Friday, May 4, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969

Chapter 22: At United Parcel Service and Queens College, 1969 (ii)

When I wasn’t outside doing political organizing or working at UPS, I practiced my folk singing in a more intense way again, after purchasing a Phil Ochs songbook. I also began to write folk songs and love songs more frequently again, around this time. I still saw myself, primarily, as a revolutionary activist. But I also once again began to think of myself as a folksinger in the Guthrie-Seeger-Ochs tradition.

On FM radio during July and August 1969 there had been much media hype about a “Festival of Life” rock concert which was to be held in Woodstock, New York, near Bob Dylan’s country retreat and mansion. The idea of holding a counter-cultural “Festival of Life” summer rock concert was ripped-off by hip capitalist businessmen from yippies like Abbie Hoffman. During the previous summer, Abbie and the other yippies had organized an anti-war “Festival of Life” free concert in Chicago’s Grant Park which attempted to unite hip rock culture with New Left politics, in order to bring the maximum number of anti-war youths to the Democratic National Convention protests. The hip capitalist organizers of the Woodstock rock concert took the idea of a festival of life summer rock event at which various counter-cultural bands would play, divorced the event from any connection with anti-capitalist New Left political protest overtones, and planned to charge a hefty admission fee for the weekend of music.

In the weeks before the Woodstock Rock Festival, Movement people and the underground press accused the hip capitalist rock promoters of being rip-off artists, for both ripping off the yippies’ festival of life idea and for not turning the concert into an admission-free youth cultural event. As a concession to Movement people and Movement groups, the hip capitalists agreed to let various Movement groups set up informational booths in the rear of the concert site.

Because it wasn’t being billed as a free concert and seemed to be being pushed and sanctioned by the U.S. corporate establishment media that I had come to hate, I didn’t bother to go up to the Woodstock rock festival. But I listened to news reports about it on my transistor radio, while I hiked around Queens that weekend.

A few days after the event, which was attended by 400,000 predominantly white hippie youths (most of whom were either tripping on acid or high on grass), I received a detailed description in the Queens College cafeteria of the four days, from a hippie guy I had known at Richmond College, who had driven up to the Woodstock event.

“The thing that amazed me most was being around so many people who were also tripping. And being with so many chicks who were unashamed to go naked with cats around them,” the hippie guy said.

The New Left Movement failed abysmally in politicizing many of the white youths who spent the four days stoned together at Woodstock—and Abbie Hoffman was not cheered by the audience when he tried to appeal to the crowd to remember John Sinclair (who was then in jail in Michigan for 10 years after being convicted for the possession of one joint of pot). But the myth of Woodstock became influential in the 1970s. That fact that so many hip young people would gather in peace and love, united by psychedelic drugs and music in a community that was more joyful and less alienating than the Death Culture of the 9-to-5 corporate world, was impressive.

What was also both impressive and surprising was the number of people who showed up at the Woodstock festival and who now identified as hippies. Unlike in the early 1960s, many more people now clearly identified themselves more as bohemian hippies than as political radicals. Because over a hundred thousand more people showed up than the hip capitalist rock promoters had anticipated, they were unable to implement their plan to charge a hefty admission fee and the rock festival turned into a free music festival after all. The rock promoters, however, were still able to make huge profits from ripping off the counter-culture--by successfully marketing the rights to the Woodstock movie and the Woodstock vinyl record album, over the course of the next year.