For many across the United States, this has already been a long, cold, lonely (for some) winter, as described by the Beatles in “Here Comes the Sun.” The unpredictable, but hopefully transitional month of March awaits us on Monday, the flip side of this weekend. This will be the last time the month of March begins on a Monday until the year 2021.
March tantalizes us with diminishing darkness, artificially enhanced by the arrival of daylight savings time on March 14th, and gradually, but erratically warming temperatures. It has oftentimes been a blustery month, typically punctuated by sure signs of an early spring, budding trees and blooming flowers, all too often followed by an occasional unwelcome blizzard, temporarily burying these hopes beneath a heavy blanket of snow.
History reassures us that our weather will indeed change during the month of March. This can be illustrated by reviewing March weather at our current population center of the United States, which is located 2.8 miles east of Edgar Springs, Missouri, as determined by the 2000 census. One might ask if the recent ascendance of nearby Branson as a tourist destination was a coincidence? This location will likely change following the completion of the 2010 census, but during the 20th century, this point migrated 324 miles to the west and 101 miles to the south. Significantly, 79 of the 101 miles of southward movement occurred during the second half of the 1900s.
As always, this writer is indebted to wikipedia, which is a treasure trove of information about almost any subject imaginable, and was particularly useful as a reference for this diary.
The longest night of the year lies two days days ahead, on December 21st, representing yet another Winter Solstice. Celebrations of the Winter Solstice first appeared in ancient times, predating the more prevalent holiday traditions that are more familiar to most of us.
The Winter Solstice represented both an end and a beginning. It marked an end to the year, a time when livestock were typically slaughtered to conserve precious food stocks. Given the rare and abundant luxury of fresh meat, and the prospect of a long winter ahead, these celebrations represented a sort of bacchanalia before battening down the hatches for the long months that loomed ahead. It also marked the anticipation of longer days ahead, heralding warmer temperatures and more sunlight, necessary to grow the food that sustained life.
At the time of the Winter Solstice, many wondered if the provisions set aside for the long winter ahead would be sufficient to prevent starvation, which was particularly common during the months of January and April. So, these celebrations also marked the beginning of the long night ahead, when anxiety and uncertainty became unwelcome companions.
During this time of year, we are surrounded and inundated with reminders that this is a special, magical season — one of great hope and joy. Many among us are swept away by the endless gatherings with friends and family, colorful decorations and bright lights, reassuring strains of Bing Crosby’s crooning of “White Christmas”, Jimmy Stewart’s performance in “Its a Wonderful Life”, and the many other trappings of the season. Avoiding the Madison Avenue created expectation we should hope to emulate is almost impossible to avoid. One cannot turn on the television, particularly on December 24th and 25th, without being reminded that if their life does not resemble the mirth portrayed on the screen, that their life is lacking, as if such reminders are necessary. Music of the season is heard in stores, offices, and sometimes just outside our front door. Regarding the latter topic, there seem to be those for whom draping their home and yard in a mass of colorful lights and decorations is not enough. They must also play amplified, tinny, annoying renditions of holiday tunes for hours on end, and in their spirit of dubious generosity, ensure that the rest of the neighborhood is able to “share” in their enthusiasm.
Some of us seek that ever elusive Holy Grail of the “perfect” holiday season, and all too often, discover that these hopes and aspirations fall far short of the result. Suicides, divorces, and admissions to alcohol/drug treatment centers are common during and shortly after the winter holiday season.
We can easily forget that the gaiety so prevalent in our midst is not shared by everyone. There are many who are living on the brink, struggling from paycheck to paycheck (if they are fortunate enough to be employed), ever fearful that one of many possible and unavoidable developments could push them over the edge. Many of the excesses of the season that we are told are necessary for a “proper” holiday observance requires vast expenditures, with funds that continue to shrink. For these individuals, this becomes a time of attempts to adopt the “spirit of the season”, coupled with fear that money spent for unnecessaries today will be needed for necessities tomorrow.
Then there are the millions who are mired in despair, joined by legions of newcomers, who could not have possibly imagined a short time ago that such would become their fate as well. For those unfortunates, in particular, every reminder of the gaiety of the season becomes a stinging mockery of their destitute condition.
As always, this writer thanks wikipedia for the serving as a wonderful font of information, both in general, and more specifically, as a resource for this diary. Please refer to that site for further detail.
As we approach what is literally the longest night of the year, on Monday, December 21st, we are reminded of the ageless traditions surrounding the Winter Solstice. For many ancient cultures, at least those residing in the Northern Hemisphere, this marked the anticipation of longer days ahead. The return of increased warmth and sunlight were an absolute necessity to grow the food critical to sustain life. The Winter Solstice marked the final celebration before that annual eternity during which the question of survival during the months ahead was asked anew. Those at the time hoped that the provisions already set aside would be sufficient until the earth again reawakened from that long slumber, to again produce that bounty so vital for life to continue. They were acutely aware that the months of January and April oftentimes brought increased death from starvation. The Winter Solstice was a time when livestock were typically slaughtered, primarily to preserve precious food stocks. This was then one of those rare occasions during the year when fresh meat was available.
Many of us are now fully engaged in the “spirit of the season”, swept away by the merriment of the decorations and bright lights; nonstop gatherings with family and friends; the reassuring, soothing strains of Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas”; appreciating Jimmy Stewart’s performance in “It’s a Wonderful Life”; and the numerous other traditions that mark this time of the year. For those multitudes, this season provides a welcome annual respite from the usual cares of the world, when we are reminded to focus on that which is “near and dear to us.” Despite one’s best efforts and intentions, reality all too often falls far short of expectation, to find that ever elusive Holy Grail, the “perfect” holiday season,such as those that play endlessly on television during December 24th and 25th.
Millions in this country, those teetering on the cusp, are rightly wondering, given present challenges, whether these days will mark the happiest holiday season they will experience for the remainder of their lifetimes. For them, that temporary departure from reality can serve as a soothing distraction from the dark, threatening clouds that loom so omninously on the horizon.
And then there are the many millions, joined by legions of newcomers, involuntarily conscripted into the growing hoards of those overcome by sheer desperation. They, too, will search in vain for signs that the seemingly endless period of darkness, which for them began months or years ago, will one day end.
For those who no longer have a roof over their head and wonder where the they will find their next meal, any chance encounter with the merriment of the season must seem a cruel mockery of their destitute condition. Our own government, which to varying degrees in the past provided real, meaningful assistance to those in need, has been hijacked by greedy corporate interests, dedicated solely to personal enrichment, heedless of the cost to others. Hard earned tax dollars that were turned over year after year to provide a social safety net, along with borrowed billions, are increasingly diverted into the outstretched hands of those least in need of help.
Some of us may have become desensitized to the travails suffered by those afflicted by poverty, as portrayed in annual productions of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Witnessing such woe on the silver screen, television or on the stage is one matter. Living it is an entirely different proposition.
At this time of the year, we cannot escape the plenitude of happy, upbeat holiday tunes, at stores, on television, or for those unfortunates, just outside their front door. Speaking of the latter, has anyone else yet become incensed with those who are not satisfied with just elaborate lighting displays, but are seemingly compelled to add outdoor holiday music. played for hours on end, enthusiastically sharing these tinny, annoying renditions with their entire neighborhood?
Rather than follow that lead, I will provide an alternative, evoking a mood more in keeping with the long night that lies immediately ahead for many, both in a literal sense two days from now, and in a figurative sense, most likely for the next few months, years or longer. It is in that spirit that the following song is presented this week.
The featured song this week never appeared in the Top 40, however, many will experience instant recognition within two or three bars, if not sooner.
This song has been extensively covered, making the narrowing down of choices this week exceedingly difficult. Despite my previous rule of nor more than four choices, I find it impossible to not add a fifth this week. If I was asked to pick a favorite, at various times, I could quite possibly choose any or all of the five. I would have to say that if it weren’t for the pioneering work of its original performer, however, the others that have followed would likely not be possible.
This song is rated at #101 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest songs of all time. The guitar solo was designated as the 11th greatest solo of all-time in Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos’ Guitar Legends, Issue #46. The original peformer appeared six times on this list, more than any artist on that list. This number was recorded in 1968, and was re-released as a single after the death of the composer in 1970. It was the A side on a three-track record, and reached Number 1 in the UK.
I cannot provide the information that follows without revealing the identity of the song, which is… Jimi Hendrix’ Voodoo Child.
The following quotes, in part, reflect the widespread admiration others had for Jimi Hendrix’ trailblazing work.
As found on wikipedia:
The genesis of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” was essentially in “Voodoo Chile”, a long blues jam featuring guest Steve Winwood. On May 3, 1968 (the day after “Voodoo Chile”‘s recording), a crew from ABC filmed the Jimi Hendrix Experience while they played. As Hendrix explained it:
[S]omeone was filming when we started doing [Voodoo Child]. We did that about three times because they wanted to film us in the studio, to make us-“Make it look like you’re recording, boys”-one of them scenes, you know, so, “OK, let’s play this in E, a-one, a-two, a-three,” and then we went into “Voodoo Child”.
On the Band of Gypsys live album Live at the Fillmore East, Hendrix referred to the song as the Black Panthers’ national anthem.
Joe Satriani identified Voodoo Child as his favorite guitar solo, stating:
“It’s just the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity.”
And Kenny Wayne Shepherd added the following:
“This is pretty much the guitar anthem of all time. From that amazing opening riff to the way he breaks it down in the middle and gets funky, the whole thing is incredible. There are things Jimi did on the guitar that humans just can’t do. You can try all day, even if you’re playing the right notes, it’s not the same. It definitely seems as if he was coming from a higher place when he played.”
Without further ado, here is but one of many renditions by Hendrix to be found on the web:
The legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn greatly admired Jimi Hendrix, perfoming cover versions of several of Hendrix’ songs. This represents one of Vaughn’s versions of Voodoo Child:
The next three performers are perhaps not as well known, however, I would encourage those reading this article to at least listen to a minute or two of each version, since they each include a unique feature setting it apart from the far more prevalent attempts to emulate Hendrix note for note.
Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen combine to provide a little different twist. Malmsteen’s gritty vocals add a jagged edge to this song, and the triple lead work toward the end is truly something to behold!
When we think of pedal steel guitar, we might initially imagine a perfomer who is at least fifty or older,complete with the requisite paunch, cowboy hat, and bolo tie, accompanying music whose lyrics pay homage to repossessed pickup trucks, bar fights, unrequited lust, and being so down in one’s luck that his own dog refuses to acknowledge him. Robert Randolph literally destroys every single one of those conceptions. Please check this out, you’ll be glad you did!
Finally, speaking of a relative unknown, at least on a national scale, Geoffrey Castle would seem to fulfill that description. Voodoo Child on the violin? Since I discovered this version, and sent it on to others, I think the number of views on youtube has doubled, to something like 18 as of this morning. This also rates as another rendition that must truly be seen to be believed!
Please vote for one, two or all five if you feel so inclined. Or add your own favorite rendition, including your reasoning in the comments section.