It was 8.30 in the morning of August 18, 1969. After three days and nights, 32 acts, 210 songs, two births and two deaths, Woodstock was grinding to a halt. Most of the legendary half a million had dispersed; the 40,000 who remained were bleary-eyed, sore-headed and seriouslyhungover.
There was only one way to get them going. Half an hour into his set, Jimi Hendrix launched into his version of the Star Spangled Banner; for the next three minutes and forty-two seconds, time stopped at Woodstock. Upstate New York was 11,000 miles from Vietnam but one man and his guitar brought the war home, using every electronic aid — feedback, sustain, fuzzface — at his disposal and his own peerless skill to rewrite the American national anthem.
Even today, on an anodyne stereo and in the aseptic environs of your own home, you can hear the Vietnam War in this track: the screams of the bombers, the bombs and the bombed, the rush of blood as the United States tangled with yet another unequal foe.
Probably the single greatest moment of the sixties,’’ said New York Post critic Al Aronowitz. ‘‘You finally heard what that song is about, that you can love your country but hate your government.’’
Ironically, Hendrix didn’t intend it to be social or political comment but merely an exercise in musical creativity. It was typical of the man, arguably the most creative and certainly the most enigmatic guitarist of all time.