Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner

todayMarch 4, 2022 212 7 5

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By Bandera Barter
Music Journalist

The American Dream, or rather the pursuit of the American dream, is a consistent theme in art and our lives since the creation of this country. Artist such as Jimi Hendrix have represented this in their work and embodied it in ways that have inspired millions over decades.

Some strive for the traditional white picket fence, others opt for the Hendrix route, and a growing number of people see it as a tool used by the United States Government for propaganda.

I believe Jimi Hendrix to be the embodiment of the American Dream, and his performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be the perfect depiction of the philosophy.  Particularly his performance of the national anthem at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival Monday morning, Aug. 18th, 1969.

Hendrix would be sent to the 101st Airborne of the United States Army in 1961 at 19 years old as a punishment for a not guilty verdict on the charge of riding in a stolen car. Despite American involvement in the Vietnam war picking up around this time, Hendrix would never see action in the military. He was repeatedly reprimanded for sleeping during the day and playing guitar all hours of the night into the morning, before eventually being kicked out in 1962 because of a broken ankle, claims of homosexuality, and masturbating while on duty.

Statement by James C Spears to Capt. Gilbert R Bachman in regards to Pvt James M Hendrix, member of the 101st Airborne, Fort Campbell Kentucky, 1962. The Statement reads “I, James C. Spears, Plt. Sgt. of the service, supply, and evacuation platoon have known Pvt Hendrix for approximately 6 months. He has been in my platoon for approximately 3 months. This individual has shown very little interest in the Army, his personal equipment, and his area in the billets. He has also proven unsatisfactory on his job. Numerous attempts at counseling by his platoon leader, section leader, section chief and myself on his ability to become a better soldier have met with negative results. Pvt Hendric has worked in the supply section as a warehouseman, for which he was school trained, and has done a very unsatisfactory job from the beginning. Pvt Hendrix fails to pay just debts. He owes a laundry bill of approximately $80.00 and has made no effort whatsoever to pay it. When Pvt Hendrix was questioned by the 1st Sgt. and myself concerning this matter, he said he had given the money to a bud dy in an infantry unit to pay this debt for him. It was later proven he had lied about this. To this date the laundry be is still delinquent. This individual requires additional instructions and sometimes requires a supervisor to stay right on the job with him in order to get it done. Approximately 1 month ago, five other men in the billets were on detailing the billets with Pvt. Hendrix. When he was found the be missing, Sp/4 Mattox and Pvt Stroble began to look for him and later found him in the latrine masturbating. Pvt. Hendrix plays a musical instrument in a band off duty and has let this interfere with his military duties in so much as missing bed check and not getting enough sleep. He has no interest whatsoever in the Army. With the counseling and supervision he has had, it is in my opinion that Pvt Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a solider. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged UP AR 635-208 as soon as possible.” Initialed by James C Spears at the bottom.
Jimi Hendrix Military Discharge Recommendation

Some of these offenses credited to his rebelliousness towards authority, others a deliberate attempt to be discharged from service and blaze his own path. His superiors knew Hendrix had other ambitions, often crediting his guitar for his underperformance in the military.

“This is one of his faults, because his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar,” said one commanding officer about Hendrix.

This may be seen as a fault of Hendrix’s but was actually the American Dream in motion.

Hendrix would use his guitar to tell not only his truth but the truth of a generation and of a nation, and Woodstock would be the perfect venue for this. Most in the audience knew someone in Vietnam, if they had not been there themselves.

400,000 or more attended what would be the largest music festival in history. However, due to days of rain and scheduling issues, only 40,000 remained for Hendrix’s 9 a.m. Monday morning show. A number far fewer than the 58,220 Americans who would die in Vietnam.

Hendrix had played for around an hour, performing hits like “Foxey Lady” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” captivating the audience before morphing into “Stepping Stone,” which would quickly become “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The performance started with easily recognizable notes of the national anthem raining through Hendrix’s distorted white Stratocaster guitar, but quickly devolved into chaos. Bombs, air raid and ambulance sirens, machine gun fire, and screams of terror can all be heard escaping Hendrix’s Mashal amplifier!

Hendrix made sounds never before created on the guitar, sounds that have not been recreated the same since. The crowd stands stunned in amazement, horror, and intoxication by the beauty of the poetry they are hearing through a brand new song they have heard their entire lives.

The rendition goes in and out of the chaos of war and the familiar anthem before inserting “Taps,” the bugle call played at the funeral of a fallen US soldier. An ode to those who were not lucky enough to make it out of the United States Military Industrial Complex during the Vietnam war.

He returns to the more traditional version for the final notes of the song, letting them wail from the guitar, sending shivers through anyone listening. Then onto another anthem, maybe not as nationally recognized but still an anthem nonetheless,  ”Purple Haze.”

Jimi Hendrix is seen staring deeply into the camera in a photo that was shot on film. He is wearing a red, green, and orange tie-dye shirt with a red velvet jacket over the top. He has on a black hat, a silver necklace with a blue stone, and a large medallion. Over his chest is written “experience Hendrix THE BEST OF JIMI HENDRIX.” In the background, there is what appears to be a fire over his left shoulder.
The Best of Jimi Hendrix Album Cover

This was not just a performance, but a statement. A statement that would resonate with a generation and transcend the decades in which they came from.

Hendrix responded to controversies surrounding his performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on The Dick Cavett Show by humbly stating “All I did was play it. I’m American so I played it,” downplaying arguably the greatest piece of American art ever created.

Cavett would go on to call Hendrix one of the best guitar players in the world, to which his humility showed through once again by shrugging it off amongst a roar of applause and retorting back,  “How about one of the best sitting in this chair.”

Hendrix never played or performed to prove himself to anybody but himself. He strived to be the absolute best version of himself and inspire others to do the same, which is what I believe the American Dream to be.

Written by: ktsw899

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