In the first lecture of the semester, Anthony presented some quotes about Jimi Hendrix’s playing of the Star Spangled Banner at the Woodstock music festival that I did not think twice about at the time. Although I cannot recall the exact words he shared with us, I did find in my notes a reflection that this seminal event is considered to be one of the greatest examples of the linkage between popular culture and politics – that it transcended a particular moment in time. At face value this interpretation is easy to side with and can be defended on many levels; however, when put into context with Michael Wadleigh’s documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music and this week’s readings from David Walley, this appearance might not seem to carry the cultural importance it has been given.
In viewing the actual performance on screen, it came across as being anti-climactic. Yes, Hendrix was the closing act of the festival, but due to logistical problems he ended up on stage Monday morning playing to a mere fraction of the estimated 500,000+ concert goers that had been in attendance. Those that were still around were likely nursing severe hangovers (what three days of sex, drugs, and rock and roll would do to anybody) and were probably not open to any meaningful political statements at that point. This idea can be reinforced by the notions about the head culture, the drug culture and the commercially constructed counterculture expressed by Walley.
Every point has its counterpoint. In this particular case, reading Daniel Schowalter’s article this week helped put everything back into balance for me. By pointing out the editorial powers a documentary filmmaker has in creating or influencing popular interpretation reality, he is able to remind us of the dangers of passively accepting things at face value. When this is taken into consideration, it becomes obviously clear that the significance of Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner is rightfully so. Asserting claims of a hidden political message reverberating within the chords he was playing is right in line with every discussion we have had thus far – that we are morally obligated to actively participate in bringing about the cultural changes that we see needing repair.