I've been beating up on the legend of Woodstock pretty good lately. As much as I downplay the value of the festival itself, I’ve never doubted the accomplishments of that generation. It showed that mass action can stop a war, it launched the organic food and healthy living movement, and in its quest for global information sharing (as in The Whole Earth Catalog), set the tone for the creation of the Web.
Bruce Pollock has written 12 books on music, interviewed a couple of hundred musicians, written several hundred lyrics, turned out at least 100 columns for a newspaper in New York, produced nearly a hundred record compilations, founded and edited exactly 100 issues of a top music magazine, and published an annual reference book on songs for 17 years. He wrote the following in celebration of his book, “By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock Revolution of 1969.”
“It was a time of euphoria and devastation, freedom and assassination, revolution and retribution, moonwalks and sit-ins, love-ins and race riots, sex, drugs and guns. It was the 1960s. The Kennedy coronation in 1960 promised glamour, hope and change; the return of Richard Nixon in 1968 ended all that silliness. In state after state idyllic college campuses became terrorist cells, inner cities went up in flames, families were torn asunder, as the drumbeat of
“Popular music tried to drown out the drums of war. Graduating from high school in 1963 and ‘64 and ’65, the rock and roll of sock hops and malt shops, surfing and going steady gave way to an edgier, angrier sound, foretelling the end of innocence and the eve of destruction. For the first rock generation, the times were a-changing and we wanted the world…now! Starting late in 1966, FM radio carried this message from coast to coast, working its way up from underground, on the back of the expanding album market, with AM radio and the 45, the outmoded status quo, giving way in its wake. Through the visions and violence of 1968, the cracks in the dream turning to chasms, it held out the last remaining olive branches of hope—or was it refuge—to its burgeoning constituents, broadcasting the music of the future from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, the Doors, the Dead, the Airplane, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Mother Earth, Moby Grape, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Velvet Underground, the Mothers of Invention, the MC5, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, Funkadelic and the Fugs.
“After sitting out the decade on the sidelines, Richard Nixon’s mission upon election was to restore order to the chaos, even if, as his crony in the governor’s mansion in California told a cheering throng, “It took a bloodbath.” And so, as the bloody year of 1969 unfolded, Aquarius fell on the counter culture. While the crucial musicians still issued albums like manifestos, as their draft eligible brothers tried to live the music in the streets, the government escalated its assault, here and overseas.
“Holding to the last to the music that was supposed to set them free, at one mad outdoor party after another, from Miami to Denver and from Woodstock to Altamont, at least it could be said, and nowhere better than in this blistering book, that a generation went down swinging.”
He’s wrong on that last point. That generation isn’t gone. Every time you vote in opposition to the Iraq War or munch an organic carrot while surfing the Web, you’re feeling its influence.
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