Woodstock @ 50

Forget asking about citizenship status on the next Census. I’ve always wanted to have the Census ask: “Were you at Woodstock in 1969?” The event was such an icon for the appalling baby boomer generation (to which I sadly belong) that I estimate that you’d get 5 million Yes responses to the question. Maybe that many people believe they were there by astral projection during an acid trip or something.

There was an attempt to organize a 50-year anniversary festival at Woodstock for this weekend, but the effort fizzled. One practical problem, I imagine, is that no vendor could be found to produce enough LSD suppositories.

It is a good time to go back and take in the nonsense written about Woodstock by the mainstream media at the time, and reflect how nothing has changed when it comes to media idiocy and superficiality.

Woodstock set off a fresh round of self-congratulation about the idealism of the young generation.  The absence of destructive chaos was taken as evidence of the moral superiority of the counterculture’s rejection of middle class materialism.  It was, in Abbie Hoffman’s words, “the birth of the Woodstock Nation and the death of the American dinosaur.”  “This festival will show,” Woodstock organizer Michael Lang said, “that what this generation is about is valid. . .  This is not just about music, but a conglomeration of everything involved in the new culture.” The New York Times thought Woodstock was “essentially a phenomenon of innocence,” while Time magazine chirped that Woodstock

may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age. . . [T]he revolution it preaches, implicitly or explicitly, is essentially moral; it is the proclamation of a new set of values. . .  With a surprising ease and a cool sense of authority, the children of plenty have voiced an intention to live by a different ethical standard than their parents accepted.  The pleasure principle has been elevated over the Puritan ethic of work.  To do one’s own thing is a greater duty than to be a useful citizen.  Personal freedom in the midst of squalor is more liberating than social conformity with the trappings of wealth.  Now that youth takes abundance for granted, it can afford to reject materialism.

“To do one’s own thing is a greater duty than to be a useful citizen”?? Yup—that pretty much sums up the ethos of modern liberalism. Or as Harry Jaffa put it more bluntly, the core principle of modern liberalism is “every man his own tyrant.”

The New Left was not thrilled with the spin surrounding Woodstock because it suggested that the revolution of youth was far less political than cultural.  After all, the New Left has struggled to get a mere 10,000 to come to Chicago the summer before. “Our frivolity maddened the Left,” one concertgoer remarked.  “We did not even collect pennies for SANE [Society for the Abolition of Nuclear Energy].” Abbie Hoffman had been booed when he attempted to offer some political remarks: The Who’s Pete Townshend whacked Hoffman with his guitar to get him off the stage. But the ever-protean ideological Left managed to adapt.  Leftist writer Andrew Kopkind wrote that Woodstock represented

a new culture of opposition. It grows out of the disintegration of old forms, the vinyl and aerosol institutions that carry all the inane and destructive values of privatism, competition, commercialism, profitability and elitism. . .  For people who had never glimpsed the intense communitarian closeness of a militant struggle—People’s Park or Paris in the month of May or Cuba—Woodstock must always be their model of how good we will all feel after the revolution. . . [P]olitical radicals have to see the cultural revolution as a sea in which they can swim.

A surprisingly sympathetic account of Woodstock in National Review noted that Woodstock was “a moment of glorious innocence, and such moments happen only by accident, and then not often. . .  [T]hese accidental bursts of aimless solidarity do not last forever.” In fact the purported innocence and new moral world of Woodstock would prove as evanescent as the summer showers that cooled off the concertgoers at Max Yasgur’s farm. A few months later the attempted sequel to Woodstock at California’s Altamont Pass ended violently when the Hells Angels hired as stage security proved they were not yet ready to be part of the Age of Aquarius. The Hells Angels beat a concertgoer to death just a few feet in front of Mick Jagger, who was in the middle of singing “Sympathy for the Devil.”  In contrast to the encomiums to Woodstock, there was little media commentary suggesting that Altamont showed a dark side of the counterculture.

Good riddance to the whole scene I say.

P.S. I do recall a line from Jay Leno back when there was a 30th anniversary concert at Woodstock: “They had to fly in five helicopters of food. And that was just for David Crosby.” Heh.

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