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Trainwreck: Woodstock '99

I'm about two thirds of the way through this three-part Netflix documentary on the 1999 attempt by some of the original Woodstock promoters to revive, twenty-five years later, the glory that was Woodstock in 1969. I was vaguely aware of the 1999 festival, saw news reports that it had not gone very well, and that was about the extent of my notice of it. But apparently it was much worse than I had realized. 

I have a pretty jaundiced view of the original, and am of the opinion that Woodstock was not really Woodstock until the movie and the soundtrack album came out. My college roommate at the time had attended, and had no particular illusions about it: "A lot of people doing drugs in the mud and listening to music coming from a distant stage." According to him, it was not the hippie bands that got the most enthusiastic reception, but the good-time funk of Sly and the Family Stone. The movie made the myth. But though it may not have been the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (or maybe it was, and maybe that's not necessarily a great thing) it was not a trainwreck. 

The further I get from the '60s counter-culture, the more negative my view of it has become. How dense did one have to be to believe that peace and love are the natural and probably inevitable result of  turning people loose to do what they really feel like doing? The film features interviews with promoters, employees, and attendees who emphasize that the whole thing was badly planned from the beginning. And I have no doubt that it was. But the explanation for the fact that things turned so dark has to take into account the change in American culture, particularly in pop music, over the thirty years between the two Woodstocks. 

It seems to me that this is a much meaner country than it was in the late '60s. I won't explore that question in detail at the moment, but I think it's a valid generalization to say that although there was certainly plenty of meanness prior to 1970, it was not as generally diffused and intense as it is now. The political and cultural polarization which are so much a part of life now was just taking shape at the end of the '60s. And there is no question that by 1999 there was a whole lot of violent rage in popular music that was not there in 1969. 

In 1999 various forms of extremely angry metal or metal-influenced music were quite popular--nu-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. If you've never heard these bands, or, even more convincing, seen them perform, watch this clip of Limp Bizkit's Woodstock '99 performance. You won't be the least bit surprised that the festival ended in violence. This was the only the second day. Things would get worse. 

There is no pleasure to be had from watching this documentary, but as a cultural artifact it's fascinating. I don't think the particular kind of rage on exhibit here is still as much a part of pop music as it was then, but from what I occasionally hear it doesn't look as though the change represents anything I would call progress.


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I watched this 3-part series. Like you, I think I was only peripherally aware that it had happened, or was happening at that time. I really know nothing about bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, had only thought negatively about them due to the very little I had heard, and after watching this that has grown to really not understanding at all any popularity they might have had, or still do.

Interesting to see quite "normal" acts such as Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson performing in this documentary also. What does the crowd think of them?

You are leaving out how terrible the venue was, how these kids were taken advantage of monetarily and provided with very little in basic "care" so to speak - shade, water, bathrooms not overflowing and disgusting. Nothing should have led to the chaos at the end, but these things combined with the rage-filled music helped fuel the rage. What a nightmare!

The reference to the people talking about how badly planned it was was meant to cover that. But it's probably true that if the physical conditions had not been so bad the behavior probably would not have been. There are lots of music festivals that don't turn out this way.

Here's one around the same time that worked out fine, though the number of attendees was less than half that of Woodstock. They also had learned from Woodstock. Kind of amazing that anyone even tried another such thing so soon.,_2001%E2%80%932002

But you're right, I am understating/underestimating the role of the physical misery in making Woodstock 99 such a disaster. To hold a festival on several square miles of pavement in July?!? Even in upstate New York.

Were plastic bottles in wide use in 1969? I sort of don't think so but am not sure. It's kind of horrifying to see how much of the trash at 99 is plastic bottles.

It seems to me that there are at least three angry streams feeding the bigger pop river: punk, metal, and rap.

I wonder to what extent they are independent of one another, to what extent they come from the same spiritual source, to what extent they influenced one another, and so on.

I don't have time to say much at the moment, but briefly: nu-metal is (was?) precisely a merger of the three.

Punk seems to be mainly represented by the attitude. Walking out on stage with middle fingers raised, yelling f-you at the crowd, and on and on. But there is a *lot* of crossover in all this stuff. Look up nu-metal on Wikipedia and you'll see mention of all kinds of sub-sub-genres. Grunge seems to me to be related, too, although I never listened to much of it. Never quite understood why it was considered such a big deal, really. My first reaction was that it was basically '70s hard rock. I remember reading somewhere that Kurt Cobain wanted to combine punk and heaviness.

As for the spiritual sources...well, that's a big one, too big. But I also remember reading, re Kurt Cobain, a family friend saying that he (Kurt) was fine until his parents split up.

The whole punk hostility + craziness thing appeared before punk proper. I watched a documentary about Iggy Pop a while back. I never understood why people thought it was cool for him to just go completely berserk on stage. So that was already present in the '60s, when the Stooges appeared. I also watched one about Jim Morrison and the Doors, and learned that he did more of that stuff than I had realized. I don't mean being just being obscene and such but just thrashing around in a frenzy, falling down, screaming incoherently and unmusically. I don't get the appeal, for either the performer or the audience.

Grunge apparently surprised a lot of people, but not those of us who were already listening to its immediate antecedents in the late 80's. What was most surprising about it was not the music itself but its rapid acceptance into the mainstream, which I never really understood: why was so much 90's rock so aggressive?

This was the main reason I tended to gravitate towards shoegaze and "britpop." It could still be heavy and loud but in general it avoided the anger/aggression of the other stuff. I have come to realize, however, that the reason a lot of people enjoy punk, metal, and rap is precisely that they like, perhaps above all else, that aggressive element. In that sense gangsta rap and death metal are cousins, even if the respective fans of each would never admit it.

Tangentially related:

RIP Judith Durham

I actively like some metal, though in fairly small doses, and have become a bit knowledgeable about it. I mention that to justify my observation that European metal tends to be noticeably less angry than American. Even death and black metal and the bands that have followed in that general direction tend to be more gloom-and-doom than anger. The lyrics are often more Poe than punk. In fact one of the tracks on one of my favorite goth-metal albums is called My Lost Lenore. The whole album is doomy romanticism, not I-hate-the-world.

"why was so much 90's rock so aggressive?" Good question. I don't know. That element seems to have receded somewhat, and "why?" is an equally good question there. That was also a time of very non-aggressive indie rock. But I don't think those bands tended to make the charts.

Glad you specified gangsta rap, as rap as a genre doesn't seem to be especially angry.

I saw that piece about The Seekers the other day. Very sweet. They were from another world. Can't say I know their music apart from the hits, but that article made me wonder about Georgy Girl, the movie. I saw it at the time (I think) but don't remember anything much about it.

I watched the last episode of Trainwreck a day or two ago. Pretty horrible. I'm surprised there was not a massive lawsuit, assuming the documentary is not outrageously one-sided.

It is surprising. Did not seem to be one-sided; the filmmakers pretty much put equal blame on attendees and promoters, didn't they? It was this way because of these people, but that doesn't excuse these other people from acting like animals...

For me the overall effect was that the promoters were more to blame, because they created the situation. Negligence and that sort of thing, if lawyers were involved. I'm just hedging my bets, because some documentaries these days seem to be basically propaganda. Like you say, that doesn't excuse the thugs.

I watched 'Georgy Girl' a while back and didn't like it much. The song didn't seem to fit the film at all -- the latter was weird and a little dark.

That's interesting, because I had a similar but very vague notion. But then I thought I must be confusing it with Alfie, because I was thinking Michael Caine was in it. Maybe they were both somewhat dark.

It's been ages since I saw Alfie -- don't remember much of it at all.

Same here, all I have is that very vague impression. Since I saw both when they were initially in theaters, and not since, I'm pretty sure it's been even longer for me. :-)

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