04 July 2006

Like Bombs Bursting In Air

Day 9 (Jia-Wu) - Month 6 (Yi Wei) - Republic Year 95 (Bing-Xu)

It's my small custom to play Jimi Hendrix's eclectic/electric version of The Star-Spangled Banner today--specifically the version he played at the Woodstock festival in August 1969. Today, of course, being the 4th of July (Gregorian calendar)--the day in 1776 that the colonial representatives declared themselves free of George III and Britain's rule. A long and costly war followed, with the colonial armies nearly being defeated a number of times until the British finally surrendered in October 1781. The colonials had also been helped by one of Britain's oldest enemies, the French armed forces.

From then--the United States Of America--as the former colonies came to be called, grew in size and stature...buying out colonies of France and forcing the Spanish and Mexican colonials--as well as the Native Americans--off of their land. There was a civil war, fought over the slave trade, and the wealthy plantation-owners in the Southern states' self-claimed "rights" to keep slaves. The Southern states lost the war, with a bitter rift forming between the "Union" states and themselves which continues to this day, albeit in a more supressed fashion. The Native Americans paid the heaviest price for the Western expansion, with many tribes being decimated and the survivors forced to live on government-allocated "reservations".

America industrialized in the later 1800's and early 1900's, but was found woefully unprepared when World War I broke out in Europe. In just a few years, though, America had mobilized a fighting force that would become one of the best (and most feared) in the world. World War II ended in 1945 and America's main "enemy" afterward was the Soviet Union. The atomic bomb had been invented during WWII and two had been dropped on Japan in 1945, which changed the face of warfare forever. The U.S.A. was now a "superpower"--and the only one--until the Soviets built their own nuclear weapons and became the "other" superpower. There seemed to be an understanding that an all-out nuclear war was a "no-win" situation, so the two fought various small conflicts during the "Cold War". Two of these were the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Korea was declared a "stalemate", but Vietnam was the first time in U.S. history that it's forces were faced with defeat. Vietnam also divided up the U.S. population into for and against groups--and also fomented the formation of the "counter-culture". It was in this time-frame that a young-ish African-American guitar player stepped up to the stage at a "hippie" festival and delivered a version of the U.S. national anthem that would still be relevant 30+ years later.

That's the Ciff-Notes version of U.S. history--well, the one I was taught throughout junior and high school, anyway--minus a few events here and there--and various presidents' names. Oh yeah, I did add the bit about Hendrix at the end--I don't think that's in too many cirriculums.

I've never been much of a "patriot" myself--the Fourth always just meant a cookout, seeing the relatives and a day off from work. I never really liked singing the anthem, or flag-waving. I realize that there seem to be great things about the nation, but with those, seem to be problematic and flawed things as well. It's also more than just a nation of Republican v. Democrats/right-wing X-tians v. Left-wing liberals/etc. etc.--though it must be said that that's what the media usually focus on--especially in the past five to six years. There have been amazing inventions to come from America--not least it's various forms of music (most of which originated in the African-American communtiy): jazz, the blues, rock-n-roll, hip-hop..even electronic dance music. America also invented the skyscraper as a form of architecture..and it's massive road system is unequalled anywhere. The American government started as a positive experiment in the 1770s, a reaction to the monarchy that previously ruled--but over the course of time--has seemed to solidify into a near-tsarist configuration--and this is troubling to me.

Am I "proud" to be an American? I suppose I'm happy to "be" American--I couldn't really be anything else--as I was born there. I moved from the U.S. a couple of years ago--almost ironically, I moved back to America's former "owners", England. England, as most know, is now tied to the States in the so-called "War On Terror". An increasing number of British citizens are becoming opposed to the occupation in Iraq and the U.S. camp at Guantanamo Bay. In spite of that, I have not personally run across any rampant anti-Americanism here. Robert Anton Wilson has said that if he were to travel, he would do his best to fake an Irish accent, or an English one--so no-one would know he's American. Since I can't fake an English accent for more than a couple of sentences--that plan seems to be out for me. So I"is" what I "is".

Bringing this rambling essay back around to Jimi...I wonder, if he were alive today, would he still play "The Star-Spangled Banner"--and would it be different now? My money's on "Yes", he would play it--but "no", it wouldn't be different. All those wailing dissonances and crashing feedback signified the bombs dropping on North Vietnam in '69--and they can signify the car bombs and rocket-propelled grenades in Baghdad. Sadly, some things haven't changed in 37 years. Still, through all of the apocalyptic noise, the notes of the anthem ring through (as well as a small portion of "Taps") and true. A week after Woodstock, Hendrix was invited to the Dick Cavett talk-show. It got to the question-and-answer portion, and a tired and (probably) stoned Hendrix settled into his chair. A little while into the interview, Cavett asked Jimi, in his Ivy League smarmy-but-sincere way, if Hendrix had heard from any U.S. veterans and members of his old platoon (Hendrix had served as a paratrooper in the early 60s) about his "unorthodox" playing of the national anthem.

"Well they made us sing it in school and stuff..and I'm an American.....unorthodox...I don't know, I thought it was beautiful myself...but then there you go..." Exactly--take it away, Jimi...


Anonymous said...

I was going to say that it must be difficult being an American with a conscience but then I realised it can be no harder than being British and feeling distinctly uncomfortable about our current role in world affairs. As a Britisher, I'd say that many, many wonderful things have come out of the USA and I thank God for its existence. However, I pray that the American people will one day get rid of the evil neo-cons and find a new way forward in the world. We need America's leadership but this has be one based on a sense of egality and enlightenment. I'm sure this is what you all hoped for when you ran us out of town!

As for Jimi, 'Star Spangled Banner' is one of THE greatest rock moments, form a time when the music really mattered.

Belated Happy Independence Day.

The Purple Gooroo said...

Cheers Bear!

My patience with the U.S. gubberment ran out a loooong time ago--and really, it's mainly the T.S.O.G. (Tsarist Occupation Government) now anyway.

When I was a young'un--I thought Ronnie Ray-gun was great--but that's only because I was under the sway of my folks, who count themselves as staunch Republicans..

...as they say, though, "Rock N Roll Saved My Soul"--and not a moment too soon, as far as I'm concerned. It's funny how much you can change in a few short years.

It would be nice if 'Murica could throw off the shackles of the "neo-cons", ans while I try to be optimistic about it--I'm not too sure something will happen soon. We'll see in '08 (Gregorian) anyway...