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Power of love

Ian Ronderos | Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jimi Hendrix’s stunning and unorthodox version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is rife with truth and beauty concerning the nature of existence. It is particularly poignant for the times in which we live, and indeed offers much knowledge about statecraft and power for any age. Hendrix’s version, although made famous by his Aug. 18, 1969 Woodstock performance, was a concert staple as far back as the fall of 1968 and was played into the summer of 1970. The song was symbolic of the entire spirit of the age and generation.

Jimi’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is a maelstrom of sonic power that instantly grips the listener with shrilly-sustained notes, wailing feedback, and loud distortion. The terrible sounds of war are reproduced by Hendrix’s guitar, and his genius. One can hear Jimi’s Stratocaster belting out the simulated sounds of guns and bombs whistling through the air – indeed a skill Hendrix would later perfect in the song ‘Machine Gun.’ As I once heard ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ described, it seems to be a hulking behemoth that appears to be collapsing under its own burden.

The state of American society was reflected in Hendrix’s song. The nation was torn apart by civil unrest and the Vietnam War. America, like the great dying beast that is Jimi’s rendition, seemed to be falling apart at the seams due to her own exertions. This was a quite apt critique of the times and indeed, had change not occurred, America very well might have fallen into chaos. What makes Jimi’s song a more apt criticism is that he did not intend for it to be a political statement. During his appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, Jimi responded to being pressed about the nature of his song by stating, “I thought it was beautiful.” The song was a manifestation and interpretation of the spirit flowing through the air. It was spontaneous and real; as such, it contains an honest interpretation of this spirit, whether Jimi intended it or not.

America changed so that the spirit embodied in the apocalyptic version was not borne out, and society stabilized. It would do Americans well to listen carefully to Jimi’s version now, as America is heading down a similar path of discord and unrest. The state of affairs has not yet plunged Americans into the same level of discontent that was present in the late-1960s, but things are clearly progressing towards that end. American foreign policy has become increasingly aggressive and arrogant. The religious right is making an attack upon the secular nature of our government, which our Deist founders determined to be an essential part of the republic. Civil liberties are being eroded in the name of national security. Ire is growing for many. Many others buy into our government’s policy, which makes a culture clash more than imminent.

The essential problem that confronts us is power. America is the strongest nation in the world, and this has begun to play with our leaders. We understand that we can vent our strength more effectively than any of the other powers in order to achieve what we will. Sometimes this is effected for the betterment of mankind, and other times it is effected for our advantage. This arbitrariness has created resentment domestic and abroad. The government has decided to rule in such a manner as to increase the prosperity of America as an institution, and the nation is conceived of as an abstract concept, rather than a collection of unique individuals. It is their conception of this abstract idea and the desire for its promulgation that has led to politicians’ current fetish for foreign adventurism.

Power is the same problem for Jimi’s ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ His guitar screams and wails to point of breaking. The sheer sonic explosion can no longer contain itself and the song becomes literally too strong to sustain its sharply violent trajectory. The song descends into sonic dissonance and chaos. As stated above this is the same problem that contemporary America is facing. The more the nation forcibly imposes itself upon the individual and upon the world at large, the more backlash it creates. America puts pressure upon the common bonds that link all people and nations together; this is a tension that cannot last.

The solution can be found in the life and music of Jimi Hendrix. He was a man who based his life upon love. This quotation of his best explains his outlook on life: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” That is the answer; individuals need to make a personal change so that they look upon the world as what it is and affirm the beauty and love found within it. This leads to an appreciation for the common bond all people share. Everything and everyone is beautiful, because they are all contained within the same existence. Jimi Hendrix understood the power of all-encompassing love. When more people can feel this, they will make political change, just as the 1960s generation did. Jimi’s life was tragically short and maybe the world cannot endure men like him, but I sure hope it can.

Ian Ronderos is a senior majoring in the classics with a supplementary major in Ancient Greek and Roman Civilizations. Having retired from the College Republicans and adopted independent politics, he has entered the private life of peaceful contemplation. Ian can be contacted at irondero@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.