I didn’t watch live when Aretha Franklin performed the national anthem before Detroit took on Minnesota at home in a 2016 holiday game. I don’t have a TV, and if I did I wouldn’t watch sports on it. But I love Aretha and after hearing about this performance, I watched a recording a few days later on my mobile phone.
Aretha was arresting even on a tiny screen. She was bundled in a voluminous gray coat and a knit cap in Detroit blue and white. She started with a few trills on an ebony grand piano. A partner joined in on an organ that looked as if it had been wheeled onto the field from a nearby church.
Then came a slow, unadorned, almost funereal rendition. A version you could take a knee to.
Aretha stripped the song of the triumphalism other singers tend to give it. Her take seemed right for our times.
I was at this point deciding on a final title for a book I’d been calling “Getting to Home” as I worked on it. Hearing Aretha, I heard something of the mood in Montrose, Colorado as I interviewed folks about their economically struggling town and about their project to help military veterans reintegrate into civilian life. The people of Montrose were determined but clear-eyed about the challenges they faced.
I was struck by what Aretha did with the word “perilous” in a line to which I usually pay little attention. Aretha called it out three times. I heard a note of anxiety. Would our nation make it through the perilous fight? Then she departed slightly from the lyrics to assert: “We are the home of the brave.”
We shall overcome. But it will take courage.
“Perilous fight” didn’t strike me as right for a title for my book. The possibility of failure is no reason not to try, Aretha and Montrose seemed to be trying to tell me.
In the end, I called my book “Home of the Brave.”