“Oh, Say Can You See” . . . : Jimi Hendrix and The National Anthem

When does a musical performance become much more than just a musical performance? When does such a thing become iconic? Hendrix’s rendition of the National Anthem at Woodstock is certainly on most lists of iconic rock guitar performances. What’s interesting is that it was seen by only a small fraction of the Woodstock audience, the majority having left by that point. It’s lasting cultural impact must be credited to the fact that it was captured on film for posterity.

The more things change . . .

Then as now, the world seemed crazy. Hendrix was not known for political statements but he made a big one without saying a word. Then, as now, people placed a lot of importance on symbols that were suppose to define your identity, both as an individual and as part of a greater community. Any version of the National Anthem that did not conform to “acceptable standards” was considered a venerable act of treason. During the 1968 World Series, Jose Feliciano’s version of the anthem generated significant backlash for what we today would consider a pleasant folk rendition of the tune. Given that benchmark, Hendrix’s version would just blow their fuckin minds . . .

Of course, the moment that truly makes this version memorable occurs at the phrase “the rocket’s red glare”. It is then that Hendrix goes off on a tangent, using his guitar to generate a cacophony of sounds, mimicking the chaotic sounds of war, before returning to the melody. When words fail, there is music . .

Jose Feliciano performs the National Anthem – 1968 World Series Game 5


Jimi Hendrix – The Star-Spangled Banner


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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis

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