I was riding to work this morning and ruminating on the whole National Anthem in Spanish thing… and what a joke that was.
Eventually, my thoughts turned to the video ‘Nightline’ got of all those fucking Capitol Hill blowhards who didn’t know the words at all.
And then I wondered, “Do I know all the words?”
So, here I was, in my car, driving to work, singing the National Anthem, y’know, just to see if I remembered all the words. (And I did.)
But the oddest thing happened… I got kind of choked up. Big, hardbitten and cynical lefty that I am, I couldn’t get through the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ without getting a lump in my throat.
And that, naturally, made me kind of reflective. It was a couple of decades ago that I first heard Jimi Hendrix play the National Anthem in the documentary about Woodstock. I was pretty high, and just post-military school (and other parental attempts to make me a respectable citizen), and I thought, “That’s pretty cool…” but it wasn’t earth-shattering. Not to seventeen-year-old me. Cool, but in that context, it was kind of no-big-deal.
Well, fast-forward to a country mired down in an unpopular war, a power-hungry right wing president, and an entrenched Archie-Bunker-ocracy that would like us to know on no uncertain terms that we can “Love it or Leave it.” I imagine all of the turmoil and the lies and brutality that led Jimi up to that moment and it kind of sets me back a step.
When I put Jimi’s Star Spangled Banner in that perspective, it takes on a whole new meaning. Also, I remember Dick Cavett talking to Jimi on his show some weeks later:
Cavett: Y’know, there were some who were offended by your, uh, the performance of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock. What do you think of that? Did you know that?
Hendrix: Really? (pause) I thought it was beautiful. I’m an American so I played it. They used to make me sing it in school, so it was a flashback.
I can imagine exactly the sort of country club fascist who was screaming for Jimi’s head after that performance. Can’t you see Kate O’Bierne flapping her jowls on Sean Hannity’s show talking about Hendrix’s LACK OF RESPECT! and his IRREVERENCE FOR EVERYTHING WE HOLD SACRED!…? Can’t you hear Rush Limbaugh blustering and struggling MIGHTILY not to say the word “NIGGER!” as he described the scene to his slavering pack of white men who wouldn’t have been caught dead at Max Yasgur’s farm? (Except, actually, if they had to go score a little something for their “back pain.”) Would there be a National Day of Prayer for Jimi’s immortal soul? Would Richard Cohen write a column saying “Jimi Hendrix… y’know, I love the guy, but that version of the Star Spangled Banner was just… over the line…”?
It was Jimi’s country, too. It’s my country. It’s Fixer’s country, and Jane Hamsher’s country and Amanda Marcotte’s country. It’s my twin brother’s country and Shakespeare’s Sister’s country and Pam Spaulding’s country and Michael Bérubé’s country. And let me assure you of one thing: We’ll fight for it.
Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the National Anthem.