Riot, redemption and rock'n'roll

For the past five years entrepreneurs have been trying to cash in on the spirit of Woodstock

IN THE Sixties, those hippies who had enough working brain cells to read by - a tiny, underground elite - took as one of their key texts Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power, a fascinating reflection on the nature of humanity when considered as a mob. "The crowd particularly likes destroying houses and objects [writes Canetti]: breakable objects like window panes, mirrors, pictures and crockery... the noise of destruction adds to its satisfaction; the banging of windows and the crashing of glass are the robust sounds of fresh life, the cries of something newborn. It is easy to evoke them and that increases their popularity. Everything shouts together; the din is the applause of objects."

Those with long enough cultural memories might have thought of this on hearing of the latest news from Woodstock. Woodstock, man? Wasn't that, like, 30 years ago? Yes, my grey-bearded and loon-trousered old friend, it was. But for the past five years or so, entrepreneurs have been trying to cash in on, I mean revive, the original spirit of Woodstock, by cramming as many youngsters into an open space as they can and getting them to pay for the privilege of looking at tiny figures in the distance playing guitars. Here is what has been happening at Woodstock '99. Quotes are from the Associated Press report.

"Tents and booths were destroyed, concert light stands and a speaker tower were toppled and a mob tried to destroy a radio station truck over several chaotic hours beginning late Sunday." Said the promoter, John Scher: "It's a great shame that this happened because in so many ways it was so uplifting. It puts a permanent blemish on what happened here. I think the kids made a mistake. They did not intend for this to happen."

Hmm. It is true that these things can happen by mistake. Who among us can put their hand on their heart and say, with complete truthfulness, that they have not burned down a radio broadcast truck when they had, in fact, been attempting to do something completely different, such as nipping out to buy a coffee and a snack?

In fact, snacks are important here. The price of a pretzel at Woodstock '99 was, apparently, $4, and while this country is the spiritual home of the outrageously priced, inedible amuse-gueule, in America they don't like that kind of thing. (Think of the Boston Tea Party.)

Two other factors make me look on the rioters' actions with a less stern and unforgiving eye. The first is that it happened during a set being played by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They, if you don't know them, are a band of indescribable awfulness, a kind of softened-down pseudo-punk act (ie third-rate heavy metal) who appropriate the vocabulary and postures of rebellion while enjoying, courtesy of their record company, a life of extreme wealth and luxury. That they were playing a version of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" at the time undoubtedly added to the crowd's sense of outrage.

The second mitigating factor - and I think that this is the clincher - is that while this insult to musical and political history was being enacted on stage, a group called Pax were handing out "peace candles" to the audience.

Now, just writing those words down has made me go a little berserk, and I am a calm and gentle man. Imagine the effect of such a demonstration on a red-blooded late-adolescent, fired up on an obscure sense of aesthetic violation, and $4 down on a - presumably - indifferently prepared pretzel. You can tell Pax where to shove their peace candles, man.

The description of the violence that followed has, even in the tersely effective language of AP, a sort of poetry to it: "The rioters, who used pieces of the plywood wall surrounding the site to fuel the fires, also pulled down a large T-shirt stand, looted a trailer full of hardware and tipped over a car and burned it. All around, tents and booths were destroyed by the light of a nearly full moon."

Now this really is rather good. Rock'n'roll was always meant to be dangerous, and it is a good thing if T-shirt sellers, hucksters and shyster pretzel merchants think twice before hitching their wagons to this cavalcade again. I would go further: even if the riot was prompted not so much by righteous indignation as sheer mindlessness, it goes at least some way towards redeeming the contemporary spirit of rock from its bloodless, apathetic, government- approved state.

Or, as Canetti put it, thinking of other T-shirt stands, other audiences: "The destruction of representational images is the destruction of a hierarchy which is no longer recognised. It is the violation of generally established and universally visible and valid distances." Right on.

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
    Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

    Escape from Everest base camp

    Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
    Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

    What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

    Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
    Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

    Gossip girl comes of age

    Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
    Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

    Goat cuisine

    It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
    14 best coat hooks

    Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

    Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?