Video Rewind: Jimi Hendrix performs “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock



Welcome to a new feature entitled Video Rewind. Every Friday, a CoS staffer shares a beloved video clip dug up from the depths of the Internet. Consider it a quick jaunt down memory lane via moving pictures. In honor of the Fourth of July holiday, we share a special installment of Video Rewind dedicated to the greatest performance of the Star-Spangled Banner.

During the historic Woodstock Festival of 1969, Jimi Hendrix slung his electric guitar before a teeming crowd of thousands and forever changed America’s National Anthem. Cool, yet so impassioned, with a free-spirited fierceness speeding through his fingers, he unleashed a wholly unconventional version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, re-imagined as a noise-riddled, screaming guitar solo. His trading in of the usual grace and choir-like elegance of the original for distorted bouts of psychedelia didn’t exactly sit well with music fans and patriotic citizens alike, many of them calling it disrespectful, misguided and blasphemous.

But then there were others, like myself, who found Hendrix’s interpretation as a culturally relevant (and, frankly, necessary) reaction and response to the times, particularly the controversial Vietnam War. Though I wasn’t alive during that era, I can sense the torment and disillusionment of that generation in the raging riffs and even in the short pauses that feel more like lung-bursting sighs. The original’s meant to inspire and rally a people, and with his version, I believe Hendrix still managed to do that — maybe even more so — speaking to an America that was hurting and needed a loud, fearless form of release and relief. I don’t believe it was so much a “fuck you” to our country, as much as it was a “fuck you” to the tangled, nagging feeling of anger, heartache, and helplessness of that time.

Not long after the festival, Hendrix discussed the performance on The Dick Cavett Show. When asked if he thought it was unorthodox, Hendrix simply answered, “I thought it was beautiful.” Agreed on all accounts.

Happy Fourth of July, all.

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