There are dozens of famous rock covers of anthems: think of Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner or Gainsbourg’s Aux Armes et caetera.
But there’s only one rock act who’s given a country its anthem: a Slovenian band called Lačni Franz – a bizarre fact I learned this week while reading an incredibly academic book called Identity and Nationalism in the Balkans.
Before picking that up, I already knew Slovenia’s anthem had an insane story. Its original author was France Prešeren, a 19th century alcoholic who spent most of his life infatuated with a woman who didn’t love him back no matter how many poems he dedicated to her.
In 1844, he wrote one of those, a drinking song called A Toast (Zdravljica). There’s no doubt it was meant for getting drunk to. Prešeren wrote the verses so they looked like a wine glass, while its very first lines are, “Friends! Again the vines bore well / Let sweet wine liven our veins.”
But mixed in among the calls to drink were bouts of national sentiment like this: “God, let your Slovene girls bloom…There are no maidens more comely than ours.” Ok, bad example, but you get what I mean.
Were those lines enough to make it the natural choice to become Slovenia’s anthem following the Soviet Union’s demise? Apparently not. Instead, the reason A Toast became the anthem is apparently entirely down to Lačni Franz.
In 1987, the band recorded a parody of the song that repopularised the poem across the country and practically forced its adoption as the anthem two years later. God knows if that’s true, but this clip certainly shows people loving it. Dance Slovenes, dance!
Slovenia’s politicians disappointingly ignored all the drinking verses when they made it the anthem and went for this one instead:
Long live all folk everywhere
Who long to see the day
When wherever sun may roam
Strife holds none under its sway
Then all people, everywhere
Will be free
Not enemies, but dear neighbours
Yes, it’s an odd choice given it makes no reference to Slovenia, to that country’s landscape or its people. There’s nothing nationalist about it at all really. It’s like a country decided to take Michael Jackson’s Heal the World for its anthem.
Personally, I think it’s great for that, but if you want to read the political reasons behind that move, pick up ‘Identity and Nationalism in the Balkans’ (or order it at your local university library). The reasoning is just as bizarre as anything above.
Anyway, I should shut up – this post is already far too long! Here’s some more Lačni Franz for you.