In which the Elegant Bastard points out to singers and song stylists everywhere that while the national anthem is our national anthem and even my national anthem, it is not your ticket to stardom!
Somewhere around the 6th grade, I stopped singing the Canadian national anthem. I had not abandoned patriotism, nor had I intellectually evolved to rejecting the concept of nations entirely. (That happened at 18 during my annoying years.) About all I had turned my back on by age 12 were broccoli, short pants and fried liver.
I stopped singing “O Canada” simply because all the other boys in my class stopped. The classic symbols of manhood were only vaguely understood by then – and in that culinarily challenged time, none of us knew what quiche was so we could hardly refuse to eat it as part of some gender based protest. But we all seemed to know that singing a national anything was not part of “male cool” and that was enough. If proof that men didn’t sing was necessary, all a boy had to do was watch a televised hockey or football game. True, the anthem might provoke a tough jaw-clench, but in no male faces was there any indication that they even knew the words. (In fact, during many subsequent visits to various sports parks where large portions of the male audience seemed to sprawl in their seats, their great beer bloated bellies raised to the glory of God, I wondered whether they knew any words at all.)
My 12 year old self had not rejected singing entirely. My friends and I had learned that singing Presley and the early Beatles allowed us to practice our (at that point purely hypothetical) pelvic-thrusting. (One had to start somewhere!)
And I’ll admit than on September 28, 1972, when Paul Henderson fired “the goal heard round the world”, myself and a crowded dorm room full of buddies tried (unsuccessfully) to belt out our nation’s song, but that was more booze and brotherhood in action than any pure love of country.
Yet in the years since then, I’d like to think that my male ego has grounded itself primarily north of the belt buckle, despite the efforts of Abercrombie, Fitch, Diesel and Levis to keep it south. I’d like to think that given the right chance, I’d be ready to “stand on guard” loudly, proudly and as close to on-key as anyone. And in fact I was more than ready to. I wanted to. And so, on February 12, 2010, I tuned in to the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympic games and cleared my throat. Who cares how the athletes might have been feeling. I was pumped. I’d even googled the words – just to be sure.
And then Nikki Yanofsky destroyed the dream.
Perhaps she has a great voice. Perhaps some publicity agent told her to do what she did. Maybe she mistakenly thought – or had been informed – that everyone was really there to see her, and all those flags were flapping around just to keep people warm. Whatever the cause, there – in front of tens of thousands of Canadians crammed into the stadium – she rendered the national anthem unsingable. It was impossible to even hum along.
From the opening dirge-like bars to her closing it’s-really-a-pop-song-and-it’s-time-to-BELT-IT-OUT style, it wandered in pace and pitch with a few vocal pyrotechnics thrown in – usually just when I thought it was safe to join in. And as she sang, it became increasingly clear that this was not about Canada. It was not about the Olympics. This was all about Ms Nikki, and anyone with the nerve to try and share the moment was going to be made to look – and sound – like an idiot when the anthem went off in yet another unexpected direction.
I’m not suggesting she was unique in this. I’ve Grey Cupped and Stanley Cupped and Super Bowled. Hell, I’ve even Brier-ed; I‘ve heard O Canada and Oh Say Can You See in rock versions, country and western versions and even one operatic version. To me, those were merely sports moments and my inner patriot snoozed on. But this moment was, to me at least – and I think to many others – a moment of the Nation, and something in my quintessentially Canadian psyche wanted to cast off reserve, modesty and even politeness and just bawl out boring old “Oh Canada” to myself and to the world. I didn’t care about the billions spent. This was our time. We had long been misunderstood. Now was finally rooftop time and our collective barbaric YAWP was ready!
Then the lady sang.
And the anthem died in my throat.