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August 19, 2009


Mr. Sweetie

Wow. As usual, you have a very perceptive and engaging view of Woodstock. You are also a much better writer than Marsh, and needn't rely on his words; I'd prefer to hear yours.

Also as usual, I have some questions? Of the two options for Woodstock you begin with, where does "3 days of pretty good, occasionally great, music, and the raw materials for an astounding documentary" fit in? Relatedly, why should we assume that any explicit or implicit political content we perceive in a piece of music is meaningful? On what basis do we assume that Hendrix saying that we've all been brainwashed by the National Anthem is somehow a truer expression of his intentions than identifying some random hippy as Bob Dylan's grandmother before he played "Like a Rolling Stone" at Monterey? Like it or not, sometimes politics is just as meaningLESS as fashion, drugs, or any other cultural element. (see, for example, "Right Here Right Now" by Jesus Jones.)

Finally, if one chooses to ignore (or just plain misses) the political content in or around music, does this matter? I mean, what I always return to in Woodstock is Michael Shrieve's drum solo & Chicken Hirsch's exploding drummer elbows.


Thank you. As for your first question, Woodstock was obviously all of those things, but so was the third (1970) Isle Of Wight festival. So why didn't the Isle of Wight become the cultural touchstone, relegating Woodstock to, say, Atlanta Pop Festival or Newport (California) status? Woodstock took place in a country engaged in a horrific imperialist war, which was certainly on the minds of every single person present at Woodstock, given further galvanizing expression by performances like Baez', Hendrix', and Country Joe's. Nothing happens in a vacuum; Woodstock was seen (rightly or wrongly) as the culmination of certain social and political currents. Such an event was utterly inconceivable just three (maybe two...or even one) years earlier. Ignoring those currents and/or stripping the event of its context presents less than half of the story (and makes it a far less compelling one).

Hendrix' asides during his renditions of the national anthem are meaningful in the sense that they contradict revisionist interpretations of it. And sure, sometimes performers use politics as a fashion accessory; this doesn't mean that said accessory won't resonate with folks who hadn't been presented with those ideas before. In a way, it's almost irrelevant if Hendrix meant what he said (although nothing suggests he didn't, cf. "Machine Gun"); the meaning resided in those it resonated with, those who heard him openly disparage blind patriotism and felt he was giving voice to something they'd been unsure about or were afraid to express, maybe even becoming activists themselves. "Right Here Right Now" no doubt held a deeper meaning with more than a few of the Gulf War demonstrators in 1990-91 than its rather one-dimensional origins would suggest.

Michael Shrieve would always have been a great drummer, but would Santana have even existed, much less played Woodstock without the social movements that made both possible?

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