The news media seemingly has given as much coverage to last weekend's Woodstock II as was paid to the Normandy Invasion. Countless articles and radio and TV broadcasts have inundated us with everything we could ever want to know about the performers and participants at the original 1969 Woodstock, as well as What It All Meant In The Cosmic Scheme Of Things. Most pundits appear to have accepted as truth the theory that the '69 gathering was the watershed event of a generation--a time and a place where antiwar activism, the sexual revolution and the youth and race revolutions coagulated in a sea of muck and jism. At the same time, these seers tend to agree that today's generation of young people just don't stack up to their bold, passionate and intelligent forebears.
Which is, of course, a load of crap.
The lionization of Woodstock I is more proof that the baby boomers currently in power throughout our society feel that they constitute the best and the brightest example of humanity yet to land on this planet. This is nothing new: Most generations tend to inflate their own importance even as they fall into the same I-just-don't-understand-these-kids-today traps for which they attacked their own parents. But the smugness and disinformation inherent in the renewed blitz of Woodstock stories demands a response.
Thus, here are a few alternative observations about Woodstock, from someone who doesn't have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth:
1. A lot of the music at Woodstock I sucked. Sure, the Jimi Hendrix performance (recently released in its entirety on a new CD) was astounding, and the Who and plenty of other performers were at the peaks of their power. But the lineup also included such timeless performers as the dreadful Fifties revival act Sha Na Na and singer-songwriter Melanie, whose 1971 hit single "Brand New Key" is only one example of her tendency toward childishness and insipidity. And by the way, who wants to hear Joan Baez today? Or ever again?
2. Self-preservation had a lot to do with antiwar fever. Sure, Vietnam was an unjust war, and protesters of this senseless conflict deserve praise for pointing that out and for refusing to mindlessly kill others just because their leaders thought it was a nifty idea. But--bottom line--baby boomers didn't want to die. The current crop of young people don't, either. Give them a reinstituted draft and an unjust war to oppose and you'll hear a hell of a lot of moving speeches about pacifism from them, too.
3. Not every hippie was an activist. Now that they're in their forties and fifties, boomers want us to believe that they became involved in youth culture because they were dedicated to overthrowing the old order and creating a world based on equity and love. But many, if not most, of these self-proclaimed insurrectionists were more interested in getting laid, taking a lot of drugs and doing far less than most so-called slackers. They did this not because they perceived it as a blow against the system but because it was fun. And they only stopped when they started getting herpes sores all over their genitalia and discovered that they needed a job in order to be able to afford a stint at the Betty Ford clinic.
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4. The magic of Woodstock appeared mainly in retrospect. Much criticism has been heaped on those Woodstock II attendees who left early rather than putting up with torrents of mud and inadequate facilities any longer. But I'm betting that 1969 Woodstockers hated mud and inadequate facilities as much as today's fans. We're just not hearing from them, because they realize that griping about the experience would make them seem less noble than folks who've spent half their lives boasting about the wonderful peace-and-love vibe. In fact, it took almost a month to clear the Woodstock I site of garbage tossed there by the attendees, whose concerns about environmentalism apparently paled in comparison with their desire to get away from there as soon as possible.
5. Woodstock I was every bit as much of a commercial enterprise as Woodstock II. The first Woodstock might not have been sponsored by Pepsi, but it was meant to turn a profit, as the promoters of the first event reiterated this time around by instituting rules and restrictions to make sure that they brought home every last dime they could find. However, the perceived irony of a Woodstock festival made available for consumption on pay-per-view television isn't nearly as ironic as it might seem at first blush. After all, Woodstock I spawned a movie that certainly wasn't free to attend, as well as a soundtrack album meant to appeal both to people who weren't at the festival and those who were but who couldn't hear anything because of a frightfully overtaxed sound system. Meanwhile, many veteran performers have spent the quarter century since 1969 milking their Woodstock I participation in a decidedly market-oriented manner. Richie Havens, who has made most of his dough in recent years by singing advertising jingles, has worked hard to make himself the symbol of the festival. And Crosby, Stills and Nash appeared on MTV, CNN, Headline News, The Tonight Show and who knows how many other networks or programs this past weekend in order to remind everyone that they were commemorating Woodstock I with a new album that would be available for purchase in record stores any minute.
So what's the real difference between the Woodstock I and Woodstock II generations? As far as I can tell, not a damn thing.