Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jimi Hendrix “The Star Spangled Banner”

I had a real, visceral, reaction, to just seeing this song mentioned in print on a track listing last week. And as so often is the case, one post begets another.

I was doing research on “Rattle And Hum” by U2 last week, and was reminded that U2 used a snippet of Jimi Hendrix’ take on our National Anthem on their record.

And I was immediately taken back to what is perhaps the moment in my music career that I regret more deeply than any other.

It was just a couple of days after September 11th. And people were just, just, just barely coming out of shock, to begin to mount some level of emotional response to such an overwhelming tragedy.

Somewhere, someone came up with the idea that all radio station across the country should play “The Star Spangled Banner” at the same time, as a show of solidarity, patriotism and strength.

On any other week of the year, I would have discussed exactly how to handle the delivery of this piece of music, the words I would use around it, and the context to give it, with Barbara Dacey.

In the Fall 2001, Barbara was mvyradio’s seasoned, tested, thoughtful Program Director. She oversaw all decisions about what went on the air and how it was delivered. And had the terrorist attacks of 2001 happened on any other week, Barbara would have known the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, Barbara was on vacation, in New York State, no less, when it all happened. She was able to coordinate and shape much of our coverage that week by phone. And in hindsight, I should have talked to her about how to handle the playing of the National Anthem.

Instead, trying to take the initiative, I looked around the studio, and realized that the only version of “The Star Spangled Banner” that we seemed to own, was the Jimi Hendrix version.

My thought process went > “It’s Rock N Roll” > “mvyradio plays Jimi Hendrix” > “It will sound better than an orchestral version” > “I’ll play it.”

Not 20 seconds in, I knew I had done the wrong thing.

Jimi Hendrix’ version of “The Star Spangled Banner” is one of the most passionate pieces of modern rock guitar ever committed to tape.

Unfortunately, the passion being expressed is passionately angry. The song is violent and defiant and tremendously noisy.

It is not what we needed, so soon after such pain. And I knew it as soon as I heard it.

I got a call from a listener who was horrified, at the terrible, terrible version of our Anthem.

But even more vividly, my girlfriend at the time, who was also a co-worker, came into the studio, with an almost tearful expression, and said simply, “Not today. This wasn’t a song for today.”

I will tell you that I got compliments too. Encouragement from folks who thought “defiance” WAS the appropriate emotion of the day.

But I knew I had done the wrong thing. I knew that it was the wrong song for the wrong moment, and that people who had perhaps turned to the radio for solidarity and patriotism and strength, and the comfort that comes from having those things, were instead assaulted.

And when I hear that song, which is one of the greatest musical acts of rebellious patriotism, I can only hear the day I failed most egregiously at what I expect from myself every day on the air: to connect with people and bring them comfort and pleasure.

Hear the full version

1 comment:

  1. WOW, PJ! I think it was exactly the right tone to strike. Keep in mind the history of the Star Spangled Banner - a poem written by Francis Scott Key during an attack by the British on Ft. McHenry, and later set to the tune we all know, which is really a British drinking song! It's a piece of praise, and immense defiance. Hendrix's feelings - one way or the other, only make it more rich IMO (I don't know that Hendrix ever came out and said what his intentions were) considering that when he did it, the times were both chaotic AND optimistic, I think it was the perfect piece to play!