Fifty years on, after a night spent largely on that big wet, now commercialized field in Bethel, New York, I’m pondering what’s happened since. What’s taken so long?
It was fun out there last night, at what is now the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The fiftieth-anniversary celebrations have attracted loads of wistful (mostly white) wannabes, as well as faithful ’69 veterans back to the original concert site. In our row, an elegant 70-year-old history teacher sporting a straw hat and white linen suit recalled hitchhiking from Baltimore in his twenties, and the mud. He knew every act.
Long after it was a bust, you see, the Woodstock business is still making money. In twenty-four hours, I’ve bought a Janis Joplin lunch box which I can’t help but love even though it’s manufactured by a company that claims to have trademarked her name. I picked up a four-pack of limited-edition Peace & Love Ale from a local brewery at my gas station. It’s as contradictory as ever. As Andy wrote: “The Woodstock venture was a test of the ability of avant-garde capitalism at once to profit from and control the insurgencies that its system spawns.”
In ’69, insurgency won out, sort-of. People looked after each other and were looked after by Hog Farm anarchists and Sullivan County farmers. The fences came down, the tickets were ripped up.Still, concert-goers teeter-tottered from appreciating Army-airlifted PB&J sandwiches to chanting with Country Joe and the Fish against the war in Vietnam:
One-two-three-four/ What are we waiting for?
Today the rocking is gale force. Totalitarianism, tie-dyed and trademarked, crushes us between cash and caring, threat and promise, love and angst. The nausea’s real, but so is the heart. The body is no cynic, and then as now, we suck in the freaky feel of home-making — of commoning — in public, unenclosed, with ten or twenty or forty or 400,000. You know you’ve felt that feeling. Where have you put it? As Kopkind concluded:
“It was an illusion and it wasn’t…The system didn’t change; it just accommodated the freaks for the weekend.
“What is not illusionary is the reality of a new culture of opposition. It grows out of the disintegration of the old forms and all the inane and destructive values of privatism, competition, commercialism, profitability and elitism. The new culture has yet to produce its own institutions on a mass scale; it controls none of the resources to do so… But something will survive, because there’s no drug on earth to dispel the nausea. Mass politics, it’s clear, can’t yet be organized around … But the urges are roaming, and when the dope freaks and nude swimmers and loveniks and ecological cultists and music groovers find out that they have to fight for love, all fucking hell will break loose.”
Thank you, Andy. We miss you.
My urges are roaming. How about yours?
You can see a mash-up picture of me at Woodstock, and a picture of that Janis Joplin lunch box – as well as our rebroadcast of a popular interview with music producer Danny Goldberg about the Hippie Revolution – and a performance of Climbing PoeTree here.