Fifty years in the past, Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock anthem expressed the hopes and fears of a nation

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Fifty years in the past, Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock anthem expressed the hopes and fears of a nation

One of essentially the most highly effective, searing renditions of the nationwide anthem ever recorded, Jimi Hendrix’s iconic Woodstock anthem, virtually by no means occurred.

In his memoir, Hendrix’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell, admitted that the band “hadn’t rehearsed … or planned to do ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock.”

The competition was speculated to wrap up on Sunday evening, however a collection of delays, visitors jams and rainstorms had postponed the closing set till 9:00 a.m. the following day. Hendrix hadn’t slept the evening earlier than.

Hendrix performed for greater than an hour that Monday morning earlier than introducing his common concert-closer, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

“Thank you very much and goodnight,” he stated, because the band continued to jam. “I’d like to say peace, yeah, and happiness.”

But then, as a substitute of wrapping up his set, he launched into his iconic tackle Francis Scott Key’s tune.

Hendrix carried out the anthem as an encore.

Fifty years after Hendrix carried out “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, the rendition nonetheless serves as an exemplar of music’s political efficiency. It impressed my very own scholarship on the previous, current and way forward for the nationwide anthem.

What made Hendrix’s rendition so outstanding was his skill to fuse protest horror with patriotism and hope.

A residing, respiratory anthem

Roused by the heroism of the troopers who repelled the British assault on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry throughout the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key wrote the tune in September 1814. Using a widely known melody, the lawyer-poet composed a brand new set of lyrics to suit the tune.

Fifty years ago, Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock anthem expressed the hopes and fears of a nation
Francis Scott Key. Walters Art Museum

In the 19th century, it was widespread observe to write down new lyrics to previous songs as a method to touch upon politics and tradition – a convention often known as broadside balladry. So far my analysis has recognized roughly 200 songs written to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The abolitionist lyric “Oh Say, Do You Hear?” is one notably highly effective instance.

Hendrix, in a approach, continued this custom, updating the tune to say one thing in regards to the world round him.

Rather than change the phrases, nonetheless, Hendrix reworked the musical association.

Mining the anthem’s many meanings

Some would possibly suppose Hendrix’s Woodstock Banner was an on-the-spot improvisation. But he had really been experimenting with the tune for over a 12 months, and he would proceed to carry out the anthem up till his premature dying in September 1970.

In all, Hendrix carried out the piece a minimum of 70 instances, together with his final identified efficiency going down virtually a 12 months after Woodstock – in Hawaii, on Aug. 1, 1970.

Hendrix generally titled his anthem renditions “This Is America,” and his preparations have been as versatile as they have been potent. They may very well be as quick as three minutes or so long as six-and-a-half.

Building off the standard melody, Hendrix might paint an image of patriotic pleasure or industrial corruption.

Hendrix knew methods to have fun the nation. For instance, his studio model of the anthem is a patriotic fireworks show, bursting with overlapping layers of the standard melody. It’s adorned with glowing trills, further melodic passing tones and excessive octave shifts.

At the opposite finish of the symbolic spectrum are his 4 anthem renditions that he recorded stay at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in October 1968. They start with darkish, atmospheric improvisations, punctuated by Mitchell’s explosive drums, and embody raucous quotes of TV promoting jingles and a distorted, out-of-tune model of the melody that devolves into the Civil War lament “Taps.”

Hendrix additionally knew methods to blow up the anthem.

Fusing horror with hope

Woodstock was a social experiment – a cultural response to a decade of protest and concern.

On one facet, there was America’s youth, outraged by racial injustice and conflict in Vietnam. On the opposite facet, there was an institution terrified by the social revolution going down: new attitudes about intercourse, medicine, spirituality, racial equality and communal residing.

This generational collision got here to a head on the wood stage constructed at Max Yasgur’s farm.

Hendrix was an unlikely countercultural hero. He was a mixed-race, rock icon who had served within the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, incomes his “Screaming Eagles” patch as a paratrooper. While he escaped the navy to pursue his musical profession, he nonetheless had mates in Vietnam.

In his Woodstock anthem, Hendrix appears to mimics explosions, machine gunfire and a wailing emergency siren – musical photos of horror.

But these departures from the standard melody don’t dismantle the anthem. Instead, he performs notes that intone the phrases “bombs bursting in air” and “rockets red glare.” He depicts, moderately than destroys, the tune.

Hendrix then performs the “Taps” melody, a tune historically carried out at navy funerals to honor the sacrifice of service.

Finally, he returns to the standard anthem melody, providing a full and devoted conclusion to the tune. He lingers on a number of phrases, extending the observe sounding the phrase “free” for six full seconds. His musical conclusion appears to echo the optimistic, if not triumphant, themes of the competition.

When 400,000 arrived for a live performance designed for, at most, half that quantity, a public well being catastrophe loomed. Shortages of meals, water, gasoline, and medical provides, compounded by an impassable visitors jam foretold of struggling if not violence. Yet the neighborhood pulled collectively and a brief metropolis appeared. Rivers of mud made utopia unimaginable, however attendees persevered. Extra meals was donated, volunteer medical doctors from the U.S. Army and Red Cross have been flown in by helicopter, persistence and peace reigned. Music held the world collectively.

Hendrix used Key’s anthem to replicate the America he skilled at Woodstock that weekend. It was a nation mired in contradiction, but additionally a neighborhood able to pulling collectively.

It was a cry of anguish and a imaginative and prescient of “peace, yeah, and happiness.”

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