THE X-PAT FILES
By Scott R. Garceau
March 22, 2009
Richie Havens' shoes. That's what caught my attention first, watching
the 1970 documentary Woodstock again after so many years (I was a
full-grown teen when it was shown on TV long ago; the 1999 DVD
release is dubbed a "Director's Cut" with 40 extra minutes of
festival footage, available on Warner Home Video). Early in the
movie, Havens is onstage wearing, first of all, this orange caftan,
which must have been a popular look at the time, while madly
strumming the song Freedom, his feet tapping away in some kind of
closed-toe flip-flops that I couldn't help thinking would go down
very well in today's retro-hip marketplace.
That was lesson number one.
Then there's the Kundalini yoga scene later in Woodstock, where an
actual yoga lesson is given to hordes of hippies on the grounds of
Bethel, New York, where the "3-Day Festival of Peace and Love" took
place. The instructor compares the feeling of Kundalini enlightenment
to smoking DMT, but also suggests to the assembled freaks that the
experience can be brought on naturally; so as funny as the scene is,
it's kind of progressive: it's saying you don't need drugs to reach a
higher state. And as much as the filmmaker (Michael Wadleigh) amuses
himself by filming people in a prone state, trying to rapidly
fluctuate their solar plexus muscles to reach nirvana, yoga is a
practice that has let's face it come very much back into vogue.
Speaking of vogue, you've also got Pete Townshend's white boiler suit
on display during the Who's incendiary set somehow futuristic,
Devo-ish, predating Droog Alex's duds in A Clockwork Orange and
Then of course there's the fashion revival of the headband. (The less
said about this the better.)
Meanwhile, in the present day, instead of Woodstock, Filipinos
recently experienced Headstock: a chance to commune with the greatest
Filipino rock band of its time, if only for
nostalgia and closure, and if only for one more night.
It's not easy, at first, revisiting Woodstock to see that the
split-screen festival grounds have become some kind of retro fire
sale bazaar from which fashionistas, every season, try to pilfer
something new that they can dust off and resurrect (like those
headbands). And there is, in me at least, a tendency to take the piss
to do as Beatle Ringo Starr did, long ago, when asked by a
journalist if he was a Mod or a Rocker. Ringo slowly slurred out:
"I'm a… Mocker."
And so I've been happy to slag off the hippies, while on the other
hand conceding that this generation (and mine, Gen-X, I might add)
has done nothing, especially, to make the world a better place.
But what if I'm wrong about this?
What if the hippies really were okay, in their own way? Hey, at least
they had a classic moment in history (Woodstock) to call their own
and to savor. And at least they helped shorten a war that threatened
to go on indefinitely (Vietnam), something this generation is still
trying to do, even with Barack Obama in the White House.
And let's not forget the musical performers: everyone from Havens to
Joe Cocker to Santana ripping through Soul Sacrifice; Sly and the
Family Stone showing the world what an integrated band can sound like
(and making mincemeat of future imitators like Jamoriquoi); and of
course Hendrix offering a less than stellar set but impressing the
seal of history with his acid-etched Star Spangled Banner.
Then I had a further revelation, watching Woodstock, and it nearly
made me shudder: what if today's generation, with their queerly
indiscriminate embrace of everything new and technological, trivial
and fashionable, is also okay?
What if they're imbibing the same ideals, just in a more pre-packaged way?
Maybe and it's tough to know for sure because most of the hippies
casually interviewed in Woodstock are too drug-addled to make the
case for themselves the hippies were simply responding in their own
existential way to the world's astonished reaction at their
collective decision not to "fit in." Contrary to my faulty memories,
most of the interviews shown with local residents of Bethel, New
York, are not reactionary or dismissive of the "freaks" in their
midst. These were not the kind of people that would have gone after
the hippie bikers in Easy Rider with shotguns. Despite Jack
Nicholson's character famously declaring in that movie, "Most
Americans see an American who's really free, it scares the sh*t out
of 'em" these regular Joe Americans in Woodstock seem oddly
tolerant, open-minded, big-hearted, even (they donate food, water to
the stranded hippies) about the half a million kids descending on
their town there's almost a wistful sense of, well, these freaks
are lucky to at least be trying something new.
But as the movie progresses, we realize, too, that this is because
Vietnam literally divided Americans so many had to see their kids
go off to fight in Southeast Asia, and the draft gave those parents
(and their kids) little choice. Unlike the Iraq War a strictly
"volunteer" war, carefully sanitized by the media to avoid glimpses
of soldiers in caskets Americans in '69 were confronted with war
images on the news every night. No wonder they came to side with the
kids at Woodstock, and wish them well.
I've long felt that this generation the one currently glued to
Facebook and so sure that Perez Hilton (last year) or YouTube (the
year before) has something important to reveal to the world was
going down the wrong path. Because, frankly, embracing technology
just seemed like such an anti-Woodstock angle: like a copy of copy of
copy. And this generation's patter about activism often amounts to
mere slacktivism. You know: "I'll do what I can to save the earth as
long as it doesn't take up too much of my time and allows me to buy
cool things." And this batch's fascination with fashion and the
trivial just seems so, like, dead-end.
But maybe just maybe it's all a flipped-burger approach to the
Because, God knows, the people who made Woodstock happen very quickly
learned how to turn a buck on their various proclivities, whether
they went into politics or merchandising or music or film or concert
promotion. They didn't hesitate to sell out. Not for very long. Maybe
the lesson of Woodstock, really, can be construed as this: Don't sell
out too quickly. Take your time. Pick your moment. Try to savor the
part of you that knows you're part of history. Yet, as history shows,
ultimately, what goes around comes around. Again and again and again.
So we have a generation now that would kill to snag a pair of hip
shoes like Richie Havens', or who want to take up yoga. What's wrong
with that? The only real difference between these kids and the
Woodstock kids is this: the New Generation is getting the message
through buying the product, whereas the Woodstock generation lived
through the message, then ended up buying the product.
If this new generation comes to appreciate the message of peace
through yoga and meditation just because the Olsen Twins are into it,
so be it. If they dig the comfort of Jesus sandals just because
Havaianas makes decent flip-flops, then at least they get the
message. We have to understand what Marshall MacLuhan glimpsed long,
long ago: the medium is the message. Why kill the messenger, if it
manages to turn kids into earth-loving individuals who respect one
another? That's something the hippie kids in Woodstock could actually