MEGAN JANZER
Lehigh University, Class of 2003
May 2000
 

"Why would 300,000 ... people come to anything, you know, like, just because it's music, you know? I mean, is music all that important? I don't really think so, but people, people don't know, you know. They don't know how to live, and they don't know what to do. And they think that if they can come here they can find out, you know, what it is or how to maintain with it, or... It's just like people are very lost."
 -- Anonymous Woodstock attendee

[1]    The man behind this quote got one thing right: many of the people who went to Woodstock were looking to define themselves. However, he was not quite right about the music. Music was pivotal to helping the hippies define their countercultural stance. Sure, it was not just music that they went for, as he says, but all the ideals that were represented within it. Music was fundamentally important. The hippies went to huge outdoor festivals in an attempt to "be free." Referring to the society created at Woodstock, Andrew Kopkind wrote for Rolling Stone,  "No one in this country in this century had ever seen a 'society' so free of repression." Outside of these festivals, within the walls and borders of the rest of the world, they were confined. However, their music was not so strictly restricted. Thanks to capitalism, the hippies were allowed to express their views from within society through their music. The film Woodstock emphasizes the importance of music not only to the hippies but also to the generations before and after them. The majority of the film is devoted to the music for a reason. Music was the voice of counterculture.

[2]    The music of the hippies evolved from folk and blues to rock and the beginning of disco. The lyrics range from straight-forward to making no literal sense. Yet almost all of it was represented, in some form, in Woodstock. Still, society placed some restrictions on lyrics they accepted, so musicians began to instill messages that transcended their literal meanings. Fairly often, in scenes where there are people expressing their views right out, no music is playing. It seems that Michael Wadleigh, the director, wants these people to be taken literally. He does not want the audience to confuse the hidden messages within music and the open messages of the people being interviewed. Wadleigh also hints at reading between the lines of the music. When The Who and Ten Years After are playing, the shots of them singing are from different perspectives. Yet, they are synchronized to give the effect of different views from one object. It is also interesting to notice that in the pauses between lyrics being sung there is much more camera work being shown. There are several shots being overlayed, and the picture sometimes pauses for emphasis even though the music continues. It gives new meanings to the fact that there is a lot going on in-between the words being sung.

[3]    Still, the words sung are very important. They provide a basis for the ideals of the counterculture. They appeal to people who believe in the messages. The messages championing the acceptance of renovations in music, love, drugs, and community. The hippies viewed the old culture as flawed. They looked to revolutionize and change the system. They hoped to bring about the acceptance by all of a society of free love, the use of drugs, and a sense of community where all people are united. Rock music not only preached the acceptance of drugs like marijuana and cocaine, but it also incorporated the use of drugs into the recreation of music. Acid rock was a form of music that appealed highly to people in a state of mind reached by drug use. Sly and the Family Stones played a song "I Want to Take You Higher," which alludes both to drug use and sex.  Jimmi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" has a similar effect.  Drugs were very important to Woodstock; the fact that the food ran out but the drugs did not is a testimony to this. In his book, Hippies and American Values Timothy Miller states, "Most musicians, for quotation in public, had to deny that music and dope were interrelated, but the truth was closer to Ringo Starr's comment that dope 'made a lot of difference to the type of music and the words,' providing new musical styles and new subject matter for lyrics." A sense of community was found in the hippies’ resistance of Vietnam. Most of the songs picked by Wadleigh to be viewed in the film are political. With titles like "A Change is Gonna Come," "We're not Gonna Take It," "Uncle Sam's Blues," "I-Feel-like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," and a finale leading in from Jimmi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner,” it is a bit hard not to notice the desire to make a difference.

[4]    Michael Wadleigh designed Woodstock to help people accept the new views of the hippies. He showed clips of kids who thought family was important. Scenes of attendees calling home so their parents knew they were all right or talking about how they understood how their parents felt pain about their rebellion were interspersed throughout the film. The same kids also talked about how they hoped their parents would understand, if not their behavior, their need to find themselves. Woodstock appealed to the adults of the era by playing some of their music. Sha-Na-Na played a tune about half way through the film called "At the Hop." It is a classic fifties style song with a bit of rock. Shots of people having fun on and off stage are collectively organized during the music. The placement of this song into the documentary shows that the hippies have not completely lost touch with their parents.

[5]    The message of connection through generations is also played in reverse. Hope that the hippies will not lose touch with the children that follow them was also evident in Woodstock through John Sebastian's "Younger Generation." The song is a tribute to learning to voice one's opinions and learning to listen to other voices as well. It appeals to all generations in a sense that almost anyone can relate to -- a feeling of wanting to understand their parents or their young but also wanting to understand themselves. The scene begins with an appropriate announcement that someone is having a baby. It continues with Sebastian speaking to the audience in a typical hippie state describing the scene before him as "mind fucking."  It is something you would expect to conceive of while on drugs, hundreds of thousands of people gathered peacefully, not something you might actually see.

[6]    During most of the song, Wadleigh views the family instead of the singer. Community was important at Woodstock. The children are running around as free spirits, very happy. If wearing anything at all, they are barely clad. Like with most of the other folk music, the picture is not split. The views and thoughts expressed are very straightforward. Is it fair to question our children's acts if we ask that others not question our own? How long will this peace and love last? The answer is finalized in Sebastian's quick cut off. He draws the camera back to himself, as well as attention, when he answers that we treat others as we want ourselves to be treated. The fact that such an important message is carried about through acoustics and folk yet not through technology and rock is not lost. Sebastian looks so small against the big black equipment of which he uses so little. He stands still, almost like a deer lost in the headlights. He is also the last of the folk singers, yet not close to the end of the movie. The coming of technology and with it capitalism will either make or break him as it does for many of the other musicians at Woodstock.

[7]    "Capitalists ended up making more from the music than the hippie musicians did, and the best artists inevitably became capitalists," states Timothy Miller. Woodstock became an unprecedented event because of its lack of monetary importance. Many of the bands played for very little, the food and health provisions were given out free, the same for the tickets. Yet, the true essence of Woodstock, the film, was not held in the same regard. Hoping to dig themselves out of a hole, the documentary was sold for a fairly high price. Most of the bands who were shown in the movie signed record contracts soon after. It was an end to the roots of the music. Yet, rock still lived on. Capitalism gave it the power to continue to be successful and gave it voice in society.

[8]    Music is the main focus of  Woodstock.  Wadleigh gave it so much coverage because of its importance within society. It was the voice of not only the hippies but their parents as well. It will continue to be an open forum for generations to come.