April 18, 2015
“I can dig it”: Most comprehensive article(s) ever re: Pete Townshend vs Abbie Hoffman at Woodstock?
I found these paired at Rock’s Backpages.
I won’t post the whole thing because they’re behind their $200 paywall. But it’s hard to excerpt…
I’ve inserted hyperlinks of my own.
[UPDATE: Ed Driscoll asks if “Amerika” is the spelling in the original and the answer is yes. In those days, people really wrote and spoke that way. Here’s an embarrassing Townshend piece from IT in which he tries to answer leftist critics of the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” And if you’ve never heard it, KSAN’s (local radio’s) next-day autopsy of Altamont, complete with “guest” Sonny Barger, is another indicative, well, arty-fact.]
This first part — “Woodstock: Talking About My Generation” — is by Miller Francis Jr., via The Great Speckled Bird, 15 June 1970:
“I’m looking for me,
You’re looking for you
We’re looking at each other
and we don’t know what to do.”
— ‘The Seeker’ by The Who
[Following a lengthy intro that accurately explains the split between “hippies” and “radicals,” which I admit to never adhering too very stringently]:
At Woodstock, perhaps the most important single event occurred — ironically in the form of violence. And not violence against Amerika but rather violence by brother against brother. During a beautiful set by The Who, including much of Tommy, Abbie Hoffman, who was bumming on acid, a fucked-up head, and suffering from Future Shock because he didn’t really understand what was happening, leapt to the microphone and piously announced, “I think this is a pile of shit!” Abbie tells his version of the incident in Woodstock Nation, although I don’t believe he claims this particular statement (“Free John Sinclair” is what he does claim, and that’s a lot more dignified and responsible). Nevertheless, I’ve got it on tape, and hundreds of thousands of people freaked out on this sweeping condemnation of the music of The Who, Woodstock, the “cultural revolution,” etc. Considering the level of consciousness those hundreds of thousands of young people were at, the exploding sunrise, Tommy, what Sly and the Family Stone had done earlier, Hoffman’s seizure of the mike and his “pile of shit” denunciation were incredible acts of violence.
[NOTE: Official story is, the incident occurred during a camera reload, which is why it wasn’t captured on film.]
The second act of violence was physical: Peter Townshend, dean of Rock guitarists, himself bumming on a dose of acid he had unwillingly sipped from a cup of coffee, quite aware of the contradictions at Woodstock, struck Hoffman with his guitar — hard, heavy, like the music. And, ironically, a lot of folks dug it, especially the peace freaks who wanted to see Hoffman as an “outside agitator,” a scruffy, insolent, ego-tripping thorn in the side of Woodstock the “nation” he would later name and define for Amerika in the Chicago Conspiracy trial. But nobody knew quite what to make of the violent confrontation between these two brothers, both of them for some time figures for emulation by the masses. One the author of Revolution for the Hell of It, the other the composer of ‘My Generation’, both distributed by Amerikan capitalist industries, both more than subversive. Most accounts of Woodstock didn’t even report this incident; some did, but didn’t know quite what to make of it. “Politicals” who had no head equipment with which to understand the Woodstock phenomenon could relate to nothing at all except this incident, but even they had trouble claiming it because they couldn’t accept Abbie Hoffman as one of their own. Problems, problems! Most people preferred not to relate to the incident at all — it didn’t “really” happen, and even if it did, it was only an isolated incident. The golden legend of Woodstock was so much more beautiful without it. But Hoffman himself was so freaked out that he had to write an entire book articulating, to himself and us, what took place. Woodstock Nation is about a bummer at White Lake that “culminated with a battle onstage with The Who.” “One of those rare acid trips when everything caves in. I learned enough shit from it, though, that maybe it wasn’t such a bummer after all. All I can say is, man, I took a heavy trip!!” Hoffman says the confrontation with Townshend “symbolizes my amity-emnity attitude toward that particular rock group and the whole rock world in general. Clearly I love their music and sense in it the energy to liberate millions of minds. On the other hand, I feel compelled to challenge their role in the community, to try and crack their plastic dome.”
Peter Townshend, who demanded The Who’s fee for playing at Woodstock and thus encouraged other Rock groups who played there to do the same, was denounced as a “Rock capitalist,” a pig, a foppish dilettante “artist” who was more interested in counting coin and playing Tommy for furs and tuxedos in ruling class opera houses than he was in relating to “the needs of the people.” “Oh fucking hell,” Townshend says now (in Rolling Stone interview, May 14, 1970), “Woodstock wasn’t what rock’s about, not as far as I’m concerned. Quite honestly, I mean knock for knock, everything Abbie Hoffman said was very fair.” In addition, he says that The Who, in the wake of Altamont, will do free concerts, “but only concerts for causes.” “All kinds of bust funds. Good way to give Abbie Hoffman another punch in the stomach would be to give him the returns from a bust fund. I think I’d do it for him if he asked me.”
Regardless of what “politicals” may think or say Rock & Roll is more important to young people now than it has ever been, although the kind of importance it has is changing radically. At the same time, Rockers are realizing — listeners, musicians and middle men alike — that Rock & Roll must move beyond its consumer capitalist foundation or we will see summers of barbed wire Rock festivals, “Woodstock reservations,” and youths divided into Freaks and Consumers (one will be busted, jailed and murdered; the other will grow into loyal Amerikans with long hair). It may very well be that understanding the violent confrontation between Abbie Hoffman and Peter Townshend at Woodstock can help us understand more of what we are and what divides us, what we have to do before we can join in changing the world we live in. If, however, this contradiction among the people is not resolved, and we do not stand united as a Western revolutionary youth movement, then we will not be able to struggle to win a place in the new world. And that’s what it’s all about.
Excerpted from Down Beat magazine, May 14, 1969:
DOWN BEAT: Do you feel rock has anything to do with revolution? I’m referring to people like the MC5, for example.
TOWNSHEND: It hasn’t anything to do with it. The MC5 are presently trying to get out of that. They were a vehicle for revolutionaries who were interested in their own remuneration and their own good times. John Sinclair — ever since he was 15, every minute of his life he was free. Some people can do that, take care of their own problems, never need to work, and get along. Abbie Hoffman, too — he can take bad trips and never do a stroke of real work and live and go through his own particular kind of existence and come out. The MC5 were manufactured; at that point they were a good rock group, but they were used. Revolution is something which happens. Wearing a badge saying “Revolution” means nothing.
DOWN BEAT: What’s necessary for Amerika, if not revolution?
TOWNSHEND: What is necessary is a revolution but you don’t get revolution by incitement. In a way, every revolution that has ever happened has been incited; people have sat in back rooms and talked about it before it happened. In the U.S., the revolution is a universal revolution. The whole of Amerika wants to have a evolution. Middle-aged people want a revolution to reduce the generation gap, which sours them — really sours them. Amerika has lost every ounce of prestige it ever had… Amerikan youth has done nothing — nothing — but live off the Amerikan system. That’s why in European universities, Communist Russia and Mao have more respect than Amerikan youth. Chairman Mao has done quite a lot for change in his country.
DOWN BEAT: What about the Moratorium activities in Washington?
TOWNSHEND: I always feel two ways about demonstrations. Demonstrations are pointless, and yet I still feel myself doing them, just like I still feel myself writing songs about changing society. I know perfectly well nothing at all is going to change because of it. Still, if I had nothing better to do, I would be down there with the demonstrators. Cops have broken my head dozens of times, and I’ve always come out laughing. I always dug the cops, I dug what they had to do, I dug why they arrested me. But demonstrations are too impersonal, wars are too impersonal; confrontation is better, man-to-man.
DOWN BEAT: If rock isn’t revolutionary or even political…
TOWNSHEND: The best rock isn’t.
DOWN BEAT: …then what do you want your music to do?
TOWNSHEND: I want it to do what it already does.
© Miller Francis Jr., 1970