A national anthem, as well as other national symbols, is used to evoke feelings of patriotism. Played or sung during national celebrations, especially on Independence Day, the national anthem is a reflection of the history and struggles of a country and its citizens. A performance of the national anthem can be seen as signifying that nation’s spirit, generating feelings if pride. It is also a unifying symbol that allows for the citizens to come together despite their ethnic differences. It allows for individuals of a country to honor and respect their nation and its traditions and beliefs.
What is interesting to me is the way that we have been taught to stand for the national anthem since most of us have been in grade school, before we could even understand the meaning of it. Not standing for the national anthem was seen as disrespectful or as dishonoring those who have served to protect the freedoms of this country. However, when we look at the history of our country’s national anthem, we can see that there have been years of controversy surrounding it. The song speaks of “the land of the free,” but at the time that this was written, there were still thousands (maybe even millions) of slaves, several of whom were owned by the writer of the song. Years later, we still have the mistreatment of African-Americans in this country. So how can we, as individuals of this nation, come together and sing this song about a nation built on the idea of freedom for all when it was meant to exclude them from the narrative?
Though many had undoubtedly performed their own renditions of the national anthem in years prior, Jimi Hendrix’s adaptation at Woodstock was arguably the most powerful. Woodstock took place during a complicated time in U.S. history and some say it was reflected in the way that Jimi Hendrix performed the anthem. Hendrix’s version can be seen as a celebration of America in the way that he played all the notes in tune with the original version. The electric guitar can be heard echoing the sounds of explosions and gunfire which can be seen as depicting the “the bombs bursting in air” and “the rockets red glare” that the song mention.These same departures from the traditional melodies can also be seen as a symbol of protest of US involvement in the Vietnam War. The New Yorker article makes mention of “the war at home” that could have been the reason behind the sounds of protest. This performance took place a year after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while fighting for equality. The performance depicts his feelings being a man of color who had served for a country to which some thought he should not belong. There is a level of frustration and anger that can be sensed in the way that he played the anthem but in presenting these feelings in such a controversial way, there is also hope for a better America – one that is inclusive of every version of citizen of this nation. Though some have vilified Hendrix for his nontraditional rendition of the anthem because it may have seemed to be disrespectful to this “great” nation, he is not the first nor will he be the last to let his political opinion shine with their performance of it.