All rise for the national anthem. Now, shake it down for the national anthem. The patriotic salute to America’s perseverance in the War of 1812 has become a political flashpoint in recent years. Commentators demand the piece be respected. However, the songs inception was far from solemn. It was the favorite of a bunch of bawdy drunks.
The biggest betrayal is that the song is not even American. The Anacreontic Society was a rowdy gentleman’s club that convened in London taverns in the late 18th century. The term is derived from the Greek poet Anacreon. To celebrate their namesake, the group composed the drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven.” With lines like “and besides I’ll instruct you, like me, to intwine the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ Vine,” the singalong was a call for unchecked debauchery of sex and booze. American colonist accompanied many pints of ale with their own renditions. The tune was on Francis Scott Key’s mind when he watched the rockets’ red glare at Fort McHenry.