Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock as Facebook

I had not seen my first birthday when Woodstock started forty years ago today. However, that 1969 music festival's shadow has extended to my generation. For us, Live Aid (1985) was like our Woodstock. Granted, only people in London and Philadelphia got to see the concerts in person but millions of us around the world gave up a day to plop in front of a television and watch act after act. It was fantastic even though my dad asked for (and was given) the keys to my 1973 Dodge Dart. He was mad at me but he got over it. I got my keys back, .

As the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock occurs today, Saturday, 15 August, we will all be inundated with tributes and remembrances. A good one appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times. “Moment of Muddy Grace - The Enduring Appeal of Woodstock,” by JohnParales , is one man’s thoughts on attending the concert back in 1969 and what Woodstock has meant in the decades since. The Times also has slide shows andpodcasts. Check’em out if you’ve got a mind to.

One particular passage in Parales’ story is this quote:
When the hippie subculture surfaced en masse at Woodstock, two years after the Summer of Love, it was still largely self-invented and isolated. There were pockets of freaks in cities and handfuls of them in smaller towns, nearly all feeling like outsiders. For many people at the festival, just seeing and joining that gigantic crowd was more of a revelation than anything that happened onstage. It proved that they were not some negligible minority but members of a larger culture — or, to use that sweetly dated term, a counterculture.
As I write this post, I'm watching the "Woodstock" movie (1970) for the first time. It's a little surreal to see scenes I've heard about for years. In the segment juxtaposing the skinny dipping youth and the angry older generation, a young girl swimming echoes the same sentiments. "You realize you're not the only one in your city doing the same things," she says.

I’m old enough to remember the days when Entertainment Tonight and Rolling Stone were the only outlets for news about music and events. On the book publicity front, a few additional outlets existed--newspaper book reviews primarily--but not many. Word-of-mouth was the primary communication means: one guy loans another his new album featuring a new band; a gal loans her friend a book by a new, favorite author; new movies were foretold by trailers in movie theaters. One by one, groups formed and, even amid these various groups, longed a question: are we alone?

Parales’ comment about Woodstock is so simple it’s meaning is easy to miss. Woodstock was like a giant Facebook fan page. For the kids who thought they were alone in their musical and cultural tastes could point to Woodstock and say, “Yeah, I’m part of that.” The movie acted as further evidence. The youth and the older generation could watch what went on in New York forty years ago this weekend and learn from it. The youth could get some affirmation that they were not alone. The older generation could look upon it and, possibly, realize it ain't all bad. The presence of Woodstock must have been like a ton of bricks coming off common shoulders.

The Internet has fundamentally altered the landscape. Crime fiction fans or devoted followers of a particular band's music merely have to log on and discover a place on the Internet to find folks who like the same things. We have Facebook where anyone can make a fan site for any sub-sub-sub genre they like: quilters who love jazz; cat fanatics who love math; or any political sub-group you can think of. Loners and other kids (and adults, too) on the fringes of society have a place to commune with others. We know we can find solace online with other like-minded individuals. It’s reassuring if not still isolating. And we can still be naked, at home, if we want to be.

Woodstock as Facebook. I don’t think it’s that far of a stretch. Do you?


pattinase (abbott) said...

My memory of Woodstock. We were at the beach in New Jersey with my parents. They got a call that my brother had been arrested in Woodstock because some grass had been found in the glove compartment of their borrowed car. He was seventeen. He and his two friends spent the night in jail. This is really his Woodstock story, I guess.
This little incident haunted him for years.

Steve Weddle said...

The idea of Woodstock as community gathering place vs Facebook is interesting.

I wonder about the personal nature of the interactions.

If someone makes some comments on, say, the Nipsey Russell fanpage, I can comment or message that person. You can splinter off into sub-groups within that larger sub-group. At some level, it's a matter of selecting a more and more narrow classification for yourself, I suppose.

Woodstockers who like Country Joe and Hendrix, over this way.

Facebook has a groovy little ability to show friends and pages you have in common with someone else. How much easier than actually chatting someone up.

That you can find other folks on the Facebooks who likes Murakami AND Richard Stark fascinates me. And Facebook is less muddy than Woodstock. Also, it's less dirty than the Twitters, especially considering all the pr0n-bots who keep following me.

Charles Gramlich said...

the 60s didn't hit Arkansas until the mid 70s and by that time I wasn't into it. Never did learn much about it.