Resurrecting Woodstock?

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. A time-proven recipe for poor choices. Forty years ago this summer a group of young promoters organized what is regarded as a milestone in popular music history. The result was a celebration of free love and tuning out.

The Woodstock Music Festival’s original producer Michael Lang had planned a revival for its 40th anniversary. The festival was canceled at the last minute due to lack of interest from sponsors.

If the festival was simply a money-making scheme, it was spectacularly ill-advised. The last minute rollback was unprofessional and unexpected considering Lang’s seasoned career. Could it be that the revival was aiming at something more?

The hippie generation was the death knell of what remained of traditional America. Woodstock was an advertisement glorifying that betrayal. So why do we need to relive it? Because the Obama-rose is fading.

What was Lang Selling?

The counterculture of the 1960s celebrated self-destructive behavior. Young people were told not to trust their parents, but to trust their university professors and pop culture figures instead. It was the flowering of Saul Alinsky and his anti-Western propaganda campaign. But behind the mask of flowers there was a warped and twisted face.

The 1960s drug culture has its roots in the US government’s truth-drug experiments for the MK-ULTRA program. The CIA contracted professors to test out various drugs, often on student volunteers. These programs were carried out at almost every elite US university.[1]

John Marks, a former officer of the United States Department of State, argues that the 1960s LSD craze was at least in part started by drugs leaked from University laboratories. The coordinators of these student-guinea-pig projects were Sidney Gottleib and Harold Abramson.

It is ironic that the generation which claimed to be rejecting ‘the man’ was actually “the man’s” most abject stooge.

The Piper Gets Paid

In Anger in White America — Again, Prof. Kevin MacDonald points out a political trend that isn’t going away soon: disenfranchised Whites getting mad and hitting the streets. The situation has come to the point where the powers that be can no longer ignore it — see Lexington’s recent Economist editorial, Still Crazy After All These Years. Yes Micklethwait, we do want our country back.

Trick question: if your tax base is angry enough to make The Economist nervous, what do you do? More of the same, of course. Enter Mr. Lang and his magical mystery bus.

Mr. Lang promotes events — he is a professional crowd-manipulator. He made his name advertising the same lifestyle choices as Theodor Adorno and Ahmet Ertegun.  Atlantic Records was keen to help the Woodstock project: The firm issued the original “live” festival album. Ertegun had money coming out of his ears — and so did Lang!

In fact, the creators of Woodstock had the money before they had the vision. On March 22, 1967, two of the festival’s four founders, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, put the following advertisement in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal: “Young Men with Unlimited Capital looking for interesting, legitimate investment opportunities and business propositions.”

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Lo and behold, an investment opportunity found them — by way of Ray Charles’ lawyer Miles Lourie. (Charles was Atlantic Records’ star performer.) Lourie sent Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang to meet the pair. In February 1969 the quartet embarked on the project that would become The Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Incidentally, Artie Kornfeld was a friend of Alan Livingston, president of Capitol Records.

Despite limited festival experience, the boys signed up a roster of A-list performers. 300,000 people turned up to get baked and express their collective individuality. It was an orgy of expressive individualism.

Woodstock Attendees Expressing Themselves

In the candid words of Woodstock MC Wavy Gravy, “The whole world was watching us, and we had a chance to show the world how it could be if we ran things.”

Let’s take a closer look at what Messieurs Lang, Kornfeld, Roberts and Rosenman were promoting: Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, The Who — a little something for everyone. But whatever the flavor, the message is the same: sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Turn on, Tune in, Drop out

I am not being facetious when I say that sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll create the perfect cocktail for poor decisions. Political philosophers have recognized this for millennia. In Homer’s Odyssey, the Sirens and the Lotus Eaters were not mere literary fancy. They were an open warning to Greeks about the dangers of opting out of life in a competitive world. Ulysses lost his reason to the Sirens’ seductive songs; the Lotus Eaters lost all thoughts of their home. “Having lost all thoughts of their home, tradition and identity” is an apt description of the Hippie generation and their progeny.

Most people don’t want to think. Jean Cocteau, a French philosopher and the originator of many of Theodor Adorno’s ideas on music and culture, had this to say about what the masses want from music:

The crowd likes works which impose their melody, which hypnotise, which hypertrophy its sensibility to the point of putting the critical sense to sleep. The crowd is feminine; it likes to obey or bite.(Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure, Cocteau, 1930.)

We live in the age of crowds; and the crowd must be told what to believe. Their instruction is not an exercise in reason or logic. Alex Kurtagic hit the nail on the head in “What Will It Take?”:

In previous articles I have argued . . . that superiority of argument is a necessary but insufficient condition for inspiring a change in the status quo, and that mastery of style trumps superiority of argument every time.

Every day Messieurs Lang, Kornfield, Roberts and Rosenman thank G*d for the above fact. It has made them rich men.

Mr. Lang is hyper-aware that crowds must be engaged on an emotional level. The naive students from the Summer of Love were putty in his hands. If he didn’t sell them Herbert Marcuse’s “return of the repressed” through their libidos, he would do it through frying their limbic system or through the persuasive power of music.

It is almost comic how the popular music industry took on the slogan “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” It might as well be “We’ll make sure they don’t think!”

But why is this cocktail so effective?

Sex is a revolutionary tool in the democratic age. De Sade wrote repeatedly about how the perfect revolutionary agents are sex-sated: They will be too distracted, and yes, too tired to identify and pursue their political interests. If you can convince a young person that free love is the way to go, you could very well set them on an emotionally unstable track for the rest of their lives. Not a bad plan when you’ve a democracy to manage.

Sex is only one prong of a three-pronged attack.

Anthony Damasio has done fantastic work looking at how the “emotional brain,” more properly the limbic system, helps us reason efficiently. Our limbic system is delineated by a higher concentration of dopamine, serotonin, and other chemical receptors which are very susceptible to the influence of illegal drugs like LSD. Taking these drugs alters the chemical balance in the part of your brain that is responsible for effective decision-making. As everyone knows, upsetting this balance will impair one’s judgment, sometimes permanently. If we can’t sate the voters, let’s fry ’em.

The final ingredient is persuasive sound.

I have written a lot about the emotional power of music and its usefulness in propaganda. Suffice it to say that beautiful music is an unusually powerful advertising tool. The music presented at Woodstock was beautiful — and often easy to listen to. It did a great job at making the ideas of Lang and his friends look good.

Jean Cocteau had remarkable insight about manipulating people. In his 1918 essay Cock and Harlequin, he makes the following suggestion to men who wish to lead the crowd through music:

CONCERNING A CERTAIN FRIVOLOUS ATTITUDE. If you feel you have a missionary’s vocation, don’t hide your head like an ostrich; go amongst the negroes and fill your pockets with worthless bric-a-brac.

NEGROES. It is only by distributing lots of bric-a-brac and by much imitation of the phonograph that you will succeed in taming the negroes and making yourself understood.

Then substitute gradually your own voice for the phonograph and raw metal for the trinkets.(Cock and Harlequin, Cocteau, 1918; emphasis in text)

The reader should not assume that by “NEGROES” Cocteau means just the Blacks. Rather, his advice on how to control people through music applies to anyone without musical education. Free men take responsibility for their choices and actions. Cocteau was not in the business of flattering slaves.

Woodstock was a smorgasbord of the popular music that Adorno credited to the “culture industry.” Adorno knew all about It — see The Mysterious German Professor.

Mr. Lang’s glaring error was assuming that the ‘flower power’ would still work today.

In 1960s America, kids could play on the streets and college grads could get jobs. Things are different now — it is much harder to be naive. No matter how many movies are made, no matter how many Rolling Stones articles are printed, and no matter how many Twitter plugs are sent, ‘hippie’ is now synonymous with ”loser’. Turning on and dropping out is not likely to appeal to today’s young people in a society where the elites are busy importing a new people. Hence the lack of interest in Woodstock II.

Some few of the hippies did go on to achieve something, but their record is not pretty. Bill Clinton and his fratricidal war in Yugoslavia (not to mention his sex addiction). Mrs. Clinton and her myriad of scandals. Or the out-of-touch Tom Hayden , still “hating the man” while Los Angeles sinks into the abyss. The list is long and uninspiring.

Bill and Hillary Being Hip in the 60s

But before Mr. Lang embarks on his next venture, he may want to consider  what Cocteau had to say to the music-manipulators:

Take care to conceal your capacity to work miracles, for “if they knew you were a missionary they would tear out your tongue and nails.”(Cock and Harlequin, Cocteau, 1918.)

And Lang’s fans should consider what Cocteau had to say about the slavish crowd:

What are the thoughts of the canvas on which a masterpiece is being painted? “I am being soiled, brutally treated and concealed from view.” Thus men grumble at their destiny, however fair.(Cock and Harlequin,Cocteau, 1918.)

So what do I predict? The New York Times will rave over Woodstock-inspired flotsam, festival or no. Burnt-out sixty-somethings will try to recapture their youth. And there will be many, many more sleepless nights at The Economist.

Elizabeth Whitcombe (email her) is a graduate of MIT in Economics with a concentration in International Economics. She is a financial analyst and free-lance writer living in New York City. Visit her website.

National Security ArchivesJohn Marks Collection. Accessed October,2008. [Return to article.]

The CIA is often portrayed as a WASPish, right-wing organization. A careful reading of John Mark’s book shows that the truth is quite different.Sidney Gottlieb and Harold Abramson were both Jews; Gottlieb had unmatched and consistent control over the LSD  projects as head of the Technical Services Staff. He and Abramson had no scruples about using the flower of 1950s American youth for drug testing.

Mark’s book lists many left-wing notables who collaborated with the research (although sometimes claiming ignorance of where the money came from), including the notorious Boasian fellow traveler Margaret MeadJay Schulman (Rutgers, sociology), Adolf A Berle (high government official in the FDR Administration and New York Liberal Party Chairman). The same goes for Francis Stonor Saunders in her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. She mentions Jean CocteauNicolas NabokovArthur KoestlerArthur Schlesinger, and Bertrand Russell In fact, WASPish right-wingers in influential positions at the CIA look quite thin on the ground. [Return to article.]