We Never See It Coming

Back in the last breaths of the twentieth century, America met its future self.

The idea hit me like a Ball-peen hammer in a Mary Jane roll as I watched a documentary called Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 on Netflix recently. It’s a three-part saga/doc/horror story about the failed third installment of the Woodstock Music Festival which took place in late summer of 1999.

The monster-piece theater known as Woodstock ’99 was supposed to be the generational equivalent of its predecessor. I guess? The original had served as graduation day for baby boomers intent on leaving behind a decade of tumult with three days of peace, love and a hard pass on hygiene. For one long, glorious weekend in 1969, America’s youth were able to zeitgeist the fuck out of their generational identity, with a residual patina that only grew more iconic with each passing decade. The fraternal order of long-haired freaky people shed their fringe at that musical binge. By the ’80’s, their mainstream was showing as the counter culture that once took on the establishment, became them.

There are times when history should be accorded a fresh coat of paint, and on the face of it, a Woodstock concert to close out the millennium was inspired.  Problem was, it was toting thirty years worth of the devil’s own luck into a three day getaway in upstate New York. The other problem was that it wasn’t held inside the plush rolling hills of a small farm but on fields of concrete that belonged to a former Air Force Base, in 100 degree temps. Oh, and it featured a bottomless cup of rage music. And did I mention how only months earlier, America had entered the Columbine Era, where all life’s problems are solved with threats and violence?

It begged the question: What could go right?

Michael Lang’s attempt to make America groovy again was nothing more than a shell game, selling sunlight in the middle of summer. It was obvious the man had long since traded in his bellbottoms for the bottom line of a wholly corporate venture dressed in great music. He got lucky the first time around, when a peaceful storming of the gates forced him to turn Woodstock into a free concert on the fly. And while he got soaked in the moment, he recouped his money and then some over time as a result of the legendary festival.

By 1994, Lang was ready to cash in on the Woodstock franchise by sticking a price tag on everything. His cash grab got some play in the national newspapers but Woodstock ’94 was by most accounts, a huge success. This gave Lang and his pals all the springboard they would need for a trilogy in Rome, New York.

The attendees of Woodstock ’99, along with the generation it represented, are approaching middle age now. And from the looks of it, they’re carrying the souvenirs of Rome with them. Because there is a huge segment of their population that is every bit as pissed off and disconnected as they were almost a quarter of a century ago. And what’s worse, they’ve got friends of every age, race, color, creed and political affiliation.

They exist inside an age where debate and dialogue have been replaced with vitriolic shouting matches. Consensus has been lost to the cult of personality, where each side has been conned into believing in hashtags and celebrity politicians at the expense of unity. Rights are no longer a dynamic of commonality but rather, a con perpetrated by special interest groups and power hungry individuals. Movements have become branded efforts, devoid of soul and compassion.

We never saw it coming back when Rome was burning in that Air Force parking lot inside the last breaths of the millennium. We never imagined our allegiances could become so fractured, but that’s what happens when a nation stops taking on the challenges to its union collectively and starts taking sides instead.

Fast forward to the present, where the vacuum at the highest reaches of our political system has led to a disgraced ruler who hangs on to his power through fear while his opponents stumble in spite of the huge target he has provided them. He wins his crowd over with raging anthems while enraging his opponents into a lather until the whole damn country is one big mosh pit.

His place in the national consciousness is either portent for another implausible run or the blueprint for some future candidate who also doesn’t give a fig about democracy. Because if we keep barreling down this highway, sooner or later that seat in the high castle is going to be compromised to such a degree that all the Founding Fathers won’t be able to put it back together again.

It’s how Rome fell.

34 thoughts on “We Never See It Coming

  1. Am I naïve? How could they possibly miss the central message of the original Woodstock? Is it not all about love? For ourselves and for each other regardless of our differences or maybe in spite of or because of. We’re stronger together. This world was fractured before Covid, now . . .

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh they did worse than miss it. They used it in order to price gouge. It’s one thing to make a profit but what they did was not just insulting, it bordered on criminal.

      Every challenge our country faces seems to end with sides drawn against the other

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful treatise, Pilgrim. You have captured the essence of the cause of our current situation. I look at the political types yelling at each other like children. I see the Marxists and fascists going about their business of destroying our democracy unchecked. I witnessed the government yanking away individual rights like they were handouts. I feel Law and order is a vague concept and fuck you, a casual greeting. It is not going to get better, and I hope I’m old enough so I don’t have to be here when the end comes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How DOES one put the genie back in the bottle? Nice musical accompaniment-love the O’Jay’s groove to start out the week. Now if only we could get back the initial intent of Woodstock. Just wish everything didn’t come down to milking the everloving profits out of goodness. Sigh

    Liked by 2 people

  4. B,

    While I would have gotten the gist of your fantastic (seriously, how do you do this?) prose and analysis of the mess that Woodstock ’99 was and the current political situation, I really had to watch this series first.

    My continual What the Fucks? and Are They for Reals? during the three episodes felt like I was stuck on the groove of a broken record. Things I’ve been saying since 2016, as well.

    The whole lot of ’em treated those kids like shit. They did not respect them for one second. How could they not understand (nor care) that without the people coming, there would be no concert? Taking away their water and food was unnecessary. They have to know that in three days, they will be needing more, anyway. They would still have made their money and, crazy idea, not piss anyone off while doing it.

    They failed the people in so many ways. Just like the government does. There is so much anger out there. No one is listening to anyone; everyone trying to be heard by screaming over the other.

    Oh, for your Canadian friends, here’s a version they can listen to.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Q

      The doc is absurdly unnerving, isn’t it? I wasn’t surprised by the attitudes of the performers, but the organizers? Shameful.

      It feels as if the common sense folks live one flight down from a rage band many days. The world is so damned angry.

      Exactly. You can focus on a bottom line whilst delivering a great product, safely and efficiently. You have the captive audience, so treat them right. And hire fucking security.

      And both sides have been guilty of this. For all the angst we felt after 2016, there was plenty of blame to go around. I knew democrats who didn’t vote because they didn’t like Hilary. Okay but then you can’t complain!

      You da sweetest!


      Liked by 1 person

      • That doc most definitely IS unnerving. You’re right. The performers perform. They do their thing – they can’t become something they are not just because it’s a friggen free-for-all. But the organisers? Shame on them.

        That is exactly what it seems. Your comparison to a mosh pit was spot on. And there ain’t no friendly passing on of the travellers.

        They could have done both. They could have made some decent coin and still have had a heart.

        You’re right again. It is NOT one-sided. Not voting because you don’t like a candidate is disgraceful. We live in democracies where we have the right to vote. You can’t snub your nose at this. Don’t vote for her, but make your vote count, somehow.

        I do my best, babay.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I lost all respect for Lang. And Scher was simply a dick.

          No, and actually they talked about how the passing of girls among the crowd was really akin to sexual assault. Nuts.

          Security should not have been skimped on. Let the kids bring their shit in, Stress water for all. Keep things civil. Have the rage bands in the morning. Much much more could have and should have been done.

          I think what’s lost here is how truly nasty EVERYONE has become. I was watching a YouTube video about something and these people start wishing Trump death. And meaning it. Now, I ain’t a fan but is this what we are now?


          Liked by 1 person

          • Same. Scher was beyond a dick. That comment about rapes? Asshole.

            It was. For many of them. You see the hands roaming all over the place. The girls trying to hold their tops in place.

            Definitely. And yes. FFS, let them bring in their shit. That would have been smart – to have the rage bands in the morning. Mind you, from the way the doc was filmed, it felt like there was no music during the day.

            Yes! The anger is palpable. Hell, like the article I shared with you, even the dead are not exempt from the vitriol.


            Liked by 1 person

          • Scher’s opinion is shared by many, sadly. The topic of sexual assault and rape is still not taken seriously enough. Even in the MeToo era.

            I had occasion to be one of the holders of a young lady back in the day. I was at a concert downtown, inside, and this girl was blitzed out of her mind. I remember someone nudging me as she rolled my way. Disturbing to be in the middle of it. I didn’t see any nonsense happening, but the very act of holding someone up? You’re necessarily going to have to handle a woman you do not know. Unnerving.

            They had morning acts or maybe it was late afternoon. But hell, by dusk it was time to slow things down. And hey! Maybe bring in free food to engender some goodwill at that. Enlisting a score of local restaurants and grocers to get involved in the donation and there you go.

            It’s sad. Remember when Trump made headlines for bashing McCain after his death? I wasn’t the biggest McCain fan but hell, the man was a patriot! And then to get bashed by a man who has no idea what service means. That’s the pits.


            Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. Where you start to think there advances, you realise it’s one step forward, three back.

            Oh man! It must be so unnerving. And that’s because you actually have a conscious. There is no way IN HELL I would ever have surfed like that. Not be in control of where I end up. HARD NO.

            Oh, I don’t doubt they did; it’s just the way they filmed the doc, it looked like there was nada. But yes, that would have been a brilliant idea. However, as we well know, the organise didn’t organise much.

            It is very sad. Yes, I remember. Disgusting attitude, especially for a president. But as we well know there was never a single presidential thing about him.


            Liked by 1 person

          • We tend to mistake the age we live in with progress. But one has nothing to do with the other.

            And here’s the thing. On top of the fact I don’t want to be touching a stranger, I am thinking, how old is she? It’s one of those group dynamics that is completely lost on me.

            They followed the money, right down into the mosh pit.

            Nope. And then his followers wonder why there’s such angst attached to the guy. No wonder!


            Liked by 1 person

          • No, they are not. They should be connected in some manner, but they are not always.

            Right. Touching a stranger in a rather intimate way, no less. Back, backside, etc. I don’t get it. I don’t mind seeking certain thrills but this ain’t one of them.


            Gee… I just don’t get it… 🙄


            Liked by 1 person

          • It’s crazy. I’ve never been close enough, no, that’s not true… the concerts I went to did not have them – at least not anywhere I was sitting!




            Liked by 1 person

  5. Peace out, baby? Groovy read, but on the depressing side. I hate to see the end coming, but I’ll stick around to bear witness to the horror we’ve managed to create in my lifetime. It really is sad that people would rather fight than work together to get this ship steered in the right direction. Sinking the mother seems to be the only real agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Since I have access to Netflix and also like documentaries (recently watched Summer of Soul which I think was on Hulu) I’ll try to remember to check this one out.
    My first thought after getting the gist of the point you were trying to make about the event was that it reminded me of the more recent and I guess more blatant money grab that was the Fyre Festival.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s mind blowing how the organizers of this particular festival got every single thing wrong. From the musical acts to the security or lack thereof to the location to the . . . yes, everything. It begged the question. What could go right?

      I think the festival showed us a lot of the ugly behaviors we are no longer surprised about.

      Liked by 1 person

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