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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935