One of my favorite songs is Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. I came to it knowing only what my dad had told me of it–that you could hear the words–so I thought it would sound like people singing. Not quite the case, eh?

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, and then a little longer to fit the words and the sound effects together. (It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that it was a disc scratch, not the drumming, that annoyed me.) Now, though, I find that Jimi’s commentative playing carries much more meaning for me than does the original anthem.

We sing of war as a rallying point, idealizing the horrific reality of the fighting. In 1969 (as now), calling attention to the disparity between our ideals and the actuality of war was an important exercise of free speech. Although Jimi took the words from the song, he gave it reality. His flares and bombs force the listener to reconsider the context of our national anthem, its current meaning, and the parallels to other battles. It may be violent and discordonant, but it’s a necessary point. Think on it.

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