Monday, August 24, 2009

Woodstock at 40 . . . er, wait, is it 40 already?

The 40th anniversary of Woodstock passed last week and, I know, a number of conservatives are saying, "Yeah? So what? Just a bunch of (quoting my mentor Rush Limbaugh) maggot-infested, dope-smoking, plastic banana, good-time rock and rollers." First, Rush says that in jest: I hope you conservatives realize that he is a former DJ with great love for the music of the 60s and early 70s, who can quote the artist, date, and probably label of every hit in those years. Another staunch conservative, former Congressman from AZ, J.D. Hayworth, was also a DJ and sports announcer in Phoenix, and a third, the late Sonny Bono, not only listened to rock regularly, but we still listen to his music!

I will come out of the closet: I was a rocker! I played for about 10 years, 4 of them on the road, and in the last band, "Rampage," I had the privilege of opening for "Steppenwolf," "Savoy Brown," and "Mother's Finest" (the latter still tours and kicks butt today.) I had hair down to my chest, and while I won't say I never did any drug, I can truthfully say that compared to most of that genre, "I never did drugs." If I inhaled, I didn't bogart any joints.

Unfortunately, I missed Woodstock, although I saw the movie perhaps 20 times. All of us did. We knew every guitar and drum lick. We could care less about a bunch of dirty, muddy, hungry hippies getting it on---we were into the music. And it is undeniable that the music was of, and from, that generation.

But it's also undeniable that Woodstock took on a mythology of its own, crafted by the Left, as an example of "peace" and "free love" and Rodney-Kingish "can't we all just get along." Ironically, much of the realistic writing about Woodstock has come from the Left. David Dalton, an acerbic writer who published a mag called The Gadfly, noted

[Woodstock] was to represent “a new stage in the psychic evolution of the world, a mass celebration of what the 1960s was all about,” and "there was a lot made of how peaceful the event was. But what else would half a million kids on grass, acid, and hog tranquilizers be? Woodstock, if anything, was the point at which psychedelics ceased being tools for experience . . . and became a means of crowd control.

Dalton went on to describe Grateful Dead guitarist (now dead, but then a drug addict) Jerry Garcia as waxing on about feeling “the presence of the invisible time travelers from the future,” apparently overlooking the reality before his eyes of “kids freaking out from megadoses of acid or almost audibly buzzing from battery-acid crank like flies trapped in a soda can."

As I wrote in my forthcoming book, Seven Events that Made America, America,

Two years later, one radical complained about the “rapes, the bad acid burns, stealing from each other, they, too were a part of the Woodstock experience . . . .” Woodstock concluded with Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner as masses of zonked out kids lay in mud and filth. It was a symbolic scene in so many ways. As the curtain came down, Hendrix—the concluding act---was only a year away from his own drug-induced death (joining Janis Joplin, who also performed at Woodstock, and Jim Morrison within a year). Even as his “truly apocalyptic” rendition of the national anthem blasted over a “battlefield, [with] zombies crawling over a field littered with paper cups, plastic wrappers, and half-eaten food, gnawing on corn husks, slobbering over ketchup- and mustard-smeared half-eaten hot dogs rolls, sprinkled with ants,” already the loose bond of political revolution and rock had permanently unraveled. None other than Joan Baez, the queen diva of protest songs, delivered a pragmatic assessment of the event: “it wasn’t any f__king revolution. It was a three-day period during which people were decent to each other because . . . if they weren’t, they’d all go hungry.”

Many Leftist writers tried to attach a political bent to Woodstock that simply wasn't there. When Yippie Abbie Hoffman tried to grab the mike during the Who's set, guitarist Pete Townshend smacked him over the head with his guitar, shouting, "Get the f . . . off my stage!" Hoffman came away from the event not only with a massive headache but severely disillusioned about the non-fusion of rock and revolution, asking, "Were we establishing a liberated zone or entering a detention camp?"

In reality, neither. Rock was on the verge---unbeknownst to most Americans of any political stripe or age---of helping to bring down the Iron Curtain. That's one of the "Seven Events" that will be in the new book. I won't give it away now, but rock was far more powerful as a revolutionary force behind the Berlin Wall than outside of it. And when the Wall came down, there was Rock, with the Rascals blaring out over boom boxes, "People Got to be Free." Amen, brother, and play it again, Sam.


  1. Well now, that's a different slant on rock and roll. Looking forward to your book Dr Schweikart.

  2. Insightful post! Thanks.

    I agree that there's quite a bit of realism in Dalton's insight that "psychedelics ... became a means of crowd control." You included this line in A Patriot's History (the book), but the citation to The Gadfly website, unfortunately, no longer includes that article. The issue that contained Dalton's article (from the thirtieth anniversary of Woodstock) seems to be available for purchase, but only through the mails.

  3. Interesting blog. Arguably, the biggest legacy of Woodstock is its huge impact on the real children of the sixties: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). That peace ‘n love cultural mood magnified the naturally open-hearted feelings of children in the sixties; the residual idealism which was formed into those kids bears particular salience now as this generation has taken over U.S. leadership. This USA TODAY op-ed speaks to the relevance today of the sixties counterculture impact on our new GenJones leadership:

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forecast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

  4. In my Woodstock post I made the observation that the Woodstock generation eventually came up with the axiom "never trust anyone over 30" yet here is Woodstock at 40 still revered. Apparently, their axioms are ignored by even themselves. The whole era amounted to nothing but foolishness. (I was only 7-years-old at the time)

  5. And I had the privilege of playing bass with Dr. Schweikart in one of his bands, helping lay down the rhythm with his excellent drumming skills. I can honestly testify he indeed didn't do the drug thing, although I remember his vice as being many cups of coffee, as he told me once. (If my memory serves me correctly, he was working on his Master's at the time we played together so the coffee would have served him well.)

    Even though I wasn't there (a tad too young), I like to remember Woodstock apolitically. To me it was a magnificent end to the sixties, an effective remedy (along with the moon landing) to the negativism of the highly publicized Manson debacle. The purpose was to bring together some of the best and most influential rock artists of the era, even sans Beatles, to celebrate music, and the producers succeeded beyond all expectations. After all, rock and roll was the voice and the pulse of the sixties, and not all of it was cerebral and political, but was simply created for a good time. Hendrix's rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" in its own way epitomized this "political vis-a-vis good time" feeling.

    Another item of importance to remember is the monumental influence Woodstock and 60's music has had, and continues to have, in the shaping of the modern pop and rock sound. I feel this in itself elevates it way above just remembering it as some crazed, drug-fueled hippie event occurring sometime in the distant past, as some do.

  6. To James Stripes, I know the Gadfly isn't there now. I tried to contact David Dalton again for my new work. I hope he's still in good health. But there's always interlibrary loan.

    And to JAS, thanks for the compliments, but I think your memory is way too rosy. Certainly it's accurate about the coffee.

  7. very nice blog .. I liked the theme too! never thought they were going to write about it:) thanks

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