Sunday, August 16, 2009


Fuck the hippies. Now that everyone is gushing with nostalgia about Woodstock during this 40th anniversary of the festival, it's good to remember that most people didn't "get it" at the time, and the vast majority didn't like it. The crowd may have seemed large at the festival (and indeed it was the largest public gathering up until that time) but it was barely a sliver of an overwhelmingly square, divided, and culturally reactionary country. Flush from conquering the moon less than a month before, and from fighting the commies in Vietnam, there was little room for scraggly peaceniks openly smoking grass, getting naked, and playing loud acid rock music.

Now that everyone is retroactively cool and ironic, it's good to remember the actual longhaired freaks who braved the mud and scorn may not want to share their nostalgic Woodstock glory. Back then, remember, it was "Are you a boy or a girl?" shouted from passing trucks, or maybe "Get a haircut!"

Even the so-called objective news had a laugh.

Here's the New York Times editorial the day after the festival:

Nightmare in the Catskills

The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulses that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea. They ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation that paralyzed Sullivan County for a whole week-end. --NYT, 1969

Santana rocks Woodstock with some crazy Mexican acid rock

Forty years ago, we landed a man on the moon and some people landed in a muddy field called Woodstock. Now the press is rewriting Woodstock history like soviet revisionists airbrushing Trotsky out of the family photo albums, and everyone smiles at the naivete of this stoned Utopian force with the funny hair, but we should look back at the so-called "neutrals," the control group, the American straights of 1969, and there's a laugh, too. Love those white belts. Nice sideburns.

Black hippie hero Hendrix reinterprets the Star Spangled Banner

Back then, the majority of America was pro-Nixon, pro-war, anti-commie conformists who made "nigger" jokes and got haircuts once a week. Anti-drug? Hell, no! America was into drugs big time, alcohol and cigarettes and gallons of coffee, and some tranquilizers to keep things in a nice Miltown daze. Mother's little helper, they called it. Betty Crocker on sedatives. Of course, that wasn't really a drug--none of that was--and people feared reefer madness with a Dragnet mentality. The Joe Friday squares saw the country falling apart in a marijuana haze to uppity minorities and subcultures: blacks, Indians, hippies, protesters, and even women, who were forgetting their place. It could drive you to drink.

Steve and Eydie missed Woodstock...completely

The Beatles may have replaced Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme in college dorms and teenage radio stations, but most of the older folks were still listening to the old stuff and living out the fifties suburban dream. They had earned it fighting in a war, by God, and nobody was going to rain on their goddamn parade. Barbecue some steaks, drink some cocktails, water the lawn, and keep up with the Joneses. No wonder the Jones' kids ran off to join the hippie circus. We heard the girl next door got "knocked up," had an abortion and got disowned by her good Christian parents, and is now "shacking up" with undesirables in San Francisco. The boy next door who read Mad Magazines and listened to the Beatles got killed in Da Nang, or Khe Sahn (or maybe Kent State) but there is a picture of him in full dress uniform on the mantle and a folded flag in the cedar chest.

Vapid models pretend to be hippies in fashion magazine spread

So don't believe all the hype. The message is lost in these commercial news outlets and it's not surprising in a culture where everything has a price tag. Is there a lasting legacy of the Woodstock Nation? I doubt it, when I see kids with Hendrix T-shirts who support the war like hawks. If anything was revolutionary about Woodstock it was the message of peace and love, and that's the hardest thing to fake. Styles change, and anybody can grow long hair--or wave a flag, for that matter--but trying to live your ideals--especially unpopular ones--remains a challenge. In a cynical age, it sounds naive and ludicrous. Ideals? Get with the program. Shut up and do as you're told. That's why it's heartening to occasionally look up from our lock-step conformity and see a few bold spirits bucking the mainstream mindset and living original lives, and at least trying to transcend the bullshit.

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