Saturday, March 3

A Good Drinking Song

By Grant Davies

Once upon a time in 1814, two drunken Englishmen, who happened to be part of a group of folks who had just set Washington DC aflame, were arrested by a doctor named Bill Beanes in the town of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. 

They were part of a company of British soldiers who (with the exception of these two goofs) were surprisingly well behaved, considering they had just burned the US capital to the ground. The two miscreants were just ordinary  redcoats who straggled behind the main group after it had marched peaceably through town. The doctor was a town father of that burg who had a sense of propriety in addition to his malpractice insurance.

The way these two inebriated dopes shouted and carried on really pissed off the doctor, so he personally carted them off to jail. However, one of them slipped away and brought some reinforcements back to rescue the other one from the doc's wrath. 

In those days it was, "flintlocks talk and doctors walk" so the soldiers arrested the doc and released the drunk with the bad manners. They took him to a frigate in Chesapeake bay for safekeeping, but not before he lawyered up. His attorney was a guy named Fran (don't call me Francis) Key. Before this time no one was ever called Frankie.

Anyway, it was bad timing because just as the lawyer reached the boat to begin plea bargaining, the Brits began shelling Fort McHenry from the water and he was detained along with his client. For some odd reason Frankie thought it was a good idea to write a poem while he watched the fort getting lit up by British artillery.

He called his poem "The Defense of Fort McHenry" and later set it to the tune of a popular English drinking song titled  "To Anacreon in Heaven."  (No, I'm not going there in this story. Look it up for yourself.) It became a popular tune, even though, with a range of one and a half octaves, almost no one could sing it worth a damn until Whitney Houston finally did a long time later at a football game.

So, on this day in 1931, after more than forty resolutions and bills were introduced into congress, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was formally adopted as the US national anthem. The people who selected it probably never had to sing it in public (or even in the shower) or they might have chosen something a little easier. 

And we owe it all to a couple of drunks and a defense attorney with a bad sense of timing.

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