Sunday, July 09, 2006

Star-Spangled Ban Erred

Before the outcry surrounding the "Nuestro Himno" version of the national anthem back in April, which included some star-Spanglished tampering of the lyrics, there was a rejection by many Americans of another non-traditional interpretation of our national anthem. One that seemed to embrace the defiant anti-war attitude of the 60's hippies generation, was Jimi Hendrix' rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Jimi Hendrix went into the U.S. Army as the alternative choice to spending 2 years jail-time over a stolen car. He became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, serving out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Despite sounding excited about being a paratrooper, supervisors often described him in this manner: "his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar". There really doesn't appear to be much positive in the record books, regarding his conduct as a soldier.

According to Charles Cross, Hendrix was discharged from the military when he faked a love interest in another soldier. This was at a time before large deployments were being made to Vietnam; and before the anti-war movement manifested itself and gathered steam. So if not objections to the war, what was his motive then, for lying to get out of the military? Simply, it was his passion for playing the guitar.

Wayne Pemu writes:

More mundane, but no less relevant, was Hendrix's attitude towards the war. While people presume "Star Spangled Banner" to be defiantly anti-war, it is no such thing; such a notion limits the scope of the piece.

Friends were often surprised by Hendrix's pro-war stance on Vietnam. Eric Burdon recalled that when Hendrix arrived in England he spoke fervently about the need for the United States to subdue Chinese Communism before it overtook the world. It is important to remember that Hendrix had been on both sides of the fence, experiencing attitudes toward the war as diametrically opposed to one another as could be. It's not hard to imagine Hendrix thinking less about the hippies congregated at Woodstock than his old friends from the 101st Airborne (many of whom went straight from Fort Campbell to the jungles overseas to witness combat first-hand) when performing the song. At the same time, Hendrix possessed a pacifistic nature that certainly contributed to the work's radiant objectivity.

In "America's Victories", Paul Schweikart has this to say,

" 1969, when European interviewers badgered him about the Vietnam War, hoping he would make inflammatory statements, Hendrix shocked them by comparing Vietnam to D-Day: 'Did you send the Americans away when they landed in Normandy?...No, but then that was concerning your own skin. The Americans are fighting in Vietnam for the complete free world...Of course, war is horrible, but at present, it's still the only guarantee to maintain peace."

So, it looks like the military did have a positive influence on his way of thinking, after all, despite the reports on what a poor learner and lazy soldier he was. When this was news about a year ago, the lefty blogs were scratching their heads, confused on how to accept this revelation and how to reconcile and rationalize it in their heads, that one of their music gods of the anti-war generation was still one of them.

It is often the case, that musicians and artists in general, lean liberal. I suspect that unless an artist makes his political identity prominent and overt, overshadowing his identity as an entertainer, most people will not care what the person's political leanings are. So it was, that soldiers in Vietnam, reportedly, loved listening to Hendrix, even as he was claimed by the anti-war hippies as one of their own.

If I've gotten any of these facts wrong, or if my post paints an incomplete picture, feel free to fill me in on the straight dope. C'mon into the comments section, and shoot me up! I'm far from an expert on the life of the guitar legend.

Tradition keeps us rooted to some of the best parts of ourselves and to what made us great; but tradition can also lead to cultural stagnation. Americans sometimes love non-traditional renditions and innovations; but at other times, rejects it, if it fails the patriotic litmus test. Here are a few other star-mangled banners.


Blogger Skye said...

....breaking out my Jimi Hendrix compilation as I type..:)

Sunday, July 09, 2006 6:41:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I'm not a Hendrix (or any rock for that matter) fan but I do remember when Hendrix OD'ed because I was living near to where it happened in London at the time. Hendrix was not so much a patriot as an eccentric fellow - probably because of taking too many drugs.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anna said...

Well, I went for the broken ankle story.

Monday, July 10, 2006 6:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Moonbat aka Pekka said...

Hehe, I can see that this stuff could be a hard pill to swollow for the left of centre. Real artists seldom bring anything nearly as "revolutionary" into other pursuits of theirs as what they narrowly bring into their particular artforms.

Friday, July 14, 2006 7:51:00 PM  

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