I very much appreciated Howard Manly’s tribute to Jimi Hendrix (“40 years later, Woodstock remains a national anthem,” Aug. 20, 2009), as much for the tribute as for its inclusion in the Banner’s “Black History” section. This inclusion by Manly gave him the latitude to examine Hendrix’s place in the politics of the time. He did this in a way that has eluded the dominant media appropriation of Hendrix.
I also read George Curry’s second-look op-ed at Joe Jackson (“Another side of the maligned Joe Jackson,” Aug. 20, 2009) immediately after the Hendrix tribute, and was surprised to discover that Michael Jackson, of whom I was not a great fan, was manifestly more well spoken on political matters than was Hendrix, of whom I was an ardent fan.
Some of this had to do with the different times. After all, issues such as child abuse, the economics of the entertainment industry and segregation in the media are all regarded as issues having a clear political aspect to them today. Witness MJ’s revelation that “I was the first black artist to be played on MTV and I remember how big a deal it was even then. And that was in the ’80s!”
Hendrix did not make clear statements in the press or in talk shows. Manly quotes from Hendrix’s explanation during the Dick Cavett interview shortly after Woodstock in the following terms: “I don’t know, man. All I did was play it. I’m American, so I played it,” and “I thought it was beautiful.” So did I.
The depiction of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” as horrifying and terrorist, and his piercingly sarcastic rendition of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” were part of a remade anthem that had no superior in the greatest protest songs of the time, including Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” and Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.”
He was reflecting an understanding of America as a nation drowning in blood. The very soil under the foundation of this country was saturated with the blood of millions of native peoples and African slaves. The so-called war to end slavery resulted in the death of 558,052 soldiers from both sides, more American deaths than any other war. And the U.S. has been at war with some nation, either overtly or covertly, every three to five years since World War II.
Hendrix did not make political analysis in interviews; he did it with his guitar. Indeed, as Manly teaches us, it became a new anthem. Thank you for bringing this part of our history back to us.