It was—as is evidenced by the plethora of newly released CDs, DVDs, books and movies commemorating that weekend—a seminal moment in rock history. But as we celebrate that historic counterculture movement, exactly what does it mean to black America? For all the post-politicizing of the event, even though it occurred at such a pivotal point in America’s socio-political time (and even more eerie, a week after the Manson murders), Woodstock was a mostly apolitical, escapist affair, save for the implied gestures from Richie Haven’s performance “Freedom/Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” Joan Baez’s introductory story about the Federal Marshals taking her husband, David Harris, into custody for “draft evasion.”
The most overt, if seismic political statement occurred Monday morning, coincidentally as most of the attendees had left. Rocking a white, fringed and beaded leather shirt and a red headscarf, Jimi Hendrix launched into his epochal rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His face expressed a calmness as if he was meditating on his memories of his one-year stint in the Army, the fallen soldiers in the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.—all at once. After initially squalling out the melody with cathartic release of a Pentecostal gospel singer, Hendrix infused the National Anthem with an improvisatory explosion, marked by fast-fingered runs, whammy-bar-inducing howls, shrieks; he created sonic missiles as if they were dropped from warplanes above. The two-minute rendering became one of the most defining moments in black American music, if not, popular music, worldwide, as Hendrix manipulated dissonance and consonance. [Emphasis added]
August 15, 2009
Oh, Say Can You See?
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