Please, no more Woodstocks

 

Watching a rather horrifying documentary on Netflix about Woodstock 99. The imdb reviews are scornful: it wasn’t that bad and they’re blaming men for it! Well, I don’t know who else you’re going to blame; you don’t see a seething mass of drunken shirtless women screaming WHOOO at the camera or trying to tear down the festival infrastructure because Limp Bizkit riled them up. 

I don’t remember any cultural impact of the even, aside from eye-rolling at trying to reprise the “Woodstock Spirit” of swaying to hippie sounds or tripping to Hendrix while you stink worse than you’ve ever stunk before, and totter off to a nearby copse to squat out whatever you ate the day before. The whole mystique is lost on me. It seems like the original was a nightmare of bad hygiene and music of varying qualities, subsequently regarded as a utopian moment for the high holy Boomer movement. I have an allergic reaction to all that stuff. 

The 90s was when I lost touch with contemporary rock, so the bands mean nothing to me. They’re mostly angry. Very angry. Loud and tight and tuneless. Headbanger shite. You look back and wonder: I don’t remember the 90s being this feral. But you get the sense of a youth culture that had completely decoupled from the civilization that gave them life and food and purpose, if they wanted it. Just RAAAAHHHHWWWWW dude culture, like the last horrible yawp before the internet fixed them all with a pin and everyone was anesthetized by a gaming console or a phone. 

It’s the old question: what are you so angry about? I don’t know, whaddya got? 

This is actually a stupid response that sounds cool, like many things that seem cool. I remember the rave-up moments of 80s concerts as positive, partly because we had actual melodies and varied song structure, but also because it was a release from all the anxieties of youth, great and mean. Punk had failed to take root, because Americans weren’t spotty wankers on the dole. Its energy was channeled into more interesting forms. More commercial, in some ways, but open to elaboration. Punk itself was a dead end. Put that stripped-down DIY idea in the hands of the Ramones, and you got exhilarating stuff that was just as raw, but also fun. Punk wasn’t fun. 

I was also watching a series about the Sex Pistols on Hulu, and it’s meh. The only thing that seems to come through with any degree of accuracy is the loathsomeness of Malcolm McLaren, who is portrayed here with supercilious camp. From the distance of four decades it looks quaint and amusing and refreshing – why, of course there was a rebellion against the Eagles and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and good thing we had these lads to break the niceties of the ossified culture! I suppose. But it was ugly music for losers, and ugly music for losers will always be manipulated by smarter people who want to do something shocking in the hopes of self-enrichment. 

You can, I suppose, draw a straight line from Buddy Holly crooning in a white suit to the goblins crouching on the stage spitting tuneless complaints through a curtain of stringy hair. But the masculine energy of the early days of rock was creative and romantic. The masculine energy on view in Woodstock ’99 is anarchic and destructive, and resulted in something that collapsed into filth and disease and scarcity  in two days. It was building up for a quite a while. You have to ask: why?

Oh, I think we know why. 

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  1. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    I don’t have much truck with music: four of the five concerts I’ve attended in my life were Billy Joel — and the last of those was in 1983.

    But as for the appeal of the original Woodstock, I think that’s pretty clear: hippy chicks. It was all fresh and new, the sexual revolution. Girls still half believed they’d be happy pretending they were as casual about sex as were the guys. (Spoiler: It still doesn’t work that way.)

    The drugs probably helped.

     

    • #1
  2. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I feel the same way about Woodstock as I do about Vietnam. 

    Eternally grateful I was old enough to witness, but too young to be tempted to participate. 

    • #2
  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I share your distaste, but could not say it as well! Anger without redeeming features & a rather pointless barbarism… I’d say, in addition, even before ’99, what started in Woodstock ended in Seattle, the acid turned to heroin, the hopes of transforming the world through some kinda love ended up with Cobain killing himself. The ’90s were the death knell of that idea that musicians are somehow prophets of American youth, possibly of mankind.

    Buddy Holly was a silly guy who sang high & you could dance to his pleasant, short songs. Like’im! Quite a different thing. Of course, even early rock’n’roll gave people ideas that got out of hand, but that’s on them–the electric guitars, the radio, the coast-to-coast stardom, then TV, all this sense of what power a kid could end up wielding…, with adults clearly not supervising anything, just as swept up as anyone else, & more oblivious.

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    James Lileks: I remember the rave-up moments of 80s concerts as positive, partly because we had actual melodies and varied song structure …

    Melodies. Harmonies. Counterpoint. Chord resolutions. Chords.

    Back then, the Punks played their instruments like they had never played them before. Now, the “musicians” play their instruments like they’ve never heard or seen anyone else play them either.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I could not agree more about all the horrible music and crowds from that era. 

    When she was in college in 1997, my oldest daughter (a flutist who gave it up, her mother is really sad to write), thirty years after Woodstock, really enjoyed the Lilith Fair music and concerts. I don’t think she went to any of the concerts, but some of the recordings were amazing. I was surprised to see some of the recordings listed on a classical music “CD club” website–remember those? :-)

    It was those concerts that catapulted Sarah McLachlan to stardom. This is her recording of “Angel” from the Canada Lilith Fair concert (it was a tour, not a single event). 

    The Newport Jazz Festivals were the inspiration for Woodstock, but they were not centers of filth and depravity the way Woodstock turned out to be. It appears to me that the Woodstock promoters took advantage of a small sleepy, too-trusting, board of selectmen in upstate New York. 

    • #5
  6. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Double post. Sorry Sorry.

    • #6
  7. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    I was done with music pretty much, and then I discovered what was happening in Japan and Korea. Some people find it sterile and corporate, but there is real craftsmanship involved in making a perfect pop record. And the power to make you feel things, like a music video you don’t need to know a word of Japanese to feel the gut-punch at the end.

    There’s still a little good music out there. I’d see these guys live any time! Not at a festival, though.

    • #7
  8. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Percival (View Comment):
    Now, the “musicians” play their instruments like they’ve never heard or seen anyone else play them either.

    It was an inevitable. Look at the way modern art is now literally just piles of cardboard boxes and lectures about dismantling whiteness, music has been likewise deconstructed and reduced to Cardi B making feral grunts about moistness in her ladyparts.

    If you want musicianship… melodies, chord structure, harmonies, counterpoint … look to the East.

    • #8
  9. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott
    @MichaelMinnott

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    I was done with music pretty much, and then I discovered what was happening in Japan and Korea. Some people find it sterile and corporate, but there is real craftsmanship involved in making a perfect pop record. And the power to make you feel things, like a music video you don’t need to know a word of Japanese to feel the gut-punch at the end.

    There’s still a little good music out there. I’d see these guys live any time! Not at a festival, though.

    Agreed, they still make good pop music in Asia.  Jazz and Classical also have an audience there.  That helps to nourish a culture and market for music in a mutually reinforcing way.  A major, underappreciated part of experiencing music is to grow up surrounded by it.  A memorable part of my childhood was the music my parents listened to.

    • #9
  10. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    MarciN (View Comment):
    The Newport Jazz Festivals were the inspiration for Woodstock, but they were not centers of filth and depravity the way Woodstock turned out to be. It appears to me that the Woodstock promoters took advantage of a small sleepy, too-trusting, board of selectmen in upstate New York. 

    Monterey Pop shows up on TCM from time to time, and I always watch it.  Some of the musical performances are quite good, and it’s a really nice time capsule.  

    The long-haired smelly San Francisco hippies of 1967 are cleaner and better dressed than the average college student of today.  And no tattoos.

     

    • #10
  11. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott
    @MichaelMinnott

    I suspect that much of the mystique of Woodstock was the concert film.  It’s easier to appreciate the music when you’re not stuck in the rain and muck of the actual concert.

    It also reminds me of watching The Omega Man with Charlton Heston.  There is a scene early on where he goes to a cinema in the abandoned city where he lives.  He puts on the Woodstock movie just for the crowd scenes to stave off his loneliness.

    • #11
  12. Brian Wyneken Member
    Brian Wyneken
    @BrianWyneken

    Yeah, like I was there, man.

    No, not the 1969 Woodstock or the equally idiotic 1999 version, but I did live in Rome NY for five years in the late 1980s. The closure of Griffiss AFB was a severe hit to the local economy likely leaving the community vulnerable and gullible enough to go along with this notion (not sure it ever reached the level of being a “plan”). Aside from my resentment of the lack of planning and care that led to the destruction of parts of the old airbase, I start with a strong bias. I’m a young baby boomer (more of the “Dazed and Confused” time than “Woodstock”) and for a good part of my lifetime have found many of those a half generation ahead of me to be the most tedious of all demographics insofar as they seem to stubbornly celebrate and claim a history in those years when the unraveling of our institutions was beginning to accelerate. Too many of these were the more senior (and condescending) types I had to deal with during various phases of my working life. In general, we never bonded.

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I’ve heard about Woodstock, though not back at the time of the event. It was not part of my life or of anybody that I know. 

    • #13
  14. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Percival (View Comment):

    James Lileks: I remember the rave-up moments of 80s concerts as positive, partly because we had actual melodies and varied song structure …

    Melodies. Harmonies. Counterpoint. Chord resolutions. Chords.

    Back then, the Punks played their instruments like they had never played them before. Now, the “musicians” play their instruments like they’ve never heard or seen anyone else play them either.

    Very, very well put!

    • #14
  15. kedavis Inactive
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    James Lileks: The 90s was when I lost touch with contemporary rock, so the bands mean nothing to me. They’re mostly angry. Very angry. Loud and tight and tuneless. Headbanger shite. You look back and wonder: I don’t remember the 90s being this feral. But you get the sense of a youth culture that had completely decoupled from the civilization that gave them life and food and purpose, if they wanted it. Just RAAAAHHHHWWWWW dude culture, like the last horrible yawp before the internet fixed them all with a pin and everyone was anesthetized by a gaming console or a phone. 

    Yes, there was a lot of actually good music in the 90s, but those people were never interested in it.  They were always navel-gazing about the “outre” stuff, which also existed but fortunately wasn’t nearly as popular.

    • #15
  16. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):
    I was done with music pretty much, and then I discovered what was happening in Japan and Korea. Some people find it sterile and corporate, but there is real craftsmanship involved in making a perfect pop record.

    Pop is grossly underrated and music made in protest to pop is frequently trash. 

    I suppose this must be true of almost any creative form. 

    • #16
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    It’s science!

    • #17
  18. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I was 16 in 1969, living with my father and stepmother ( my mother couldn’t ‘control’ me – another story, she couldn’t control herself- anyway) Many of my friends went to Yasgurs Farm. What people don’t remember adequately is that it was supposed to be a small 50,000 strong organized event, not some cultural volcano. I’d heard the news reports but my friends- who lost each other and all had different experiences- had interesting stories.

    Only about 10% of the revelers got to see or hear the music. But it was a random cultural experiment that went ‘right’ if you will. It did show that people could live (yes, in squalor) and little or no crime or violence. Massive drug-taking with minimal negative  results despite the one strain of ‘bad acid’.

    The artists who played Woodstock were certainly on the crest of creativity.

    Woodstock was an accident, and wasn’t just one experience. 
    I went to a similar event though, Watkins Glen Summer Jam with The Band, The Allman Brothers and Greatful Dead.

    Didn’t hear one note of music. But me and my buddy got very drunk on apple wine or Ripple, and fought in the mud for some reason.

    There must have been dozens of photographers – professionals with lense-swapping  and machine-gun shutters. Our pictures ended up in several magazines and newspapers. We were oblivious which made it more compelling.

    The promoters wanted the event to surpass Woodstock in attendance (and paid attendance) and the press was certainly there to document it. Sadly I can’t find any remnants of those public photos. I’d love to see them now. My buddy died several years later.

    But I had a lovely encounter with a very pretty gal. Those were the days.

    But there was nothing in either festival that was political. It was just kids having a good time.

    And it was a heathy rebellion of pristine structured living that was a bit overboard.

    I had no ride home and there were a lot of stragglers at the end of the festival there was one hippie co-op group who made food for everyone. So I stayed on for a few days.

    They were typical down-home California back to earth types. They had this huge tee-pee and I was with three girls and three guys. One of the girls (!) suggested we have an orgy. Everyone agreed. I forget the exact details, but while it sounded interesting at first, the application was immediately awkward. It wasn’t interesting to me on a visceral level and I quickly removed myself. So I’m proud to report that I walked out of my first orgy. I have standards!

    My experience through the days of hippiedom was that it was not a movement that was very political. 

    I consider Pet Townsend a hero for telling off Abby Hoffman publicly. It seeded my addled brain as a young man. Art and politics are oil and water.

    • #18
  19. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Yes, there was a lot of actually good music in the 90s,

    Yes. 

    • #19
  20. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Heck, one of my all-time favorite songs was released in 1997.

    • #20
  21. kedavis Inactive
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    Heck, one of my all-time favorite songs was released in 1997.

    One of the best albums ever made came out in 1994.

     

    • #21
  22. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    James Lileks: […] before the internet fixed them all with a pin and everyone was anesthetized by a gaming console or a phone. 

    Hmm… if only I could find a song to describe that …

    • #22
  23. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):
    There’s still a little good music out there. I’d see these guys live any time! Not at a festival, though.

    Not to go too far off-topic, but my affection for ADTR can’t be overstated. They sure look like they had a lot of fun making that video.

    They even wrote a nice song about their hometown.

    • #23
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