by performers, music sellers, and even ourselves.
The pre-game national anthem is stressful for performers, and the flowery renditions that many provide are often obnoxious for fans. We've got two choices: We can scrap it altogether, and stand respectfully while a neutral, pre-recorded version plays over the PA. Or, because that isn't nearly entertaining enough for fans whose sole purpose of attending a game is to be entertained, we can continue with the live versions, which means enjoying them as theater and refraining from accusing a less-than-perfect entertainer of being unpatriotic.
Aaron Lewis drew a blank at one of the worst times possible. He said he's sorry. So for those who are still up in arms: relatively speaking, this is a minor offense. Let it go. Forgive. And be thankful you got to hear a free mini-concert from a guy with a pretty incredible voice. Were you moved to patriotism? Perhaps not... but hopefully you were at least entertained, and in the case of the national anthem as performed at sporting events under a shroud of national pride, that's really all that matters.