I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow; if I fail, or if I succeed at least I did as I believe.Whitney Houston
I had an eerie feeling last night watching the pre-game ceremony for the Super Bowl. I was born the same year as Whitney Houston. In 1991, I was still in graduate school with a 5 month old son, not yet having launched my career and scrambling two part time jobs to pay the bills, raising an infant with my wife and buried in classes and working on my thesis. A lot has happened in 30 years and that cycle of time, seeing the Super Bowl return to the same city it was played 30 years ago opened the emotional floodgate of memories.
I am a sports fan, mostly baseball. I have heard the national anthem countless times. I tend to roll my eyes a bit at the hyper patriotic militarization of sports, the fly-overs, recognizing it for what it is, a recruitment tool for young people. Turning sports events into patriotic marketing is done because its good for business and is a relatively recent phenomenon, but in big games, singing the national anthem is like the first hymn in church, it forces you to stop talking to the person next to you, take off your hat and pay attention to what is about to happen. It creates mindfulness, even if you aren’t caught up in the patriotic aspect of it and the ridiculousness hardness of the song to sing.
I don’t remember the 1991 Super Bowl except for the last quarter. It’s probably the only portion I caught. I owned an 8 inch black and white TV at the time, broadcast channels only, that sat on the kitchen table of the duplex that I lived. There was no super bowl party at my house. Sunday was my one day off a week, I probably was catching up on chores, playing with my son. There wasn’t YouTube in 1991, there wasn’t the internet, or at least I didn’t use it. I had a computer but all it did was act as a word processor and crunch stats for my graduate level thesis. We had no internet connection, no cable, no cell phone. Performances like Houston’s didn’t become instant classics on the internet like today. Life was good.
It has only been since Whitney Houston died tragically, too young, that this version of The Star Spangled Banner has come to mean something to me, has entered my consciousness as something special. It is both a connection to my younger self, when all things were possible, for Whitney, for my son, for America, for myself, and an embodiment of just how incredible Whitney’s voice is on this version, a testament to how special a gift her music is and still is. Whitney’s version of our national anthem, gives me hope, it gives me chills. But, if you read Francis Scott Key’s original poem on which our national anthem is based, the end of the first stanza ends with a question mark, not an exclamation point; “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?” Are we brave enough to confront our past, unite and succeed in an America that can do better than we do now? When Whitney Houston sings it, I believe the answer is YES.