Moonshot, Columbus, Now Woodstock a Myth Too? Oh No!

We baby boomers have lost too many cultural icons. Don't take away Woodstock.

Some nut shot John Lennon. Good journalism -- or was it reality? -- took away our faith in institutions. We've pretty much lost Ford, Chevrolet, General Motors, Wall Street, faith in television news, trust in doctors, air, water...hell, they even took away Christopher Columbus, who went from great explorer to racist exploiter, all in one generation. There are people who say the 1969 moon walk was faked. But Woodstock too? no!

I turned 21 in 1969. I wasn't at Woodstock. I was in California, working a summer job, wishing I was there.

Still, news of Woodstock seemed  like triumph of good over evil. It was cultural affirmation. Half a million people gathered for three days in a muddy field with no money, no violence, no hierarchy, no police, no authorities, and no problems. And it proved what we'd been saying to ourselves, to our parents, to our teachers, bosses, and anybody else we could find to say it to.

It felt like a turning point. After Woodstock, "Hippy" was no longer a bad thing to be. It wasn't the event, it seemed to me, as much as a marker of change accomplished, like a graduation.

But was that really Woodstock, or just the movie they made of it? I wasn't there. I saw the movie the next year. A triumph of good over evil, or a triumph of good marketing? Gulp. Say it ain't so.

Disillusion number one: marketing? The narration says "the Woodstock nation was born, ushering in a whole new area of marketing." True, I'm all grown up now, I get marketing, my company depends on it like the rest of small business, but jeez, marketing at Woodstock? That's Woodstock's legacy?

No, I hope not; but then John Scher, CEO of Metropolitan Talent, explains:

"You had a new brand. It was called Woodstock. And you had music that was associated with a mass movement: A social, cultural, and political movement. Music could be marketed, differently, than it was before. And then you had people who had no soul, just trying to sell product, trying to figure out how they could latch on."

(If you can't see the video, click here to go to the source at

But wait: it gets worse. The narrator implies that the legacy was more the movie than the event, and in the movie ...

"Not all the performers fared so well.  The order of performers was changed, some were left out, in some cases songs performed elsewhere replaced songs performed at the event.  It all helped to create a memory that wasn't necessarily true to life."

And still worse. The five-minute piece finishes with WSJ Music Critic Jim Fusilli:

"There's a lot of really terrific performances that received no exposure. For the past 39 years, they've gotten very little bounce. A lot of Columbia artists didn't get into the film. A lot of Capitol artists didn't get into the film, or onto the album. You had a giant label in Warner Brothers, who had possession of the music at Woodstock.

"I don't remember what actually happened anymore either. I've been struggling against the myth of Woodstock. I've probably read 10 books, I've listened to (I bet you) two thirds of the music that was at Woodstock. I've talked to probably 20 people who were at Woodstock or involved in Woodstock. And I don't really know what happened anymore. The only thing I have that I can trust is the music.

"This is a debate that I have with myself all the time, as to whether things like Woodstock, and the Beatles, and the Stones, will continue into the future. Whether people will have the same affection for them once the social context has changed. And I think it's hard to say. The truth is that as long as a single hippy remains alive, the myth of Woodstock will be perpetuated."

Sigh... so it seems we've been rewriting history for a while now. Next they're going to say there were only 400,000 people there, instead of 20 million. Is nothing safe?