To the editors:
A note to Michael Miner regarding his “Turn to the Tribune” (Hot Type, August 25).
Retrospectives of the Woodstock music festival have tended to divide themselves into two camps. There are the bashers and the revelers. The bashers see Woodstock as the culmination of everything that was wrong with the decade of the ’60s; the revelers, as the flower of everything that was right.
Beneath these two seemingly contrary positions lies a very solid consensus, all the more remarkable for its inscrutability. Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that the bashers and revelers tend to agree that Woodstock was the culmination of something–a poorly defined something, wrongly thought to be synonymous with the “spirit” of the ’60s, and having virtually died with the death of that decade a few months later, certainly buried no later than the date of the final U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.
Thus whether Woodstock gets bashed or fondly recollected from twenty years down the road of American history, it is by identifying the really significant achievements of the ’60s with this one particular music festival–as if the mass dissidence of those times could somehow reach its fulfillment at a three day, open air Rock concert!–that the bashers and the revelers perpetuate a sort of swerve from the main political lesson of the ’60s–namely, the democracy of the streets, the organizing to achieve a real voice in society, and populism in general–and thereby spawn that entire industry of false lessons we see typified in the recent “We Remember Woodschlock” stuff.
Quite obviously, there’s more than one way to trivialize the ’60s. But one of the most common ways is to agree that an open air Rock concert stands as the signature event of the decade. Once this consensus has been propagated, it really doesn’t matter whether one bashes or revels in the recollection of the event. The entire decade can then be flushed down the memory hole. And along with it, its authentic lessons. The guys who produced the movie, Woodstock, might as well have called it “Port-O-San,” as they once joked. That’s precisely where the focus on the Woodstock music festival is intended to dispatch the decade.