Monday, December 10, 2007

Back to the Garden

I have a long-standing attitude of ambivalence, at best, with regard to the pursuit of, and prospects for, human colonisation of outer space. This has occasionally put me at odds with those of my g-g-generation who, like me, grew up in the ‘wonder years’ of the Apollo moon program.

I take a similarly jaundiced view about another great sacred cow of my generation, namely the Woodstock ‘Love Nation’ Festival of 1969. Happily I can claim some distance from the event, having only just turned twelve at the time; however, we baby-boomers are supposed to regard this event with great reverence, and even to think of it as having some real, seminal cultural significance.

Perhaps it does, although in an unintended way. Probably the best take I have read on the Woodstock phenomenon was by Julie Burchill in her essay “The Method Rhythm”, an extract of which follows. One may agree and disagree with many things Burchill writes, but here she has nailed the Hippies and the Woodstock ‘vibe’ perfectly.

The delusions of self-sufficiency harboured by the Hippies persisted beyond the point in their history when it became clear that the very existence of the Hippies was totally dependent on hand-outs from the straight world — Woodstock.

Although popular myth has long perceived Woodstock as the ultimate fulfilment of Hippie ideals and Altamont as the death of the dream, in reality it was Woodstock that most perfectly spotlighted the hypocrisies, helplessness and hapless lethargy of the Hippies.

Car-owning Hippies clogged up the highway to Woodstock in an eight-mile traffic jam, while a thunderstorm falling out of the August sky turned the site into a muddy bog. The police declared Woodstock “a disaster area”, and they were not wrong. ... In their rush to the promised swampland it had never occurred to the Hippies that their stomachs would not be kept as full as the family freezer. There was nothing to drink and no food in the land of plenty. Counterculture capitalists twenty-four-year-old investment broker John Roberts and twenty-five-year-old entrepreneur Mike Lang, the big daddies behind Woodstock, had been too busy rushing in the cameras and recording equipment to set up a single hot dog stand.

Soon the half a million jolly campers of Woodstock were starving — but help was at hand for the ravenous ravers. The local Women’s Group of the Jewish Community Centre spoonfed the frontiersmen of Utopia 30,000 sandwiches. Woodstock’s owner, middle-aged dairy farmer Mr Max Yasgur, donated huge quantities of milk and cheese to prevent the gurgling inmates of his farm from wasting away. Even the originally outraged residents of Woodstock warmed to the plight of the helpless Hippie nation when the prospect of turning a fast buck out of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius beckoned.

But most of all the Hippies had President Nixon’s Armed Forces to thank for helping them to stave off the pangs of hunger. Instead of saying “Let them eat love beads,” as might have been expected after all those charred draft cards, the Air Force was sent in with a small mountain of edible treats. Despite all the protests about the bombs, napalm and Agent Orange that the same Air Force was dropping on the Vietnamese, the peanut butter sure tasted swell. Manna from heaven, courtesy of President Richard M. Nixon.

When the playpen was dismantled at the end of the three-day fling — on the other side of the country, Sharon Tate had been dead for seven days, murdered by some longhairs from way back — the head of Monticello’s constabulary was full of praise: “Notwithstanding their personality, their dress and their ideas, they are the most courteous, considerate and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my twenty-four years of police work.”

The praise of the police for the Hippies was echoed by the Hippies’ praise of the Hippies — Woodstock was perceived by them as the stuff that the Birth Of A Nation is made of.

Any movement that celebrated an event like Woodstock as some kind of moral triumph made an event like Altamont inevitable.

  • Julie Burchill, Damaged Gods.
    Arrow Books, London, 1987. Pp. 42-7.



Blogger Father Park said...

You are working terribly hard at de-ilking yourself Jacob!

Mind you, the hippie "counter-culture" thing was not ever of any great interest. Woodstock was "over there" and over.

I'd add that the various Sunbury's did little for me either (aside from the music) nor Narrara.

I was more into bottle of Jacob's Creek and Oz Crawl at the Lake Jindabyne hotel by the early eighties (a particularly good night that one).

We will, though, have to disagree vehemently over the space travel thing. I retain the enthusiasm of those years...

11/12/07 8:38 AM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

Mass hippie 'counter-culture' was never much more than a fad... but with a terribly long, long lifespan. In fact, there're still pockets of it here and elsewhere in the world.

There were some interesting currents in counter-culture in the US and elsewhere during the period, but because these often involved having to make an effort, and unglamorous stuff like that, the only things that made mass-appeal were the beads, peace-signs, and other superficial trappings.

I think Sunbury was less "Love Not War" and more "Suck More Piss". Kind of a slightly less feral version of Altamont.

But as for space travel, I disagree. Strongly.

Oh yeah, we've been there...

11/12/07 2:30 PM  
Blogger Father Park said...

Space: a hugely expensive frontier.

These are (almost) the voyages of the space shuttle....whatever's now left.

Its thirty-year mission: to mess around in low-Earth orbit; to trap man in near-Earth space. To bodly go where man has gone for over thirty years!

For God's sake Jim! It's time for the Corbamite manoueveur

11/12/07 7:58 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

Thing is, without aerospace R&D we wouldn't have groovy stuff like plasma tv sets, etc.

However futile (sorry!) the endeavour may be, it drives all sorts of things like consumer toy development, employment, resource wars (which drives further things like consumer toy development, employment, resource wars (which drives...), etc.), etc.

Most of us would be living in thatched huts and wearing hessian sacks if it weren't for aerospace.

11/12/07 10:16 PM  

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