Moonshot, Columbus, now Woodstock Also a Myth? Say It Ain’t So.

We baby boomers have lost too many cultural icons. Don’t take away Woodstock.

Some nut shot John Lennon. Good journalism — or was it reality? — took away our faith in institutions. We’ve pretty much lost Ford, Chevrolet, General Motors, Wall Street, faith in television news, trust in doctors, air, water … hell, they even took away Christopher Columbus, who went from great explorer to racist exploiter, all in one generation. And now there are people who say the 1969 moon walk was faked. But Woodstock too? What’s left?

I turned 21 in 1969. I was a West coast kid, nowhere near Woodstock, working a summer job between years at college. But, despite the technicality of geography, I was there in spirit just like the rest of that half of my generation that had woken up to new values, wanted to change the world, believed in a new kind of freedom, opposed the Vietnam war, and drank the cool-aid. With whatever symbolism we could find, usually nothing more than long hair and bell-bottom pants, we paraded our loyalty to what we thought was going to be a once-in-history sweeping change in humanity.

The Woodstock media sensation was cultural affirmation.  It was just about a year after the 1968 student uprisings world wide — riots, broken windows, overturned cars, breaking out simultaneously in places as far apart as Tokyo, Mexico City, Paris, Berlin, and cities across the United States. Unlike the year before, though, it was a new kind of uprising, a peaceful uprising. It was validation. Half a million people gathered for three days in a muddy field with no money, no violence, no hierarchy, no police, no authorities, and no problems. And it proved what we’d been saying to ourselves, to our parents, to our teachers, bosses, and anybody else who objected.

It felt like a turning point. After Woodstock, “Hippy” was no longer a bad thing to be.

All of which brings me to this disturbing segment of a fascinating Wall Street Journal video (below) on how Woodstock changed music. Oh the loss, oh the disillusion! Is nothing sacred?

Disillusion number one: marketing? The narration says “the Woodstock nation was born, ushering in a whole new area of marketing. True, I’m all grown up now, I get marketing, my company depends on it like the rest of small business, but jeez, marketing at Woodstock? That’s Woodstock’s legacy?

No, I hope not; but then John Scher, CEO of Metropolitan Talent, explains:

“You had a new brand. It was called Woodstock. And you had music that was associated with a mass movement: A social, cultural, and political movement. Music could be marketed, differently, than it was before. And then you had people who had no soul, just trying to sell product, trying to figure out how they could latch on.”

(If you can’t see the video, click here to go to the source at wsj.com)

But wait: it gets worse. The narrator implies that the legacy was more the movie than the event, and in the movie …

“Not all the performers fared so well.  The order of performers was changed, some were left out, in some cases songs performed elsewhere replaced songs performed at the event.  It all helped to create a memory that wasn’t necessarily true to life.”

And still worse. The five-minute piece finishes with WSJ Music Critic Jim Fusilli:

“There’s a lot of really terrific performances that received no exposure. For the past 39 years, they’ve gotten very little bounce. A lot of Columbia artists didn’t get into the film. A lot of Capitol artists didn’t get into the film, or onto the album. You had a giant label in Warner Brothers, who had possession of the music at Woodstock.

“I don’t remember what actually happened anymore either. I’ve been struggling against the myth of Woodstock. I’ve probably read 10 books, I’ve listened to (I bet your) two thirds of the music that was at Woodstock. I’ve talked to probably 20 people who were at Woodstock or involved in Woodstock. And I don’t really know what happened anymore. The only thing I have that I can trust is the music.

“This is a debate that I have with myself all the time, as to whether things like Woodstock, and the Beatles, and the Stones, will continue into the future. Whether people will have the same affection for them once the social context has changed. And I think it’s hard to say. The truth is that as long as a single hippy remains alive, the myth of Woodstock will be perpetuated.”

Screw historical accuracy. Power to the people. Leave Woodstock alone.

On the other hand, sacred? Who are we kidding? So, in the immortal words of the late great Gilda Radner (another baby boomer, by the way), never mind.

5 thoughts on “Moonshot, Columbus, now Woodstock Also a Myth? Say It Ain’t So.

  1. 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). This USA TODAY op-ed speaks to the relevance today of the sixties counterculture impact on GenJones: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20090127/column27_st.art.htm

    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 forcast 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:
    http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

  2. In the summer of 1969 I was working in the NE and about to enter my last year of college. Everyone I knew or met (subsequently) said they were at Woodstock.

    Woodstock was an unpremeditated moment not a social movement. Good memories (for those who did not lose too many brain cells) but no lasting social changes. There’s a chance that 140 character ‘tweets’ will have more long term impact.

    Nothing to see here…move along.

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