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Woodstock 40 years ago: Country Joe McDonald's and Jimi Hendrix's antiwar classics

40 years ago -- from August 15 to August 18, 1969 -- hundreds of thousands of young people gathered for three days of ``peace, love and music''. In the midst of the mass movement against the Vietnam War and the youth radicalisation it unleashed, oppostion to US imperialism's slaughter in Vietnam was personified by the performances of Country Joe McDonald's ``Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die' Rag'' and Jimi Hendrix's searing anti-patriotic ``Star-Spangled banner'' (below, press ``Read more'' to watch).

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Woodstock Nation Revisited

The Woodstock Festival did not take place in Woodstock, New York but in the town of Bethel which is sixty-seven miles due west. The second day of that mythic, three-day concert coincided with my eleventh birthday (I am going to be fifty-one on Sunday. Yikes! Where did the time go?). I remember quite clearly my friend Tom Finkle and I riding our bikes up to the bridge on South Street that overlooks Route 17 - a four lane highway which snakes its way into Sullivan County where the great event took place. It looked like a long and narrow parking lot. The New York State Thruway had been shut down. To the best of my knowledge, that had never happened before and has not happened since.

To say that it was an exciting time to be alive almost sounds redundant. Less than four weeks earlier, two human beings had walked on the surface of the moon, a technological feat that will probably out shine every other event of the twentieth century in the history books that will be written a thousand years from now. As future decades unwind, it is a certainty that the photographic image of half a million kids, partying and dancing in the mud, will not continue to sustain the cultural significance that it does for us today. The years will pass by, the people who were lucky enough to be there will one day be no more, and the Woodstock Festival will be erased from living memory; a mere footnote to a very crowded century. But what a freaking party, baby!

This weekend I'll be listening to my copy of the Woodstock Soundtrack LP - on vinyl, of course. The very thought of listening to it on a compact disc seems somehow sacrilegious. Although I could have done without Sha-Na-Na's version of At The Hop, all in all it's a pretty good collection of tunes. I have always envied my cousin, the noted falconer Tom Cullen, who was a witness to Jimi Hendrix's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Can you imagine? Canned Heat's performance of Going Up The Country is one of the great moments in rock history; and for the last forty years, whenever I heard Joan Baez singing Joe Hill, I have had to pause whatever I was doing at the moment and concentrate on it - It is one of the most moving pieces ever recorded on tape.

"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

Emma Goldman 1869-1940

Dance with me, Emma!

The last time I looked at my videocassette of Woodstock (which was well over a decade ago) I wondered about the fates of the half-a-million gathered on the fields of Max Yasgur's farm in Sullivan County on that distant weekend. The passage of four decades decrees that a third or more of them have passed on. The average age of the attendees was about twenty-two. Today would find them approaching their mid-sixties; the age many of their grandparents were in 1969!

There are many good people of that generation who have kept the spirit of the sixties alive - or have tried to anyway. America is not the same country it was forty years ago. 2009 finds us even more polarized than we were during the age of Richard Nixon.

It is no longer merely a "generation gap" that is tearing America apart. The gaps today are almost too numerous to catalog: the political gap; the health insurance gap; the employment gap; the racial gap; the education gap; the class and income gaps. The world is a lot more troubled and sadder than it was in that long ago, magical summer of 1969. Sometimes I feel like a hostage to time. The truth is, for all the technological wonders of the twenty-first century, I just don't like being here.

NOTE TO MY FRIENDS:
No, I'm not going to kill myself. Chill.

Where I come from, Woodstock has a special meaning to people because it happened here - or close enough to count. From where I now sit, Bethel is a mere forty-two miles northwest. According to this morning's local paper, seventy-five media outlets from all over the world will be covering the events commemorating the anniversary this weekend. That's enough of a reason for me to stay the hell away. I'm not as crowd-friendly as I once was. Besides, I would have preferred to attend the real thing forty years ago. That would have been too cool for words!

Nostalgia is a permanent human condition. Each generation is nostalgic for the last. It absolutely boggles the mind to think that the year 2049 will find those of us who survive looking back on these hideous times with tender longing. Given our silly human quirks, that will probably be the case. Still, it's hard not to reflect on the hope that was prevalent in the summer of Woodstock. We want to believe that there is a magical future where, as John Lennon once imagined, there are no countries; nothing to kill or die for. Maybe we will one day arrive at that wondrous place.

Maybe....

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

The machine that killed Hendrix

From Green Left Weekly

By David Rowlands

September 18, 2010, marks the 40th anniversary of the death of US musician Jimi Hendrix, widely regarded as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.

Hendrix’s identification with progressive politics embodied the ferment of the late 1960s, with songs like “If Six Was Nine” (“I’m gonna wave my freak flag high”), “I Don’t Live Today” (about the plight of Native Americans) and the visceral anti-war tone poem “Machine Gun”.

Hendrix spoke out in favour of the radical anti-racist Black Panthers and criticised the US war on Vietnam. He played free at a benefit concert for the Chicago Seven (activists charged with conspiracy to riot over the protests outside the1968 Democratic National Convention) and famously performed a radical deconstruction of the US national anthem, “Star Spangled Banner” at the 1969 Woodstock festival.

The FBI considered him a dangerous subversive and targeted him for surveillance and harassment.

Forty years on from his death, a web of intrigue continues to surround the legacy of this visionary guitarist and composer. Hendrix may have been a musical genius, but he was a babe in the woods when it came to the hard commercial realities of the music business.

This is often attributed to factors such as Hendrix’s easygoing nature and drug use, but it flows a little deeper than that. Psychologists would call it “learned helplessness”.

Traumatised by an impoverished upbringing in Seattle and stung by the systemic racism that dogged him as a “half-caste” child of African-American and Cherokee parents, Hendrix was exceptionally vulnerable to the rankest forms of exploitation.

In 1965, Ed Chalpin (who specialised in producing cheesy cover versions of Top 40 hits) coaxed the up-and-coming guitarist on the Chitlin’ Circuit (as US venues open the Black performers were known) into signing an exclusive recording contract — for an advance of US$1.

The next year, Hendrix picked up a contract with British management outfit Yameta. Chas Chandler, ex-Animals bassist, knew Hendrix’s transcendental amalgam of blues, rock, jazz, funk and soul had the potential to revolutionise the music scene.

Hendrix re-located to London, where his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in late ’66 under Chandler’s direction. Hendrix harnessed the sonic potential of modern amplification to saturate the ears and minds of stunned audiences with head-trips of three-dimensional tone and colour.

There was an element of avant garde exploration in Hendrix’s emerging psychedelic sound — the creative process, not the end product, was what mattered to him.

Following Hendrix’s spectacular rise to international fame after his performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, Chandler’s shady Yameta partner, Mike Jeffery, stepped in as the controlling force.

The Experience was the hottest act around, regularly earning $50,000 per show. But the band members (Hendrix with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell), received a minimal share.

Most of the takings disappeared into offshore Yameta bank accounts, never to be seen again.

To make matters worse, Chalpin initiated a law suit claiming prior rights to the proceeds from Hendix’s releases. Years of stressful litigation ensued, and Hendrix found it impossible to terminate an increasingly abusive professional relationship with Jeffery.

As an ex-military intelligence agent with reputed links to MI6, the FBI and organised crime, Jeffery was sly and manipulative. Jeffery was widely rumoured to have planted the vial of heroin that appeared in Hendix’s luggage at Canadian customs. The resulting legal hassles made Hendrix even more dependent on his manager.

Desperate for some creative down time, Hendrix was coerced into non-stop touring by Jeffery.

Allegedly, Jeffery was behind a bizarre 1969 kidnapping in which the guitarist was abducted, held for days and threatened with death.

The episode of extraordinary rendition was supposedly a charade designed to intimidate Hendrix, who told friends on many occasions he feared for his life.

Towards the end of his life, Hendrix was making moves toward a new start — but too late. He died in London on September 18, 1970 — a few months after breaking off all contact with his manager. Inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate intoxication was the official cause of death.

The toxic Yameta agreement had almost expired, and Hendrix — eager to step back from power-rock to pursue jazz-inspired fusion projects — was counting the days.

Former Hendrix roadie, James “Tappy” Wright, claimed in his 2009 autobiography Rock Roadie that Jeffery drunkenly confessed in 1971 to murdering Hendrix. Wright said Jeffery told him he stuffed pills into Hendrix’s mouth and poured “a few bottles of red wine deep into his windpipe”.

Jeffery allegedly said: “I had to do it. Jimi was worth much more to me dead than alive. That son of a bitch was going to leave me.

“If I lost him, I’d lose everything.”

Circumstantial evidence adds to the mystery. Hendrix’s clothing was saturated in red wine, but the post mortem examination revealed little alcohol in his bloodstream.

Such evidence is intriguing, but the absence of conclusive proof makes it impossible to verify the murder conspiracy theory. At the very least, however, it is clear the insane pressures inflicted on him by the profit-driven music business machine contributed to Hendrix’s untimely death.

In a sense, Hendrix’s death amounted to a slow execution by the corporate capitalist music machine.

Hendrix died intestate and the question of who owns his work has been in and out of court for decades amid claim and counter-claim by competing factions bidding for exclusive rights.

In the mid-1990s, multi-billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, underwrote a successful campaign by Hendrix’s father Al (who died in 2002) and stepsister Janie to wrest control from controversial producer Alan Douglas.

Hyped as a progressive development at the time, the Experience Hendrix company (operating in silent partnership with Allen) has since acquired a reputation for aggressively bullying any other potential claimants — including Hendrix’s children and his brother Leon.

What would Hendrix have made of it all? Perhaps he would ruefully conclude that the confining “plastic cage” he sang about in “Stone Free” was not so easy to break, after all.

Murder Evidence

It's all pretty obvious isn't it? Why lead right up to the obvious and then pull back with calls for "conclusive" evidence? If you look further in to this you'll find the forensic evidence that was never processed at the British Inquest proves murder and backs Mr Wright's claim. The forensic evidence proves Jimi was passed-out when the wine was introduced into his lungs. Monika Dannemann committed suicide rather than admit the truth.

The best "conclusive" proof here is the British Government's refusal to investigate the obvious evidence.

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