In the coffeehouses, they used to lead Jose Feliciano in and he used to sit on a stool and pet his seeing eye dog and put his guitar on his knee and do his stuff. Jose Feliciano has always played a great guitar and he has always molded everything he sang into his own style. The teenyboppers hadn’t heard of him then. It took a song called “Light My Fire” to put Jose Feliciano on the musical map. That, like many of the things he had done before, was just his own stylistic version of a song made famous by someone else. In this case, it was a group from California called The Doors. A lot of people bought that record and made the name of Joe Feliciano fairly well known.
It was well known enough anyway to have somebody ask Jose Feliciano to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the start of the fifth game of the World Series in Detroit Monday.
Now anybody who knows the first thing about music will tell you that “The Star Spangled Banner” is bad news. Its tough to sing and it’s tough to remember. You don’t have to tell that to Robert Goulet. He blew the whole thing in front of the entire country at the second Liston-Clay fight in Lewiston, Maine.
Jose Feliciano wasn’t about to make the same mistake. So when he had his big shot in front of a nationwide audience of baseball fanatics, he did his own thing. The result was that the “Star Spangled Banner” came out sounding very much like “Light My Fire.”
It sort of caught everyone by surprise. Here was this big pompous, ceremonial voice saying: “And now, ladies and gentleman, we invite you to rise and join in the singing of our National Anthem, as played by Charlie Witherspoon and his Patriotic Americans, and sung by Jose Feliciano.”
So they switch out to centerfield and there’s Jose Feliciano sitting on a stool without his dog and he starts strumming his guitar like he’s going to sing “Light My Fire– and all the guys in the band just kind of stand there with their horns in their hands and look at each other. And Jose Feliciano goes through this really soulful version of The Star Spangled Banner.” And when he was finished, some of the people there booed and a lot of the people at home called up their local television station and sportswriters who are too busy searching for Joe DiMaggio to listen to the words of the National Anthem and realize what the song’s all about, said that the whole thing was in “outlandish taste.”
Well, the only thing outlandish about the whole affair is that people can really get up tight when they hear that particular song sung with some feeling. You just can’t get away with it.
The alleged patriots of this country are just too used to sliding the beer can under their seat and standing in a half-slouch and moving their lips as if they knew what they were singing while some maintenance man slips a record arm on a scratchy old recording, or some fat soprano warbles her patriotic head off. And when it’s over, they all cheer and whistle because it’s out of the way and now they can go about watching their baseball game without interruption. These are the people who are outlandish.
After he finished Monday, somebody asked Jose Feliciano why he sang the song the way he did.
“It’s the way I feel,” he said. “I love America. I sang it that way to express my love for my country.”
Jose Feliciano did his own thing and the patriotic Americans who drink all the beer and lay all of the illegal money on whoever pays the better odds got all upset because somebody stuck a raisin in their apple pie.