The 60s Legacy: Woodstock or Woodcock?
You remember Woodcock, right? He was the staunchly loyal railroad employee in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who almost got blown to smithereens because he refused to open the railroad car door so the Whole-in-the-Wall Gang could steal the railroad’s money. He just did his job as he saw it.
He didn’t think about how the railroad magnates, the Vanderbilts, made obscene profits by opening the American west by rail while they cavorted in Newport in their summer castles; or about the terrible working conditions for porters on the “Pullman” trains; or how non-English speaking immigrants, brimming with hope, were transported by the “Iron Horse” to the supposed fertile valleys that awaited them, only to be dumped off in the desolate, wind-driven plains to build their lives. Woodcock did what he was hired to do.
Not long after Woodcock’s show of loyalty, the Woodstock event happened. Soon after it became a national obsession for America’s youth. It grew to mythic proportions. We began to see Woodstock as a symbol, a defining moment in our generation’s history, complete with a “make love; not war” rallying call that would sweep through our society and change it for the better.
But the Woodcock syndrome manifests itself in every generation. In the 60s, it was the American soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Like Woodcock, they just did their jobs as they saw them. They didn’t ask if we were in Vietnam because Pepsi envisioned hoards of free Southeast Asians gulping down their sugar water elixir; or because Exxon was salivating over the possibility of oil lurking under the Ho Chi Minh Trail; or because Thom McCann was delirious over the millions of dollars it could make “shoeing” millions of shoeless Vietnamese feet. The soldiers did what they were asked to do.
So the question we have to ask is what will endure and shape the minds and hearts of future generations? How will history judge the American soldiers who fought in Vietnam, the Woodcock’s of our day, and their contemporaries, the cultural revolutionists at a place called Woodstock?
We already know that Vietnam veterans, once indicted as part of an inexcusable war, have been uplifted to take their rightful place among the heroes of all American wars. They continued a historic tradition of service to country that extends back to colonial times. And that’s how they will be remembered in our history books.
And what will history say about Woodstock? The comedian Robert Klein once did a skit about obscure U.S. presidents. He said that all you could find about our 20th president, James A. Garfield, is that he was “shot by a disappointed office seeker.” End of legacy. For Woodstock, it would be something like this:
“A mishandled outdoor music concert rampant with mud, drugs, off-key singing, out-of-tune guitars, inadequate toilet facilities, and bare-breasted women riding on the shoulders of hairy naked men.”
End of legacy.
Woodstock was a purely capitalist idea to make obscene profits that went wrong and was “re-invented” as a counter-culture event. And later, promoters saw the opening to make huge profits again, this time by positioning Woodstock’s metamorphosis into a religious-like awakening of the 60s counterculture.
To the chagrin of our exalted sense of importance, Woodstock will be remembered as nothing more than a pimple on the epidermis of history.