Woodstock and the Legacy of Tomorrows Children
Friday evening, Sunday in the afternoon…What have you got to lose? I’ve got an answer…I’m going to fly away…What have I got to lose? – CSN, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Woodstock (and beyond)
Time is one of the most powerful drugs man has invented. To write our history, we demarcate the passage of events through a series of happenings that are pinpointed with pegs which label its place in the temporal zone. Whether we, as a collective body of humanity, care to admit or it or not, the events we have stored in our little time machines, often on stone, parchment rocks, or enormously well-crafted pyramids of information, create the overwhelming impression that we are a fairly arrogant species, a species bent on recording our progress, and our accomplishments as if some wise overlord, or future generation, will look back and say, “Well, far out, man.”
In the case of the pyramids, one may have a point. Whether those monuments to earthly beings, or celestial star maps to Orion residents, were, indeed, crafted with the help of alien intelligence, is beside the point. Of all of the human endeavors of a physical nature, one is hard-pressed to think of a greater feat than those Egyptian monoliths, or South American, for that matter, clear across the globe, with no communication between cultures. Yes, let’s throw in the giant figures on Easter Island, and the odd ceremonial and/or astrological beasts known as Stonehenge, as another ‘what the fuck?’ feat.
But there were two events in 1969 that cemented an American need to conquer both inner and outer space within the human experience. In July, three astronauts traveled to the moon, and returned to earth as triumphant heroes who had stretched the boundaries of extraterrestrial exploration. In August, 500,000 ventured to a 300-acre farm in upstate New York, and returned to their lives as the keepers of a legend that has grown much larger than themselves. That legend is a weird thing as those that either attended, or were on the cusp of its realm (i.e. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, who was there and captures a bit of the festival in his work) sometimes appear to underestimate its ethereal essence, grounding the festival in…well, the rain and mud, and lack of food, water, and politics.
Yesterday’s hippie generation offered a promise of a better today forged by Tomorrow’s Children. But in many respects, the disorganized agenda created at the festival known as Woodstock over three days in August 1969, seems woefully lost on many of that period, not to mention the generations that have been spawned by its heady legacy. Some bands dropped rotten eggs at the festival—the Grateful Dead were victims of many unfortunate factors, but they were never really part of this particular peace and love vibe, anyway. Some played epic sets that have been interpreted in multiple ways—The Who’s Roger Daltrey remembers the incredible sunrise during a moment of Tommy-infused epiphany, and his band mate Peter Townshend only has negative memories of the entire experience. While some reached such a truly epic height that their only option was a quick trip down to earth—Jimi Hendrix who would die a year later after his rock god performance closing the festival, and Sly & the Family Stone would begin to disintegrate as an artistic force due to the narcotic excesses of its eccentric genius group leader, Sly Stewart. Some just plain endured and continue to this day exuding a wonderfully sublime perfection despite whatever hardships, which includes Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Carlos Santana. 1969 may have come and gone, 40 years dead, but nothing seems to change the timeless quality of the music created by those acts.
And to make this as plain and simple as possible in these very post-acid and culturally-traumatic times, it was all about the music back in August 1969. Woodstock was not the Dawn of a New Era, an Aquarius where the Youth of the World would Unite to End the Tyranny of the Older Generations as foreseen by those that were hip in those days. No, Woodstock was the End of a Dream, with its own William Blakesque uppercase symbology, and all of the bad trips and lack of sustenance and mad fucking apocalyptic rain cannot change the fact that the music is what happened, and it was never going to sound as good as it did back in August 1969.
Volumes and volumes have been written about the musical heritage enshrined at Woodstock. There were some shit sets by a handful of acts, but the tapes and films make a fairly powerful statement—the enduring legacy of the so-called Tomorrow’s Children is that their music was better than yours, man. If art is in the eyes, ears, and minds of the beholder, than one is still hard-pressed to find another generation that fostered such a crowning and central achievement as Woodstock. For once, the young people put on an event with a laidback spirit and a utopian plan, and despite all of the problems from people storming the fences and getting in for free (uh, everyone after 186,000 who attended, that is), to the lack of politics (politics and dope don’t mix, man; bad argument, rock scribes), and the absence of Dylan (Woodstock was put on to get Bob out of his upstate New York house and back on stage, but he was already lost to this generation; no doubt, unknown during the fast-moving Sixties timeframe, but solidified with his series of country rock excursions that sidestepped his acid rock image in a cowardly way. If one wanted an honest troubadour, they had him in Arlo Guthrie, who was the real son of Woody Guthrie, and a more honest artist, as well).