LA Times op-ed mocked for calling to replace ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ with ‘Lean on Me’

An op-ed from The Los Angeles Times raised eyebrows for calling on “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be canceled as the national anthem.

Contributing writer Jody Rosen began his column by slamming a San Franciso monument of Francis Scott Key, who famously wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as “imposing and fussy.”

After noting that the Key statue had been taken down by rioters, Rosen appeared to offer a justification for the vandalism as he, too, was a slaveowner

“The wave of reckoning and revisionism that is sweeping the country may have to come for the national anthem,” Rosen wrote, pointing to viral claims that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a “racist song” that stems from Key’s poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” which invokes slaves.

Rosen listed several songs that have been floated around to become the next national anthem, including John Lennon’s “Imagine,” James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” as well as other iconic American tunes like “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land.”

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“Nope, none of these songs will do,” Rosen argued. “At a moment when the United States is in the grip of multiple crises — convulsed by debates over racism and injustice, ravaged by a pandemic, with a crumbling economy and a faltering democracy — the very idea of a national anthem, a hymn to the glory of country, feels like a crude relic, another monument that may warrant tearing down. But if we must have an anthem, it should be far different than the one we’ve got now, positing another kind of patriotism, an alternative idea of America and Americanness. It would also be neat if it was, you know, a decent song, which a citizen could sing without crashing into an o’er or a thee, or being asked to pole vault across octaves.”

The LA Times writer concluded that such a song should be Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”

“It’s a modest song that puts on no airs. It speaks in plain musical language, without a trace of bombast, in a tidy arrangement that unfolds over a few basic chords. It doesn’t march to a martial beat or rise to grand crescendos. The lyrics hold no pastoral images of fruited plains or oceans white with foam, no high-minded invocations of liberty or God. ‘Lean on Me’ is a deeply American song — but it’s not, explicitly at least, a song about America,” Rosen explained. “Yet it has long been a kind of national anthem. ‘Lean on Me’ is one of just a handful of songs to have reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts in two different versions… It is surely among the most widely sung American songs of the past half-century.”

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Rosen noted all the famous singers who have performed the hit song, like Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, Mary J. Blige, Garth Brooks, Shawn Mendes and Nick Jonas, and how the song was sung at Black Lives Matter protests across the country in recent weeks and was used as a tribute to first responders towards the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

“What do all of these singers hear in ‘Lean on Me’? They hear a message of friendship and fellow-feeling so straightforward it may at first appear banal,” Rosen continued. “When you bolster that sentiment, as Withers does, with some handclaps and a funky bassline, the words ring even truer. It’s a message you could build something on, a pretty solid foundation for a decent society. It can bear the load.”

Rosen’s suggestion, however, was widely panned on social media.

“It’s almost like they’re trying to reelect Trump,” Tom Bevan, RealClearPolitics president and co-founder, reacted.

“Let’s replace it with ‘Everybody’s Special’ from Barney and Friends,” Ben Shapiro joked.

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“Let’s just Etch-a-Sketch everything and start the country from scratch, shall we? Saves time…” The Hill media reporter Joe Concha suggested.

“First they wanted you to kneel, and now they want to replace the national anthem. This is an erasure of our history and tradition–plain and simple,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., warned.

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There has been a cultural shift following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a White police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

The television shows “Cops” and “Live PD” were canceled, “Gone With the Wind” was temporarily pulled from HBO Max and re-added with historical context. White actors have withdrawn from voicing characters of color on animated TV shows, brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s have been retired, and episodes of sitcoms featuring blackface have been removed from streaming platforms. And the Washington Redskins will be retiring its longtime franchise name.

On Monday, Washington Post editor Karen Attiah similarly declared in an op-ed that the Texas Rangers name “must go.”

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