Monday, August 17, 2009



In the midst of all the hagiography surrounding the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a sober, sensible column on the subject. I sent him the following letter praising his insight yet taking issue with some of his points. I thought my readers might enjoy my observations on this reportedly epochal event:


Hi Neil,

I enjoyed your 8/16/09 piece “Here’s why I hate Woodstock,” agreed with almost all of it, but still found some nits to pick.

The Woodstock Generation (Note my choice of words; I am certainly not castigating our entire generation, but only the “Woodstock Generation,” those who, whether they were there or wished they had been there, look upon Woodstock as potentially the greatest experience of their lives and certainly an epoch defining event.) is best characterized by self-congratulation, self-adulation, self-aggrandizement, and blatant hypocrisy. Note that this is the crowd who spoke out against crass materialism and castigated their greatest generation parents for their supposed senseless status consciousness and then went on to pursue investment banking, law, or politics, professions from which they engineered the financial machinations and pursued the pointless, senseless, ostentatious spending that pushed the economy their parents and grandparents built over the cliff. While there were exceptions (The “album cover” couple, people who, according to an earlier Sun-Times story, did not appear to come from wealth and who went on to live normal, productive lives of service to each other, their children, and their communities, are especially interesting and, I wish, representative.), one can safely conclude that the largest chunk of the Woodstock Generation was composed of children of privilege looking for yet another lark and found it first at Max Yasgur’s farm where they heard some admittedly great music and did some apparently wild drugs, and then in places like Wall Street and Washington, D.C., where they plundered the very foundations of the wondrous, powerful economy their parents had bequeathed them in order to pile up more useless junk in a vain effort to look down their noses at the “tacky” types who constitute what they condescendingly describe as “middle America.”

However, your ironic dismissal of the fact that 400,000 of these types got together in August of 1969 and didn’t kill each other as “a big flippin’ deal” is misguided; it was a big deal. Your comparisons to Pope John Paul II’s 1979 Mass at Grant Park, which 1.2 million people attended peacefully, or this weekend’s Air and Water Show, which even more attended, are lame. The Pope’s Mass was attended by a distinctively different crowd than that which attended Woodstock. The communicants at the Papal Mass were, by and large, far older than the attendees at Woodstock. Most were Catholic and respectful both of the Pope and of the strictures their faith (or that they thought their faith) imposed on them. If they were high at all, they were high on the Holy Spirit and, in many cases, the notion that one of their countrymen had become Christ’s Vicar on earth. The demographics at the Air and Water Show may have been closer to those of the Woodstock crowd, but alcohol and drugs were restricted and/or banned and law enforcement was heavy. Further, the Papal Mass was a one day event and the Air and Water Show can best be described as two one day events. Woodstock was a three day event. The participants, performers and “concert” goers alike, were kids with little innate sense of restraint. They were high on a lot of things, but the Holy Spirit wasn’t one of them, unless takes a cavernously broad view of the workings of the Spirit. Law enforcement was, if present at all, woefully inadequate. A bunch of kids doing drugs and drinking beer and pop wine with no cops around to spoil the fun; for what does that sound like a prescription? Yet, things didn’t get too far out of hand and no one, as you point out, got killed. That was the result, one can conclude, of an enormous, and uncharacteristic, display of restraint from the Woodstock crowd.

Would that the Woodstock Generation had shown similar restraint, and civility, in its later years.

Keep up the good work, Neil. I’m going to copy this to the Letters to the Editors section just in case they would like to run it.

Mark Quinn


ConnectingTheDots said...

Interesting blog. Arguably, the biggest legacy of Woodstock is its huge impact on the real children of the sixties: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). This USA TODAY op-ed speaks to the relevance today of the sixties counterculture impact on GenJones:

Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forcast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

The Pontificator said...


The Pontificator said...