NBC Nightly News – September 18, 1970 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
53 years ago today, the music world suffered a devastating loss – it would be one of three to go that year, and their passings signified the end of an era, the party was over.
But if you were watching or listening to mainstream media on this day in 1970, you may not have noticed or even realized Jimi Hendrix had died. Because the passing of Jimi Hendrix on this day was a footnote – a blurb – a passing mention lasting maybe 5 seconds. Maybe it was because he died of an overdose that news media stayed away and didn’t devote more than cursory time to the story. Maybe because Jimi Hendrix represented the fringe element; the outsider – no Elvis Presley. Maybe because Hendrix didn’t represent the majority of Pop Music‘s audience – not at the time – he still represented, as anchor Frank McGhee noted, the Acid-Rock Generation.
Whatever the reason, the death of Jimi Hendrix was profound, and would have a profound effect on music over the coming decades.
But it was also 1970 – and 1970 was a year of upheaval everywhere. The other news, the news taking the attention was the hi-jack hostage drama in Jordan and word that an additional 1500 Marines and additional support were being sent to join the 6th Fleet already in the Eastern Mediterranean. News of worsening race relations between Black and White cops. News of talks between Israel’s Gold Meir and President Nixon over Israel’s boycotting of Peace Talks. President Nixon signing an executive order to delay a threatened Railroad strike for at least 60 days. Crop spraying with Parathion reportedly sickened workers in an Orange grove near Delano, California. The Pesticide was sprayed in the grove some 39 days earlier and signs were posted telling workers it would be safe after 30 days. Even after that time, it was still unsafe.
All that, and the death of Jimi Hendrix made small mention, buried at 21 minutes into the program . But maybe that’s because our attention was focused on the bigger picture – the strange and hostile world, the unsafe world. And maybe News in 1970 was doing what it was supposed to do – inform people of what was going on, not distracting them – giving them the big picture. And with the world in a state of impending chaos, the death of a Rock star just wasn’t that big a deal at the time.
Whatever the reason, whatever the motivation, this is what September 18, 1970 sounded like – and beyond everything, it was very very sad.