- - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Forty-six years ago today (August 18, 1969) the art and music festival now simply known as “Woodstock” came to an end. All told, some 400,000 people had made it onto the dairy farm in the Catskills of New York.

Watch Walter Cronkite and CBS report on the festival:

You probably know that Jimi Hendrix played the final act—his “Star Spangled Banner” is an iconic moment in rock-and-roll history. But in a great fact of trivia information, can you name the second to the last act? 

The answer, strangely enough: Sha Na Na, that group which became big during the 1970s by fashioning themselves after groups from the 1950s.

Both Hendrix and fellow Woodstock performer Janis Joplin died in 1970. 

By 1973, a cultural polarization was already beginning to form between two groups of Baby Boomers—those who wanted to press the ideas of the student movement to a full flowering versus those who felt a nostalgia for what was remembered as the simpler times of the 1950s. 

You don’t have to be a cultural Luddite to recognize the shift that had occurred in the space of ten years, from the assassination of JFK to the release of “Graffiti.”

In the early 1960s, “the music was as innocent as the time,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert in 1973. “Songs like ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Gonna Find Her’ and “The Book of Love” sound touchingly naive today; nothing prepared us for the decadence and the aggression of rock only a handful of years later. The Rolling Stones of 1972 would have blown WLS [the radio station of Ebert’s youth] off the air in 1962.”

Ebert, born in 1942, penned those lines in his 1973 movie review of “American Graffiti.” He thought the film captured the essence of his generation, and also brought with it a sense of loss:

“When I went to see George Lucas’s “American Graffiti” that whole world—a world that now seems incomparably distant and innocent—was brought back with a rush of feeling that wasn’t so much nostalgia as culture shock. Remembering my high school generation, I can only wonder at how unprepared we were for the loss of innocence that took place in America with the series of hammer blows beginning with the assassination of President Kennedy.”

Decades later, Pete Townshend, lead singer of The Who (one of the groups at Woodstock) explained his song “Baba O’Riley” (a.k.a. “Teenage Wasteland”) in reference to Woodstock:

” ‘Baba O’ Riley’ is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock. Everyone was smacked out on acid and 20 people had brain damage. The irony was that some listeners took the song to be a teenage celebration: Teenage Wasteland, yes! We’re all wasted!” (Guitar World September 2009, page 76).

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