Earlier in the summer I received a gift from a good friend and fellow WUSC alumni, Lady Miss Gee, two comics written by Ariel Schrag, those documenting her freshman and sophomore years of high school, “Potential” and “Akward”, I believe. Ariel Schag grew up around the same time I did, in California, and she wrote some of the most accurate coming of age stories. They were laced with many of the same punk culture icons my friends and I were following on a different coast.
I was reading it all around the same time as the most recent Woodstock anniversary, and of course the public radio airwaves were playing to their demographic with interviews and documentaries about this one musical event that, for all it’s iconic power, was basically an apolitical exercise in turning youthful rebellion into money. For the most part, commentary was the sort of self-congratulatory crap I engaged in every week as host of Police and Thieves, the punk show. Most of those interviewed have gotten over the bad trips and moved on to cushy intellectual jobs, and, for the most part, all their fond memories of the event suggested to me that it would have been beyond shitty to have actually been there. The projected importance of the event, really, could be summed up in roughly a paragraph in any high school American history textbook.
I did, however, appreciate Dick Polman’s take on Woodstock, featured here: http://rocnow.com/article/opinion-syndicated-columns/2009908140362
In particular, his frank description of the futility of it all, “this notion that Woodstock was supposed to be more than a party, that it was supposed to define how a generation felt about itself, to crystallize its political and cultural potential. Looking back 40 years, Woodstock has managed only to inflate boomers’ expectations of themselves and, sadly, to amplify many of life’s inevitable disappointments.”
In the commentary he mentions the Abbie Hoffman incident, as if anyone needed another reason to think that the man who wrote “My Generation” was, in fact, one of the biggest asses of said generation. The generation who grew up to look the other way during the last ten years of scandal, the generation who quite literally couldn’t go more apeshit over shutting down Abu Ghraib if they were on LSD at the time that Katie Couric broke the news to them. “Their generation” wanted the political protests to get the hell off the stage.
Which brings us back to the punk rock. Hippies and punks, not so different. Bob Dylan may have traded in his acoustic, but it was my generation that used those electric guitars as god intended- to make protest music as unlistenable as the protests themselves. At this point, I still believe that better subcultures make better people. Without didactic vegan hardcore I probably wouldn’t care where my groceries came from. Without riot grrrl I probably wouldn’t know about minority empowerment. Without punk, as a whole, I would not have any idea of how important it is to make our own media with our own message.
Maybe the more I age the more disappointment I will have in the complete inefficiency of the movement I associated with my youth. I’m technically not out of that youth yet, but I like to think that I know how a real hippie, one who subscribed to the political aspect of the movement, feels when he or she walks into an American Eagle and sees empty symbols screenprinted on cotton spandex blends. After all, the Hot Topic is three stores down.