After a night of drinking, it is a common activity amongst my friends to settle down in a common room and watch the Woodstock DVD. If it is early enough, we will continue to drink while watching, and will watch the whole thing through. Other times we skip to our favorite performances. We always skip the Who, who play, inexplicably, like a Poison cover band, and often we skip right on past Joan Baez, unless we are feeling menstrual. We fall silent for Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix, comment on Arlo Guthrie’s youth and always, always flip out with Joe Cocker as he dissolves into shuddering paroxysms in his euphoric rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” As 20-somethings, we are the same age, if not older, than most of the audience at the Woodstock concert. Our hair, try as we might to grow it, is perpetually shorter. Despite our attempts not to shower, we are perpetually cleaner, and in spite of our greatest efforts as devil-may-care young men, we are perpetually eloquent, maintained, savvy, tasteful. Our trashcans are replaced daily and our laundry cleaned every week.
We have seen Jim Belushi’s rendition of Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and we have attempted renditions ourselves. Here is what we say when we watch the Woodstock DVD:
“Imagine hearing a PA announcement that the communal acid is bad.”
“Imagine being Arlo Guthrie, just like…Arloin’ out night and day. Hard.”
“Does Richie Havens have top teeth?”
“I knew a guy could roll a joint that fast, just like BAM! Rolled. Here’s a joint. Smoke this, you know, smoke this joint I rolled.”
“Because it looks like he doesn’t have a tooth in his mouth, but he’s singing like a guy with teeth.”
“I take time with my joints. Put some artistry into them shits. In general, I try to appreciate the moment.”
It is often asserted in political conversation amongst us 20-somethings that the liberal dream must be maintained so that the political reality of “war by other means” can be carried out in good faith. “I am not a neo-con,” we say, “but I am willing to admit political realities.” While our parents settle under their comforters, reminiscing about Freedom, Love, Joy, orgasms of varied tones and colors, we young men and women are facing reality with measured sobriety. Liberalism is a friendly fantasy. If we want to sound skeptical, or to flavor our conversation with a polite dash of exclusivity, we may say that liberalism is a necessary fantasy.
When I see Woodstock on the television, I see a beneficial functionality. Contrast the swaying tie-dye to the gray babushkas of the Soviet bloc. Of course we won! Liberalism is the candy coating that attracts people to Our Side, turns people against Their Side. We smoke pot! We dance! We have a naughty counter-culture! Liberalism! Don’t believe me? Watch the Woodstock DVD.
See Joe Cocker wigging out? Would Stalin let you wig out like that?
Would Woodstock have been possible without McNamara? The question should cause an awful trembling, but instead we 20-somethings calmly answer: nope.
“When I roll joints, I like to put a little honey on the joint, crisp that shit in the microwave.”
“Crosby, Stills and Nash? I mean good, yes, but also weak, simultaneously.”
“Tastes almost exactly like honey, but weedy.”
“I wonder if Crosby, Stills and Nash had street cred, with all the, like, falsettos.”
“Crosby, Stills and Nash are the Bonethugs of Woodstock. Crazy cred.”
“Zeus smokes honey joints high on Mount Olympus.”
At moments in the DVD, during the many invaluable shots of the audience, I ask myself, ‘Are they reminiscing at the moment of the event?’ At what point did the audience decide that they were partaking of the eternal? At the conclusion of the concert? When the U.S. Army flew in? The moment they saw video cameras?
How does my memory of Woodstock differ from somebody who was actually there? I surely have a more accurate conception. I have the DVD.
Wittgenstein, who was smart, wrote: “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.” Perhaps a 20-something Woodstocker quoted that line to a female Woodstocker before dancing around her and dragging her to his tent. When I hear that line I can only grin with a grin that is itself a terrifying caricature of stagnant cleverness. Where the fuck is silliness? I ask that question with all the violence I can muster, which is frightfully little.
“Why Jefferson Airplane? Not like the name, I mean why the phenomenon at all? Jefferson Airplane is so self-righteously trippy, it’s like a moralistic acid-head.”
“I hate moralistic acid-heads.”
“Worst kind of acid-head, no question. No question.”
“I like Jefferson Airplane.”
“You like Joan Baez, you menstrual.”
“Do too, I hear you singin’ it.”
“You hum that Baez, I hear you. Just hummin’ away.”
When I watch Woodstock on the television, there is one essential element of the entire proceedings that I cannot understand. With so many people watching, with such an overwhelming agreement of momentousness, why did nobody rush the stage and ruin the show? I certainly would have killed a musician, or at least maimed a backup singer. I would be remembered for exactly as long as the concert was remembered. Or perhaps it would require something more extreme, more singular even than the show itself. Perhaps I would have to tie fourteen old women together by the hair and spin them until they sailed, like a Frisbee, out over the crowd. Or perhaps run onstage in a jumpsuit made out of Bob Dylan’s flesh.