The Master Whips a Little Love on the Assemble Masses
Listen -Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner – MP3
How’s every little thing?
I just got back from my trip to DC, and while I was there I stepped into a little bit of synchronicity that kind of slapped me in the face.
The wife and I took the tots to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, specifically to see the Muppets (Kermit and Oscar) on display. When we finished up on the third floor, we heard some singing in the second floor atrium below. A trio of singers in period (30s/40s) dress were singing ‘God Bless America’. As I peered over the railing, I looked at the back wall and realized that I had forgotten that the Star Spangled Banner, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, for which the anthem was written by Francis Scott Key, was on exhibit.
We took the boys downstairs and walked up into the flag display area, at the end of a darkened hallway, kept that way so the almost 200 year old flag would not deteriorate further. As we passed down the other side of the exhibit, I glanced to my right and saw something incredibly surprising, that being a picture of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, playing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.
Truth be told, I got a little choked up.
Sure, Jimi’s game changing rendition of the song is perhaps the single best known version of the National Anthem, but I never in a million years expected that fact to be recognized at the Smithsonian Institution.
Jimi’s take on the song is mind blowing on a couple of levels, both in its radical reworking of the song itself, a serious bit of musical protest no doubt considered incredibly disrespectful by the Archie Bunker set, as well as a radical reclamation of the song for a younger generation. There were no doubt those in the first group who saw this as a raised black fist, but, at least in my opinion, no matter how many on the left and the right wanted to dress Jimi’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in radical clothing, I think that Hendrix’s approach to the song was sincere and thoughtful, and ultimately without malice toward anyone.
I’m not among those who will try to tell you that Jimi had some otherworldly thing going on, with ESP equipped unicorns flying out of his ass, but he was, despite what some people might think, an intelligent and thoughtful guy, with an undeniable musical gift.
The irony of the performance is that by the time Jimi took the stage, closing the festival, much of the muddy horde had dispersed, and the master was laying down his statement to what was essentially a scattered crowd and tons of wet garbage. Yet, no matter how dismal the scene before him, he plugged in that guitar and let rip with a serious wall of noise, a little bit Coltrane, a little bit MC5 and every note, pure, unadulterated Jimi Hendrix.
Of all the great performers of the 1960s who blew the sphere ahead of schedule, none makes me sadder that they’re gone than Jimi Hendrix.
What a fucking gift.