Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock and its Aftershocks

So much has been written about Woodstock, it's an open question whether anything of value can still be taken from it. In reality, it was the death knell of Aquarian idealism as we understand it.

It was also the last, great explosion of a truly Dionysian counterculture. A lot of these great musicians got their start playing all-night raves in small dancehalls and clubs- a truly underground phenomenon. In San Francisco and other cities, the music was the spear's point of a multimedia experience that united a relatively small, well-educated and culturally-aware vanguard who were just naive enough not to see the wolves at the gate, or to realize that many- if not most - people don't want to be enlightened.

Personally, Woodstock wasn't really my scene- I would have rather been at Monterey Pop. That was before all of the really bad vibes set in; the bad drugs, the assassinations, the Mansons, the Weathermen and the Angels, you name it. At Monterey, kids still felt that if only the rest of the world could feel what they felt in their music, then their lives too would be changed. Of course, this was the naivete of a generation that knew no real hardship, and to this day sees itself as the apex of American civilization. But once the Establishment started to push back in '68, things changed. And Woodstock was soon followed by the horror show at Altamount.

From what I've been told, Haight Street and Sunset Strip were nightmare zones by 1969, besieged by runaways and thrill-seekers, quickly followed by an army of thugs, sickos and pushers ready to feed on the sheep. Acording to Mikal Gilmore's article "Summer of Loss," it had been headed that way since 1967. The Diggers, who represented the original SF freaks, went so far as to declare "The Death of Hippie" mere weeks after the Summer of Love ended.

It's become a truism among certain Conspiranoid sects that it was all a setup from the start, but that's not how it works. The countercultures that resonate arise from a handful of marginal types who can't find a place in the popular culture of the time. They coalesce and build it all up from scratch. Several attempts at doing so have failed, but the ones who succeed often become easy targets for the ripoff artists. And if they're really unlucky, fodder for the spooks.

At the very least, yesterday's rebels often become today's superstars and tomorrow's establishment. Those are just the facts of life. If you're smart and talented and charismatic, someone is going to try to make a buck off of that. Very few artists can resist the siren call of success forever. Particularly when they have expensive drug habits to support.

Much has been made out of the military and intelligence lineage of a lot of these artists, overlooking the fact that the entire country was militarized 20 years before, and nearly everyone's father was in the military. If your father was smart or media-savvy, he ended up in intelligence or in the officer corps. This argument also overlooks the obvious reality of generational rebellion- certainly true in the case of Jim Morrison, who was completely estranged from his family.

Which is not to say that they were not wolves set among the sheep- that's been going on since countercultures first appeared. But the whole "Sixties Counterculture as psyop argument" comes originally from the extreme right wing (Birchers, LaRouchies, etc), and their attitudes are predetermined by their hatred of anything progressive or liberal. And unfortunately, a lot of these types are still out there, posing as counterculture rebels while peddling regurgitated disinfo.

Of course, LSD was at the center of all of this, which is a whole other story.
There can be no reasonable argument that Gottlieb and his MK Ultra boys weren't involved in LSD experiments, and were possibly using the drug to send the various youth movements off the rails.

I never liked LSD but a lot of people took it responsibly and have been enriched by that experience. It could well be that those positive experiences were the threat, so the experiments and the bad drugs (like STP and angel dust) flooding the streets were part of a kind of aversion therapy meant to turn people off to whatever revelations the drug could offer.

But it could also be that there a lot of stupid people out there who can't control themselves. As Robert Anton Wilson said, in the Sixties the positive drug revolution in the colleges was derailed by the idiot drug revolution in the streets. Which, one could argue, was the idea all along. Whatever the case, the media were certainly always on hand to whip up hysteria.

When I was a young punk rocker, I was extremely resentful of Woodstock and the whole generational mythology around it. It seemed like a great big party that didn't bother to pick up after itself- and left behind a whole lot of trash. And being a student of counterculture history, I was always irritated that the Baby Boomers acted as if they created all of it, when they merely consumed what the media provided them.

The musicians were largely war babies, a different breed altogether from the 50's born Boomers. And they were drawing on musical idioms created before even they were born. For my money, the people who I felt really laid it down in the Sixties- Kubrick and Kirby and Roddenberry, to name just a few - were of a different generation altogether. And previous countercultures like the Dadaists and the Victorian occultists were a lot more rigorous in their rebellion, and risked a lot more than their 60s descendants.

And most of the vaunted social experiments of the time ended in failure. The lip service paid to starry-eyed idealism (and flat-out bullshit) you see everywhere in the Woodstock documentary is as wince-inducing as seeing these kids roll around in septic mud. And tragic, in light of where it often led.

The nightmarish end to the hippie dream- Jefferson Airplane at Altamount

But for better or worse, the "Sixties" equal "counterculture" to most people. And maybe the last gasp of it, since what we see now are endlessly mutating subcultures. But there were a lot of ideas that followed in the aftermath- the personal computer movement, alternative communities, health consciousness- that are still viable. The next steps we need to take will follow in that example, never mind 'revolution' and the 'masses' and the rest of it. That has always led to disaster and always will.

In the end, the Sixties left us a lot of great music, and not just the hoary old standards you hear on classic rock radio.
I've been listening to a lot of Sixties Psych, and the depth of talent even in bands I'd never heard of is mind-blowing. We'll probably never see that kind of embarrassment of riches again, but it's worth working towards a building a culture that at least has the potential to do so. And to get there, I think we all need to build strength in mind, body and spirit. And perhaps at some point, begin to create intentional communities along loose cultural affinities, just as countercultures have always done throughout history.


  1. 09 has been very aquarian/60s esque. Now that weve made another jump were entering some 70s resonance at it seems, Time Magazines remembering the 70s, jackson 5 and farrah fawcett. its been interesting, Thanks for all the great work!

  2. True enough but the noose or gyre is tightening and the riffs are shrill and empty. I never did catch on. It's all reverb for me. I only find out what happened many years after the fact and this post is exactly what I mean. Now if you would just throw this time machine into full thrust, we could all go to heaven in a little deuce coup.

  3. You touched on some great points, and as follower of Reichs methods (as well as Jung's although there is a different approach, they still deal with a "background consciousness" manifesting in the foreground.) I must agree strongly on the points about a "revolution" not being manageable by cultural shift, rather change comes through individuation that one gains from dealing with the psyche, and by natural extension the outer physical. I see the "faux" counterculture people towing the Obama religion close behind them for their little safety net and it shows that the psychological bond created through a systemic cascade of culture trumps the little twists and turns of the so called "counter-cultures"...and it proves the RIGIDITY of the human condition.

  4. Eric, you must let the music empower you. It is too bad, so sad that you were unable to consume the moment of the experience. I was young in the Hendrix era, however I put the good rock music on for a sock hop in Highschool. It took about 1 minute before it was discarded. I was part of the green revolution in my school. Bonanza High school in Bonanza, Oregon. Oregon is a state of mind. Much a-head of the rest of the USA in many respects. I lived in the moment of woodstock. I was 15 years old. The music took hold of my essence. Tuesday afternoon meant alot to me. Hail rock and roll. Hail Isis! Dennis from Oregon.

  5. Sometimes I wish I had the voice of Alan Arkin so I could tell you Chris,"Hey, this is good stuff." Really looking forwards to your up and coming book on music Chris.

  6. This reminds me very much of Dave McGowan's ongoing series: Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation which can be found at the top of
    pretty interesting stuff.

    Eric - have you heard from cd recently?

  7. I actually gave a few presentations on generational differences in the workplace, because I always saw it as an underlying cause for contention that no one talked about. Having studied the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, I am convinced that the real counterculture came from people born later in the "Greatest Generation" (1901-1924... maybe starting circa 1915), as well as the "Silent Generation" (1925-1942). Seeing the names of Kubrick, Kirby, and Roddenberry just made me think of that. But pick any other name one tends to associate with "the '60s," and most of them will come from one of those generations. Admittedly a very broad net, but it underscores how very few Boomers made names for themselves as truly countercultural provocateurs.

    In the meantime, might I suggest X Saves the World? After all, somebody has to separate the wheat from the chaff.


  8. Two Rock' n' Roll Groups

    If there is such a thing as the astrology of rock'n'roll, then Uranus' stationing twice on Algol 1940-42 has to be pretty central. In the 1940/41 war-period, John Lennon and Bob Dylan were born with Uranus on Algol, with six months separating their births. In the late fifties Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe became friends at art college in Liverpool, and may have been lovers. Born close in time, they had a Uranus-Uranus conjunction over the demon-star. It was Sutcliffe who proposed the name 'Beetle' [sic] for the group that was gathering around himself and Lennon.

    In Hamburg, in May 1961, a drugged-out Lennon, "seized with one of his fits of uncontrollable rage", beat up his aesthete friend, who ended up on the pavement being kicked repeatedly in the head by Lennon - wearing his pointed 'winklepicker' shoes.[25] Sutcliffe lost consciousness, and Lennon ran off in a panic.[26] It gradually became evident that the former was somehow afflicted, and then alas that he was dying, which happened on 10th April 1962. The post-mortem ascertained the cause of death as a brain tumour, and revealed an indentation below the ear, next to the brain injury, the result of a traumatic incident.

    Stuart Sutcliffe and
    John Lennon in 1960

    Within months of this death, the Beatles as we know them had come together: they could only form, once Sutcliffe had departed. Only years later did Lennon confess his haunting secret: his inner torment he expressed in Cold Turkey, his terrible guilt in Instant Karma. His career was framed between the death of his best and closest friend in 1962, and himself being killed in 1980, under equally spooky circumstances. If the lunar nodes are concerned with fate and destiny, their 18.6-year cycle measured out the interval between the death of 'fifth Beatle' Stuart Sutcliffe by Lennon on 10th April 1962 and Lennon's death by Chapman on 7th December 1980 - to within one degree. Instant karma came and got him. I guess the Hamburg fight was in mid-May, as the Sun transited Algol, and the two natal Uranus positions of Sutcliffe and Lennon. Without Lennon's terrible act, the Beatles could not have existed.

  9. I am planing to do a post about the 60's "counter culture" movement soon. I always have to explain to these rich self concerned "pseudo-hippies" how the whole culture (counter) was really birthed out of a bunch of white and blur collar kids at Berkley. The sit-ins f these "well to do preppies" who eventually brought guitars etc... Blown out of portion by the media and interpreted in many different ways. But I do think some of these had a positive effect (but I don't think that was the medias intention) besides over-blown "hippie" fashion and pure marketing fads it was the first time ever in history that the youth realized they could start their own culture from scratch (a lot of people see the 60' "hippie" movement as collectivism, I personally think it was about individualism.)

    I just got into an "argument" when someone was on myspace pushing Hendrix as anit-war. I had to dig out all the pro-Vietnam war quotes from Air-Force vet Jimmy Hendrix. Like most things in life nowadays people don't care to do research on anything before talking about it.

    Anyways the LSD thing, have you ever heard about the Jerry GarCIA connection? There is info out there and some declassified documents that show how he was a shill. "I personally never understood how people can credit them for anything and not the Beatles, they are rubbish IMO".

    Chew on this Article from the Washington Post
    "Obama Meets PRIVATELY With The Dead"

    PS I was gonna post this in the Guitar post but it's just as good here, I guess. I was watching this documentary and they were kinda getting on about how Pythagoras and how He trusted that musical notes and the orbital distances between planets would have a relation (Pythagorean scale)etc...

    then they had this great interview (I great find on the internet) with this guy Michael Lee Hill (the artist personally selected by Steve Vai as the winner on the Ibanez/Steve Vai/Tonos guitar challenge) that has been contacted and has filmed a ton of UFO footage.

    I found the footage on youtube but it's an interview from a news channel and they are kinda being ass' about the whole thing but it was still kinda interesting.

    MLH / Lake Erie UFO's on CBS ACTION 19 News!

    Peace TQO

  10. 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:

  11. I never bought the "Altamont nightmare ending the Woodstock dream" meme. People died at Woodstock too.

    Like you say, that era's counterculture has given us much, just as counterculture does.

    I think what destroyed the hippies is the same thing that made them so popular in the first place: Trendy seeking boomer yuppies. Their the same reason the US has two "viable" political parties.

  12. "At the very least, yesterday's rebels often become today's superstars and tomorrow's establishment."

    Preach, brother!

    What your critically insightful (and brilliant) post sparked in me was the idea of radicalism.

    The tone I'm accumulation is that the Woodstock-ers are taking way too much credit for transforming cultural attitudes, positions, and their objects.

    It begs the question, what is so radical about acid trips, flower power, and peace signs? And what critical thinking and transformation mean, and are those two things in fact, radicalism?

    You mentioned Roddenberry. Which after I read Illustrated Man, would agree with your sentiments. I think he did what I mention above not just with that collection of short stories but with the other stories he created. Whether they be on paperback or the television screen.

    And I guess I'm still trying to conceptualize who were the radicals and how did they change the sociopolitical climate of yesteryear on to today? Clearly reminants of their ideologies remain, so is there a particular point of origin or just a cyclical events with maybe a shove forward but not much.

    Based on government intervention and hegemonic appeal.

  13. Interesting what was also in the news today, happen on 7/23 (that's my blogs sync numbers)

    New Jersey Homeowner Calls Cops on Bob Dylan
    "Forty Years After Woodstock, Bob Dylan Is Mistaken for a Homeless Man"

  14. Wow. wow. Chris- as you've told me before, you're always brilliant :-)
    But this really is some of your best stuff. Seriously. Thanks for such an insightful and balanced quick breakdown of this Woodstock/60's/ culturebash thing we're all trying to get our heads around. It seems some real art and intellectual work got done during that period, DESPITE the battle with the illuminists and the Powers That Be. Sure they worked to do their dirt behind the scenes. But they weren't completely in control, and they never can be.
    I especially took note of your mention of Kubrick and Roddenberry - two ordinary men who managed to grab the wheel and steer the giant ship of modern culture, and who, for better or worse, continue to do so even now. Super nice analysis, my friend. You've avoided the silly hype of the corporate media on this topic, and instead provided heartfelt insight.

  15. Indras- As I like to say it's all happening at the same time. The Media Beast lets nothing that can be packaged and sold die.

    Orgone- Yes, I have no time for it, it's all so predictable and scripted. I just wish there was a way to tune all of the noise out- it's so pervasive. You try to talk to people who buy into these political charades and they have no concept of thinking outside of those prefab boxes.

    Dennis- Like I said, the music is here and its forever. And there is so much to discover, past the tiny handful of songs the radio plays. Music is its own power, which is why its one of the few things I trust.

    Michael- Alan Arkin! Like from The In-Laws? That's a great voice.

    Jolyon- Yeah, I know his work. I'll have to dig in and see if there's any interesting high weirdness in there, outside of the usual conspiracy stuff.

    Jason- Re:generations- One of the major problems is what's been done to the schools, especially in the past 30 years. You have a lot of talent in this new generation - the first to be raised almost entirely in daycare- and a pretty amiable mindset, but not a lot on their minds. Maybe because they've been entertained since birth.

    Eric- One myth about the 60s is the John Lennon myth. He was a brilliant phony. He talked about peace and love but could be violent and abusive. If nothing else he was profoundly self-centered. I've read a lot of Beatles and Lennon bios and none support the myth, which was largely created by Yoko. I love the Beatles but it was a group, not Lennon's backup band as they came to be seen by some.

    C- It's like those great unknown bands- where the media pointed its camera (like at those rich kids at the sit-ins) was itself part of an agenda. Not everyone was a yippie or a flower child, either. The media often mistook fashion (long hair, jeans) for some overarching agenda. What interests me is the music and the art and the discovery- that's what lasts. Not the "politics" or the "lifestyle."

    HF500- That's me! I'll have to read that.

    davidly- I think most people from the time admit that the Manson thing and Altamount really put the lid on it. But nothing dies- it just changes form.

    Ashlee- What is radical to me is working every day to travel your own path and share your experience with others. To refuse to be defined by other people's labels. Not jumping on someone else's bandwagon. We've seen that this past year, no?

    Thrace- Thank you very much, my friend. Real art and culture defines itself. The BS fades away, no matter how hard they try to keep it afloat. There was a lot of prefab nonsense then too, but it's mostly forgotten now. It's interesting how a lot of the original hippies left the cities in the late 60s and tried to set up alternative communities. It's very hard to sustain that today, and even then most of them didn't last long. A lot of them tried too hard to "experiment." Maybe a lot of what went on the can be considered an experiment in hindsight. I hope people wont look back in the future and see it as the last gasp of resistance to total conformity.

  16. Howe and Strauss don't discuss Generation Jones, but it is certainly a phenomenon worth noting. Demographically speaking, they are Boomers. Nevertheless, Howe and Strauss believe that Xer attitudes (or, when they wrote their initial book on generations, "13er" attitudes) can be traced back to those born as early as 1961... the latter portion of Generation Jones.

    Thinking about X-Files from a generational perspective, it all makes sense. Chris Carter and David Duchovny are of that Boomer/Joneser demographic. As for characters, both Mulder and Scully perfectly bookend that late (demographic) Boomer/Generation Jones/early Xer transitional period (1961-1964). Gillian Anderson is firmly an Xer.


  17. I just want to say I think this was a brilliant post Chris. I agree with pretty much everything you say. The Disneyfication of Woodstock I too find grating, sure a lot of the people there were interested in free-thinking and self expression, but I think lots of them were just about easy sex and getting wasted.

    I dunno if you've read Revolution in the Head by Ian Macdonald, but it includes a great essay about the 60's thats well worth reading.

    I think LSD maybe gives a snapshot of a possible reality, but is also a very psychologically risky endeavour and not a good idea to form a revolution around.

    That being said I think the sixties were amazing in the way all artforms excelled and cross pollinated (ie Salvador Dali painting while The Pretty Things jammed or the Floyd working with Michelangelo Antonioni.) Aside from the horizons expanding in pop and film, the art world and jazz scenes also evolved hugely.

    I dunno, I kind of think we lost something since then. Compared to todays pop music so much of the 60's stuff seem so playful and engaded philosophically and politically no matter how naive some of it seems.

    And I love how on most of the albums by big names from the 60's (Hendrix, The Stones, The Byrds, The Beatles etc) they let their (often tone deaf!)drummers sing a song. You dont find that generosity of spirit so much these days methinks.

    But yeah, thanks for a great post Chris.