Friday, August 21, 2009

WSJ Woodstock Rant - Revisited

The August 14th, 2009 edition of the WSJ was kind enough to reprint an editorial it published almost 40 years ago about that summer's Woodstock Festival. As I did not read it then - I was not into the Journal - I found it a fascinating reminder of those polarizing days, those days when "Which side are you on?" was becoming serious business. It would get worse.

What strikes me after all these years is the obvious anger this autonomous editorial writer feels. Nowhere does he mention - in those days it certainly would not have been a she - the Vietnam war, the civil-rights movement, women's liberation, the environment movement (the first Earth Day would be the following spring), or the growing sense among many young people that there was more to life than obedience to authority and the individual accumulation of wealth. But I am sure these were in the back of his mind as he turned looking for "Three Days of Peace and Music" into "opting for physical, intellectual and cultural squalor."

The Wall Street Journal is still published by and for authority, whether political or economic - and presumably after 40 years maybe by some of us who grew out of the "it" below. Oddly their two-page remembrance contained little mention of the capitalist roots of the festival. It was a money-making enterprise gone wrong. The first blow was struck a month before the festival was to open when the town government where the festival was planned effectively banned it. The lesson from this would be right up the WSJ's alley, never trust the government.

The festival promoters were not able to find an alternate site and construct the facilities in time to receive the second blow, many more thousands and thousands of young people than the site could well accommodate. The WSJ lesson would be to spend more money on market research.

So it became a "free festival," and depending on who one talked to, either a disaster area or a peaceful first gathering of the tribe. Then, finally, it rained. I am not sure how the WSJ handles bad weather even today. They probably are against it.

I had first considered annotating the editorial below with clever, amusing comments developed in the fullness of time. However I decided to let the oddly bitter words of the author speak for themselves. We of the Woodstock Nation still love him anyway, and would give him a big hug and pass him a joint if he wanted a hit. Peace brother.

I will only note sadly that the spirit of this editorial writer still haunts the offices of the WSJ. Try reading their current smug, myopic, and disingenuous opinions that suck up to the powers of our day and age. Personally I still refuse to read anything on their editorial pages.

By Squalor Possessed
Wall Street Journal, Aug 28, 1969
The so-called generation gap is not really so much a matter of age as it is a gap between more civilized and less civilized tastes. As such, it may be more serious, both culturally and politically, than it first appeared.
bysqaulorpossessedStarting with the relatively small hippie movement several years ago, the drug-sex-rock-squalor “culture” now permeates colleges and high schools. When 300,000 or 400,000 young people, most apparently from middle-class homes, can gather at a single rock festival in New York State, it is plainly a phenomenon of considerable size and significance.

We would not want to exaggerate. Probably a goodly number will grow out of it, in the old-fashioned phrase. On campus, the anti-radicals seem to be gaining strength, and it may well be that these more conservative youngsters will be the people who will be moving America in the future.

But that prospect is by no means certain enough to encourage complacency. For various reasons it is being suggested that many rebels will not abandon their “life-styles” (the cliches in this field! ) and that there are enough of them to assume some of the levers of power in the future American society. It would be a curious America if the unwashed, more or less permanently stoned on pot or LSD, were running very many things. Even if the trend merely continues among young people in the years ahead, it will be at best a culturally poorer America and maybe a politically degenerated America.

Now taste is that amorphous quality about which one is not supposed to dispute, so we won’t argue whether rock is a debased form of music; we don’t like it, but never mind. Without pursuing that argument, it is possible, we think, to say a couple of things quite categorically about rock and related manifestations.

One is that a preference for a particular kind of music is not necessarily a matter of age. In times past many young people were drawn to classical music and retained that taste as they grew older. Today the young’s addiction to rock is at the same time a rejection of classical and the more subdued types of popular music, and considering the way rock is presented it must be counted a step down on culture’s ladder.

That is our second point: The orgiastic presentation on the part of some of the best-known groups. It is not prudish, we take it, to suggest that a certain amount of restraint is appropriate in these matters. But then, the whole “life-style” of many of the performers is incredible—disgusting or pitiful or both, but certainly hoggish.

The same applies to public sex in the audience, also in evidence at the mammoth Woodstock festival. It is not necessary to be a Puritan to say that such displays are regressive from the point of view of civilization. As for the ubiquitous drugs—well, we guess on that score we feel more sorry for the kids than anything else.

What perhaps gets us most is the infatuation with squalor, the slovenly clothes and the dirt; at Woodstock they were literally wallowing in mud. How anybody of any age can want that passes our understanding. Again, though, it’s not a question of age. A person doesn’t have to be young to be a hobo. He does, however, have to have certain tastes and values (or non-tastes and non-values) which are not generally regarded as being of a civilizing nature.

Now we are aware of all the cant about how these young people are rejecting traditional tastes and values because society has bitterly disappointed them, and we would be the last to deny the faults in contemporary society. It is nonetheless true that their anarchic approach holds no hope at all.

They won’t listen, but if they, and some of the unduly sympathetic adults around, would listen, here are some words worth bearing. They occur in a speech by Professor Lawrence Lee to a social fraternity at the University of Pittsburgh, quoted in National Review:

“You have been told, and you have come to believe, that you are the brightest of generations . . . You are, rather, one of the most self-centered, self-pitying, confused generations . . . .

“The generation gap is one of the delusions of your generation—and to some men of my generation. . . . The only generation gap is that we have lived longer, we know more than you do from having lived, and we are so far ahead of you that it will take you a lifetime to have the same relative knowledge and wisdom. You had better learn from us while you can. . . .

“It is not mawkish to love one’s country. The country, with all of its agony and all of its faults, is still the most generous and the most open society on the earth. . . . All generations need the help of all others. Ours is asking yours to be men rather than children, before some frightened tyrant with the aid of other frightened and ignorant men seeks to make all of us slaves in reaction to your irresponsibility.”

In any event, opting for physical, intellectual and cultural squalor seems an odd way to advance civilization.

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