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August 19, 2009

Hippy Dippy Stardust and Golden Memories

Kevin E. Dayhoff

In case you missed all the recent over-hyped media coverage, forty years ago the weekend of peace, love, and revolution took place in the garden at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in upstate New York.


For the past number of weeks, much of the media has waxed poetic about the self-aggrandizing maniacal mayhem which took place August 15-18, 1969 – the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, N.Y.


Keith B. Richburg, writing in The Washington Post succinctly called it “four days of music and mud, camaraderie and chemicals… which came to define the generation.”


That’s like, far out, man. Groovy!


Of course, that generation – talking ‘bout my generation – quickly deteriorated into a plastic-fantastic amalgamation of sanitized, romanticized, and over-commercialized canned emotion, political and moral relativism, shallow middle class consumer values, with all the passion, idealism and liberal activism that one associates with diet beer and processed food-like material cheese.


Of course, according to New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins, it was also the stuff that evolved later to elect President Barack Obama.


If you are not reading Ms. Collins’ column, you’re missing out. It is thoughtful, well written, and intelligent – and for the most part, I rarely agree with a single word; but after I read it, I feel alive, with the sound of sheer annoyance.


It was Ms. Collins, who wrote last January 31, that “that Inauguration Day in Washington was very much like a cold-weather Woodstock. At both, there was a wonderful feeling of community…”


As for the recent retro-revisionist, nostalgic, meanderings about Woodstock – by now you should be envisioning pictures of nearly a half-million people wallowing in the mud and debris in various stages of half-dress.


Here you see the iconic “A naked woman stands up in the crowd during the 1969 Woodstock festival in Bethel, N.Y.” Now, let’s voyeuristically do a close-up of all the naked people swimming in the pond.


“Cue the superannuated hippies,” wrote Greig Dymond in a piece for CBC News. “Can we please stop mythologizing Woodstock?”


“Roll the archival tape of wasted, hairy people sliding through the mud! Someone please call one of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead! We’re in the dog days of August and this is a feel-good story news channels can use to kill significant time. Weren’t those flower children cute? And so idealistic!”


Ms. Collins and I had our own magical moment last Friday. We agreed. She wrote: “I was at the Woodstock concert, and now I am getting alarmed about all the retrospectives…”


“The Woodstock-mania must drive young people crazy since it is yet another reminder that the baby-boom generation is never going to stop talking about the stuff it did…”


Mr. Dymond adds: “What rankles me about the Woodstock nostalgia is the generational smugness, an almost pathological narcissism that comes out whenever the festival is discussed.”




I wholeheartedly agree with Emily Brobrow, who wrote in the “More Intelligent Life” section of The Economist: “I'm inclined towards ambivalence whenever the airwaves and papers get crusty with nostalgia.


“There is something so tiresome about baby boomers waxing on about their own unwashed importance, squeezing out every last penny from marketing their memories. Yet it's hard not to feel moved by all of the manipulatively wistful slideshows and soundtracks.”


Here’s a news flash, the generations that have followed us, and are starting to make critical decisions about our future, don’t know anything about the 1960s – and don’t care.


In an interesting aside, numerous published reports state that Bob Dylan was stopped last month by police in Long Branch, N. J. It has been suggested that the police officers did not know who Bob Dylan was.


The two 24-year old officers asked Mr. Dylan to take a ride in their squad car after he could not produce any identification. One of the police officers told CNN, “Dylan was really cool about the whole incident…”


As for the stardust and golden utopian dystopia phenomenon called Woodstock, it was for sure, not all bad. It had its moment; like when Pete Townsend from The Who, whacked Abbie Hoffman up side the head with his guitar…


According to Brad Wheeler, writing for The Globe and Mail, Mr. Townsend told festival organizer Michael Lang, in his book, The Road to Woodstock:


“The people at Woodstock really were a bunch of hypocrites claiming a cosmic revolution simply because they took over a field, broke down some fences, imbibed bad acid, and then tried to run out without paying the bands. All while John Sinclair,” the object of Mr. Hoffman’s interrupted rant, “rotted in jail after a trumped-up drug bust.”


Mr. Wheeler continued, “Conspiracy theorists will tell you the moon landing was all staging, hoax and propaganda. As for Woodstock – the subject of radically opposite reports even at the time, and of contradictory interpretations ever since – well, nobody's really sure how it all went down.”


Hey, man, like, being a serious music lover, I can dig all the musical footage. I especially cannot get enough of the Jimi Hendrix rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” I can listen all night to the Woodstock footage of the likes of Ten Years After, The Who, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and all the other phenomenal talent that showed-up and performed.


But enough of the sanitized, romanticized hype already.


I could not agree more with Judy Berman in the Lime Wire Music Blog, who observed: “Veteran Times music critic Jon Pareles sums up his generation’s smug eulogizing like so: ‘Baby boomers won’t let go of the Woodstock Festival. Why should we? It’s one of the few defining events of the late 1960s that had a clear happy ending.’”


Now, please excuse me while I listen to some Jimi Hendrix, from the comfort of my clean, dry, air-conditioned office.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at


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