Woodstock II: Get over it, Mom
By MARA GOLDWYN
Aug. 12, 2009
I'M A CHILD of children of the Woodstock Generation. I'm also now
over 30 - someone who, back in the day, Abbie Hoffman (RIP) said, was
among those never to be trusted.
Twenty-five years after visiting the Woodstock site as an 8-year-old
with my folks (an event I have no recollection of), I still feel the
fatigue of the "You had to be there." For us Gen X and Y-ers, it was
never a question of whether we were On or Off the Bus. The fact is,
we weren't old enough to ride one by ourselves.
Nevertheless, from the front seat of the minivan, we were bludgeoned
with the retelling: Woodstock was a pinpoint in time when, for just a
few days, Peace and Love were pure, and the "authentics" were there:
"If you have to ask, you'll never understand."
With so much exclusive fuss, it's no wonder that Woodstock later
fossilized into a - gasp - institution that my generation felt
inclined to rebel against.
Now as we enter into another cycle of extinctions - the phone
land-line, CDs, the photo- copy - maybe those in their teens and 20s
recognize this irritating line of argument.
That is, the people who were there or did it this way have a monopoly
on the true experience. The rest is fakery, hipsterdom. As a matter
of fact, these days, this is the only cultural capital the old(er)
For me, Woodstock was, and is, institutional. While in theory that
generation thumbed its nose at materialism, it actually inadvertently
set the stage for 21st century hyper-consumerism. At the time it
seemed brave - and it was - to establish "us vs. them," the squares
and the counterculture. But today, talking in terms of splits like
that is naive. Don't you see, Mom and Dad? The counterculture IS the Man.
In the decades since 1969, modern marketing has taken on the
do-it-because-it-feels-good-express-yourself ethos, and it has caught
It sells everything. All the choices we make in our lives -
spiritual, emotional choices, lifestyle choices, made-material via
consumer choices - come from this so-called liberation. Even "hippie"
products like organic food and yoga mats are tailored to those
individuals who want to do things just their way.
BACK IN THE '90s, there was horror at the shiny spectacle of the new
Oh, the lament went, how ironic, the Spirit of the '60s repackaged
and sold for a jacked-up price. But in the 15 years since then, the
signs of the Woodstock generation have been so co-opted and
re-co-opted and sold out and resold that it's tiresome to even point
out the selling out anymore.
I think that a lot of the progressive boomers did sell out in that
"Big Chill" way, if we insist on continuing to use such terms. But as
my mother says, and I experienced, they raised their kids differently
and often made choices with good intentions. My point now is that
even that "different" way became assimilated into the "normal," to
effects both good and not so good.
But by fastening the Spirit of the '60s to an inaccessible point in
the past, and establishing it as something pure that was later
corrupted ("sold out"), the Woodstock generation set up a vocabulary
that would excuse them when their version of Peace and Love went awry.
They could settle into their batik bedspreads and pat themselves on
the back for at least trying.
But it rendered them incapable of acknowledging, for example, the
subtle tyranny of personalized Internet ads for yoga mats. As they
click "Buy," they sigh that no one would understand if they hadn't been there.
Mara Goldwyn, the daughter of Carol Towarnicky, is a freelance writer
and translator living in Berlin.
Crashing the Wave
By Sam Buntz, Staff Columnist
Published on Friday, August 14, 2009
Aug. 15 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art
Festival. Many college students look back on the days of Jimi Hendrix
and Keith Moon with nostalgia nostalgia for a time when we didn't
even exist. Admittedly, the music of the late 1960s was great and
still forms the core of what I listen to. But I feel I need to
question the haze of good vibes surrounding Woodstock and the Baby
Boomers' claim that it totally meant something, man like we had
real values, and then, in the words of "Easy Rider:" "We blew it."
But blew what? We've inherited Woodstock's liberated sexual and
chemical attitudes but none of its "values." This is because those
values never existed Woodstock was filled with insincerity. Only
individuals can have values or integrity movements are nothing but
individuals surrendering themselves to the common flow.
Hunter S. Thompson provided an example of the wistful nonsense
surrounding Woodstock in his famous "Wave Speech" from "Fear and
Loathing in Las Vegas." He writes, "We had all the momentum; we were
riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...[L]ess than five
years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look
West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the
high-water mark that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
It is fortunate that waves crash particularly this wave. A life of
free concerts and drugs is demonstrably unsustainable. Consider that
Woodstock did not return a profit for decades and it destroyed Max
Yasgur's farm. If the hippies had their way, progress would be
impossible. We would be living in a primitive nightmare. When
everyone is enjoying the vibes, no one is curing cancer or elevating
people out of poverty or even cultivating themselves spiritually
(despite pretensions to the contrary). All that exists is a brute
world of self-destructive selfishness.
You might argue that the counter-culture contributed importantly to
civil rights and the anti-war movement. I would argue that only
individuals who worked hard did. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't
exactly wearing tie-dye ,and neither was Robert F. Kennedy. They wore
suits. MLK was a Baptist minister. Followers of the counter-culture
possibly did more to perpetuate the Vietnam War than to stop it,
considering that their strategy for ending the conflict was to get
high in a tent and assume that their "energy" would overwhelm the
forces of darkness. Practical people destroyed the hippies, and
clowns like Jerry Rubin and the "Yippies" did nothing but make them
appear more fatuous.
No doubt, the era produced some sincere people George Harrison
always struck me as a cool guy. But the movement as a whole was no
less life-perverting than the order it was attempting to displace.
"Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss," sang Roger Daltrey. It is
only you who can do anything: this is the lesson to be learned from
the failure of Woodstock and our misguided nostalgia for it. It is
only you, with no reliance on popular fads or causes. This is no New
Age pep-talk, but the harsh reality of existence, the agony of being
an individual self total responsibility for maintaining your own
personal heaven or your own private hell with no one else to turn to.
Every American believes that he or she is utterly original. Harold
Bloom has gone so far to say, "No American pragmatically feels free
if she is not alone, and no American ultimately concedes that she is
part of nature." The hippies represented a twisting of this truth
about our country. They promised personal liberation and
self-knowledge, but they really offered mass anesthetization.
Volkswagen buses filled with conformists paraded under the guise of
non-conformity. Timothy Leary and company said they wanted to turn
you on and wake you up but why did you slumber, a sleep within a sleep?
In the Woodstock philosophy there was no work to be done. To wake up,
to become truly human, you didn't have to do anything. You just had
to be. But this is a misunderstanding. By affirming that you can know
yourself without having to seek that knowledge, or that you can
improve society by "dropping out," you do nothing. It is a form of
nihilism. A better formula was provided by Voltaire, when he wrote,
"But we must cultivate our garden." Otherwise, the weeds choke everything.
I Was At Woodstock. And I Hated It.
Stop being nostalgic for the 40-year-old concert. It was wet,
crowded, and overhyped.
By Mark Hosenball | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Aug 12, 2009
If it's toxic to overdose on saccharine, then over the next few days,
you should try to avoid the gathering deluge of reminiscence about
Woodstock. It's the 40th anniversary of the upstate New York
rock-and-roll extravaganza, and we in the media are already gorging
ourselves on hazy recollections of the eventmemories borne not so
much from what actually happened, but from what hippie folklore says
happened and from how popular imagination and wishful thinking
transformed a chaotic mudfest into an epic pageant of peace and love.
This wallow in artificially sweetened nostalgia is being supplemented
by entertainment-industry efforts to exploit the occasion: according
to The Associated Press, we'll soon be blessed with a remastered
music CD of the festival, a new director's-cut DVD of the original
film epic Woodstock, and a Woodstock comedy called Taking Woodstock,
directed by Ang Lee. Several anniversary concerts have also been
scheduled at the site of Max Yasgur's farm, which now features a
concert stage and a museum dedicated to the 1960s.
As an authentic Woodstock attendee (or should I say victim?), I hate
to rain on the procession of warm memories and good vibrations, but I
will say this: wake up, folks. For somemaybe quite a few of uswho
made the journey, Woodstock was, if not a nightmare, then a massive,
teeming, squalid mess. If you like colossal traffic jams, torrential
rain, reeking portable johns, barely edible food, and sprawling,
disorganized crowds, then you would have found Woodstock a treat. For
those of us who saw those things as a hassle, good music did not
necessarily offset the discomfort. OK, for a lot of us who figured on
buying tickets at the gateand then arrived at the site to find that
no box offices had been builtthe fact that we got to hear top acts
gratis was some compensation for the unpleasantness. And the spirit
of the massive crowd, even if chemically mellowed by THC and other
mood enhancers, was congenial, tolerant, and at times stoic. But in
hindsight, what was Woodstock's bottom line? That 500,000 people
jammed into in a mudhole didn't fight, riot, or annihilate each
other? Is the fact that such a large crowd didn't become violent and
start killing each other (albeit serenaded by sometimes brilliant
musical performances) Woodstock's principal legacy? What's the big deal?
To be fair, maybe I was a bit too young for Woodstock, or what
Woodstock turned out to be, though I probably shouldn't have been. A
newly minted 17-year-old high-school graduate by August 1969, I
nonetheless was a fairly accomplished patron of big-time pop or rock
music events, having attended, inter alia, the American debut of Led
Zeppelin at New York's Fillmore (they were the opening act for Iron
ButterflyIn-a-Gadda-Da-Vida, Baby), a Newport Folk Festival (more of
a rock event), and a Janis Joplin solo concert (the most memorable of
the lot). The night before my high-school graduation party, I
celebrated by watching Hair on Broadway. As the summer of '69
sweltered on, I scouted out additional entertainments, canceling one
at the last minute due to fear of rain, only to find myself sitting
at home watching the first men land on the moon.
For weeks, the organizers of Woodstock had been promoting their event
with large ads (featuring the soon-to-be-immortal guitar logo)
listing all the famous bands who were scheduled to play. Two of my
closest high-school friends, with whom I had attended earlier events,
suggested that we meet in New Jersey and drive up to Woodstock. We
decided to travel the night before the festival was to begin because
we hadn't bought tickets and figured that by arriving early, we not
only might be able to get a choice parking spot, but also could avoid
the massive ticket queues likely on the day the concert actually
started. We did arrive in time to get a good parking spot in a forest
clearing a few hundred yards from the stage. But the event was not
quite the well-ordered megaconcert that had been advertised. No
ticket gates, little food or other amenities, no fencing to separate
the people who had paid from freeloaders like usit was puzzling from
the outset how the promoters were going to make back their
investment, never mind deliver the scheduled performances.
By lunchtime the next day, we had staked out a small patch not far
from the stage. Though prepared for the possibility of showers, we,
like most of the rest of the growing crowd, were not prepared for
torrential downpours. The rain threw off the concert schedule by
hours and quickly began to turn the venue into a mud pit. To my
surprise, the organizers did manage to produce the performers they
had promised, even as we wondered whether the rain would cause them
to electrocute themselves. But as helicopters swooped in and out
taking rock stars to and from the scene while the rest of us soaked,
I began to envy those privileged enough to merit air transport. The
acts I rememberor at least think I remember, since memory can be a
tricky businessseeing live on stage include Richie Havens, a group
called Sweetwater, Sly and the Family Stone, and Country Joe and the
Fish. I definitely did not see Jimi Hendrix play his trippy
valedictory version of the "Star Spangled Banner." Actually, my
clearest recollection of Woodstock had nothing to do with the music:
during an interlude, I excused myself for a bathroom break. I'm still
amazed that I managed to navigate myself to the portable toilets on
the far outer perimeter, then back through a multitude of 300,000 to
find my friends.
After an uncomfortable but dry night in a cramped car seat, I took a
walking tour of the site and concluded that the crowd had grown too
big for the venue. Concerned that I might not be able to escape for
days, I decided to check out then and there. I grabbed a one-way bus
that the promoters had organized for would-be refugees, and on a
rural highway several miles away from the stage, I hitched a ride
from a carful of disappointed concertgoers who had become frustrated
with the regionwide traffic jam, and concerned about the radio
bulletins warning hopeful attendees to stay away. When my new friends
dropped me off near Grand Central Station, I was extremely grateful
to return to civilization.
In hindsight, after spending 35 of the last 40 years as a
professional journalist, Woodstock does not loom large in my
consciousness when compared with some of the other major events I
have been fortunate to witness. While the spectacle may have been
tawdry, it seems to me that the uproar and congressional impeachment
proceedings that resulted from revelations (by my NEWSWEEK colleague
Michael Isikoff) about President Clinton's relationship with Monica
Lewinsky, at which I had a ringside seat for more than a year, had a
far greater, if not necessarily beneficent, impact on politics and
culture than Woodstock. As a cultural and political phenomenon, the
anguish that swept the world and paralyzed Britain after the death of
Princess Diana in a car crash was far more sweeping to my mind than
any blip in the zeitgeist caused by Woodstock. Ultimately, a lasting
and significant memory will probably be my presence last summer, with
my teenage son, in Denver's Mile High Stadium when Barack Obama
accepted his nomination as America's first African-American candidate
for president. Maybe that's the kind of development for which
Woodstock is supposed to have laid the groundwork, but I don't really
see how you get from there to here.
Hosenball is an investigative correspondent for NEWSWEEK who covers
Debunking Woodstock: What really happened?
Rumors include births and deaths, a lack of food and general debauchery
By Tony Sclafani
Aug 10, 2009
Drugs and nudity were rampant, food was scarce and traffic was hell.
Oh, and there were several deaths and births. Those are some of the
myths that have been passed down over the years about the Woodstock
Music and Art Fair, which happened 40 years ago this weekend, Aug.
Assessing the music of Woodstock is easy, since you can see and hear
it any time on the DVD. But separating myth from reality is less
simple. Back when Woodstock happened, no one expected that half a
million rock fans would gather in the upstate town of Bethel, N.Y.,
on short notice. So rumors about what went on started to fly, and the
media was first in line to start them says Howard Loberfeld, who
attended at age 15.
"I went with a sleep-away camp," explains the New York native. "And
the dichotomy between what was really happening and the news reports
sent our parents into a tailspin. Every one of them called the camp
and said 'Get my kid out of there! We heard there's deaths, we heard
there's no bathrooms, we heard there's no food and we heard there's drugs!'"
That's not quite what Loberfeld and his fellow campers had
experienced. Rather, he says, he and his buddies "just noticed a lot
of music, a lot of fun and a lot of community." OK, so there were
drugs, as Loberfeld found out when some long-haired dude walked by
him yelling "Reds! Reds!" But he was so young and naïve, he thought
the dealer was talking baseball: "I remember thinking to myself,
'Gee, I like the Mets. I don't know why he's a Cincinnati fan.'"
When Loberfeld and company were forced to cut their festival stay
short because of parental concerns, they read the riot act to their
parents over the telephone. "We were quite angry and we told our
parents that we don't know what the New York media was saying, but we
didn't notice any of that stuff," he says.
Joey Reynolds, however, noticed lots of those things. Reynolds was a
22-year-old Top 40 DJ at the time, and as a veteran of the music
scene (he broke into radio very young) had a keen eye for excess.
"There was a lot of drug stuff overdoses, acting out, puking and
drinking," explains Reynolds, who still reminiscences about Woodstock
on his overnight talk show on New York's WOR-AM.
Roc Ahrensdorf, who was 16 at the time, also noticed that drugs "were
pretty open" but his experience was that "people were pretty cool
about it all.
"I was camped out in the woods at the top of the field and there were
all these paths with names like Far Out Path and Groovy Way. At the
intersection there were people selling pot, acid and hash. But I
didn't see any heroin or cocaine or anything like that."
Loberfeld and Ahrensdorf also say they didn't see any nudity. Neither
did Bonnie Geffen, yet she says that's the first thing people want to
know about when they learn she went to the festival. She didn't
disrobe, she says.
"With everyone who I've told that I went, they inevitably ask me if I
was naked," explains Geffen who was 16 at the time. "There were so
few people who were naked in a crowd of half a million. There wasn't
a large presence of naked people."
Brother, can you spare a burger?
How scarce food was depends on who you talk to, whether they thought
to bring rations or whether they were lucky enough to be near someone
who did. Ida-Meri de Blanc didn't plan ahead and got separated from
the friend she drove to Woodstock with, but she was lucky to run into
"this whole gang of people I knew who went really, really prepared.
"They had like vans and tents of food," says de Blanc, who was 19
then. "As soon as I ran into them I just hung out with them."
Michael Colella wasn't as lucky. Although he and his traveling
buddies had brought some food for their drive from Maryland, hunger
pangs set in almost immediately after he got there. "There was a
definitive shortage of food," he recalls. "I saw at one point where
there were some concessions set up where you could buy burgers and
stuff, but by Saturday there was no more food."
At one point, though, Colella "somehow acquired a watermelon" and
shared it with nearby concert goers after it started raining. Later
on when he was walking toward the stage to get a better look at sitar
virtuoso Ravi Shankar, he lucked onto some oranges after helping a
young boy who was struggling to carry a crate of the fruit to the stage.
"I said, 'If I help you carry the case, can you let me have an
orange?' He said 'All right.' So I carried the case for half the trip
and he gave me a couple of oranges. I didn't share those I ate them
because I was hungry."
All involved say the worst part of the festival was the traffic on
Route 17 on the way there. Remembers Reynolds: "There were all these
roads leading to one road that had thousands of cars. At first, we
thought there was a little weekend traffic that was going to stop
somewhere and it didn't. It just got worse and worse and bigger and
bigger and there were more and more people."
Geffen remembers she and her friend "drove in as far as we could and
stopped. The car in front of us stopped and we stopped when we
realized neither one of us could go any further."
Tragedy and mystery
The crush of traffic indirectly led to one of the deaths at the
festival, says Essra Mohawk, a singer-songwriter who attended but did
not get to perform. According to Mohawk, who was 21 at the time,
after the rainfall, festival-goers had set up their sleeping bags in
a muddy parking lot next to some cars.
"I said, 'You know, someone is gonna get run right over,' because
with the mud everything was the same color," she remembers. "And
that's what happened. Someone who slept in the muddy parking lot got
run over and killed."
That someone was 17-year-old Raymond R. Mizzak, who was run over by a
tractor, according to an account in the Times Herald record of
Middletown (as reproduced in the book "Woodstock: Peace, Music and
Memories"), which collects festival stories and photos. One more
death is referenced in the article, and although a name is not given
the cause of death is listed as an overdose. Overall, there were
three deaths, Woodstock historian Michael Lang told the Denver Post
According to Bob Matthews, the longtime sound engineer for the
Grateful Dead, one of the overlooked aspects of the festival is the
fact that the rain could easily have caused more deaths among the
musicians, who were playing electrified instruments that may or may
not have been properly grounded.
"The electrical grounding hadn't been thought through to the point of
'What happens if it rains and we have all this mud?'" Matthews
recalls. "I remember Bob Weir jumping back five feet from electrical
shock when he went up to touch the microphone the first time."
The alleged births at Woodstock have been the source of such
speculation that the Associated Press recently devoted an entire
article to the subject, calling it "an unsolved and enduring
mystery." The story that at least one person was born started when
the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian prefaced his solo performance of
"Younger Generation" by saying that "there's a cat and I really don't
know his name, but I remember that (Woodstock announcer) Chip (Monck)
said his old lady just had a baby."
Monck, who now lives in Australia, says by e-mail "two were born,"
but also notes that he "was a bit busy to observe." He also related
that while some people have claimed over the years that they were
"Woodstock babies," eventually their stories "never pan out," as
evidenced by their birth records: "They later cop to the fact that
they thought it would be fun to have that on their list of credits."
Several attendees claim to have witnessed births, according to AP,
yet no birth records could be located. AP even put out the call that
anyone who is a "Woodstock baby" or "Woodstock mother" should contact
them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Putting the myths about births and deaths aside, Geffen and Loberfeld
say one enduring myth about Woodstock is true. That's the one about
the festival being mellow and harmonious. Says Geffen: "I didn't even
witness a harsh word or a raised voice."
"I was raised not to trust people and to be wary of strangers,"
Loberfeld adds. "And here were 500,000 of them who were being so nice
and so happy and just listening to the music and sitting in the mud.
It really gave me a different perspective of humanity."