Ezine No. 6—One of the greatest pieces of music from the 20th Century is one of the noisiest, most controversial and least understood—a combination of ugliness and beauty, and one of the most powerful portrayals of a culture ever captured sonically.
And learning about it can help you stick an iron shot tight to the flag on the final hole of a tournament and make the slippery four-foot downhill putt.
It’s a circuitous route but I believe it’s worth your attention.
Having recently become a customer of Apple Music, the streaming service, I discovered Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock only a few weeks ago. I grew up knowing almost every note from the original 12:51 minutes on the original Woodstock album recorded in August 1969.
After downloading it on my iPhone, I feasted for days on about two-hours of music from his entire set, but the piece that hit me the hardest was the one that I knew the best: his rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
In the history of performance, including sport, arts and business, there are signature moments that stand above others for breaking through barriers and doing things that had never been done before. We can learn from them.
For rock music, I’m claiming Hendrix’s version of the U.S. national anthem as the signature live performance of the 1960s. Perhaps of the century. I’m going all in.
About three quarters through his set, Hendrix and his band had just concluded Voodoo Child. As the final blast diminishes, the initial and unmistakable strains of the anthem emerge, almost like an idea that just popped into his head. Apart from the super-amplified, feedback-drenched guitar, he launches—solo—fully into the Star Spangled Banner with reverence, accentuating high notes with extended flourishes and trills.
All hell breaks loose as he rips into “the bombs bursting in air.” With furious feedback, Hendrix replicates soaring jets, screaming missiles, air raid sirens, bombs exploding. It was Jimi’s way of protesting the Vietnam War and civil war violence.
After building to a crescendo that crashes over into a wall of feedback, he brings home “the land of the free and the home of the brave” with sweetness and poignancy.
It was a deeply soulful performance of scorn and pride; a love song and a protest.
(If you’ve never heard it, or you’d like to relive it, click here.)
As the closing piece in the Woodstock movie, it became part of rock music lore.
Conservatives blasted it as sacrilegious, hippies celebrated its brashness, and music fans defined it as a-once-in-a-lifetime moment capturing a master in a zone of technical brilliance, technology and passion.
So what does this have to do with performance, especially hitting an iron to the 18th green?
Like all great performers, it was not magic, inspiration or the universe that pushed him over the top.
Many people believe Woodstock marked the first time that Hendrix had performed the song, and that his anti-war fervour and love for his country pushed him to the heights of musical ecstasy.
Wrong. There are 28 live recordings of Hendrix playing the national anthem before Woodstock, according to Joel Brattin, a professor at Worcestor Polytechnical Institute in Massachusetts. It’s likely that he played it hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, in un-recorded concerts, rehearsals and his own practice.
Hendrix was certainly inspired, but he got his reps in well before Woodstock.
Hendrix had prepared. He knew Woodstock was a monumentally important event. He was the closing act. (Adding to the pressure and difficulty of the moment, he came on at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.)
By the time he got to Woodstock (pun intended), he thoroughly owned the Star Spangled Banner. Carried by the emotional weight of the moment, he played with freedom, emotion and on the edges.
He killed it.
All great performers prepare, put in the time, sweat and tears to perform at the biggest moments of their careers. Sometimes they pull it off, sometimes they don’t.
They put in their work over months and years so that when the time comes, they surrender to power within, let it flow out of them with no self-consciousness in the moment.
To some, that sounds like run-around-yelling-your-head-off wildness.
Rather, it’s a heightened state of awareness allows you to be completely in the moment. It’s simultaneously being lost in something but also acutely in the moment. It is developed through building skill, learning and deep practice.
Contrast that to golfers who are constantly running from tip to tip, thinking their way through their swing, and have a constant dialogue going through their heads. They have not set a path and followed it. Thus, they are unprepared and they cannot play as they hoped or expected.
If you are serious about golf, and particularly about competing, you must prepare—get your reps in on the parts of the game that you—and your coach, if you have one—have identified as keys for you.
Keep developing them until they become play—the way you express yourself in your own unique way.
When I read about Hendrix’s history with the Star Spangled Banner before Woodstock, it struck me that while he was wildly talented, like all great performers, he developed his skill.
Everyone is capable of that kind of ascendant moment. Yes, you.