It’s fifty years on since a half a million young Americans flowed down the Interstates to converge at Bethel in western New York State. Smack dab in the middle of Max Yasgur’s cow pasture, the Woodstock Aquarian Festival of Music and Art morphed into a muddy stage which would showcase the counterculture generation. Hundreds of thousands got up and danced to the music, swaying to the songs and promised dreams.
Carlos Santana explains:
- “At Woodstock I saw a collective adventure that still holds true today. When the Berlin Wall came down, Woodstock was there. When Mandela was liberated, Woodstock was there. Woodstock is still every day” (www.escuelasuperiordeaudio.com.ve/Ampca/michael%20lang.htm)
Michael Lang, the event’s main organizer, similarly opines:
- There are echoes of those (Woodstock) days in our world today – from Global Warming and organic farming, to Human Rights issues to America having a black President” (www.escuelasuperiordeaudio.com.ve/Ampca/michael%20lang.htm)
Rolling Stone magazine stated that Woodstock was:
- “the greatest rock festival ever and the decade’s most famous and successful experiment in peace and community… ‘We thought we were all individual, scattered hippies,’ says David Crosby. ‘When we got there, we said, “Wait a minute, this is a lot bigger than we thought.” We flew in there by helicopter and saw the New York State Thruway at a dead stop for twenty miles and a gigantic crowd of at least half a million people. You couldn’t really wrap your mind around how many people were there. It had never happened before, and it was sort of like having aliens land’” (https://web.archive.org/web/20070209163601/http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/6085488/woodstock_in_1969)
Now that 50 years have come and gone – the same amount of time as a biblical jubilee (see Leviticus 25:8-13) – what perspectives can we take away from the rock festival that was in Bethel – musically, socially and spiritually?
The saffron-robed swami and I
Woodstock began with Sri Swami Satchidananda leading at least 400,000 American youth in invoking the spirit of the Hindu deity Ram.
- “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters, I am overwhelmed with joy to see the entire youth of America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music … Music is a celestial sound and it is the sound that controls the whole universe, not atomic vibrations. Sound energy, sound power, is much, much greater than any other power in this world…So I am very happy to see that we are all here gathered to create some sounds …The entire world is going to watch this. The entire world is going to know that what the American youth can do to the humanity…And, before I conclude my talk, I would like you all to join me and our group here in repeating a very simple chant. … you are going to feel the great, great power of that sound and the wonderful peace that it can bring in you” (The entire festival then chanted the “Hari Om Ram” chant together; http://thesacredtremor.blogspot.com/2013/03/inspiration-swami-satchidananda-speech.html)
In 1991 it was revealed that over the years at least 11 women, including two of Satchidananda’s former secretaries, had been coerced into having sexual relations with him.
- “Of all the iconic images, the one that best captured what endures from the 1960s is the orange-robed Swami Satchidananda addressing the multitude. That photo stands as a potent symbol of the meeting of East and West that has transformed American culture” (Philip Goldberg, author and speaker on Hinduism)
- “Swami Satchidananda wasn’t the first Yoga master to come to America but, with his opening words at Woodstock and the creation of the Integral Yoga organization, he helped modern Yoga take firm roots here, and introduced it to thousands, if not millions of people in the West” (Peter Max, German-American artist best known for 1960s psychedelic art and pop art)
The saffron-robed swami had just shrink-wrapped ancient polytheism and given it a new Aquarian rock ‘n’ roll packaging – his present to the youth of the Western world. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times of Judeo-Christian spiritual consensus were rapidly changing.
A text with a context
Woodstock flowered at the end of the American Sixties. A lot had gone down in the previous twenty years:
- the victory in World War II
- the nuclear-tipped Cold War including Vietnam
- the civil rights movement
- the baby boom and resulting youth culture
- new interstate highway system resulting in greater social and cultural mobility
- the expansion of mass media networks which catalyzed the spread of ideas and music
- an explosion of commercialism, consumerism and materialism
- a post-war optimism regarding attainable goals
- the birth-control pill
- the spread of ‘soft drugs’ and psychedelic drugs
- the explosion of a synthesis of Country and Blues music known as rock ‘n’ roll
President Eisenhower had challenged America to give a wide berth to a carnal materialism which spurned biblical and spiritual realities. His 1954 State of the Union address declared:
- “No government can inoculate its people against the fatal materialism that plagues our age. Happily, our people, though blessed with more material goods than any people in history, have always reserved their first allegiance to the kingdom of the spirit, which is the true source of that freedom we value above all material things … So long as action and aspiration humbly and earnestly seek favor in the sight of the Almighty, there is no end to America’s forward road” (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/eisenhower-state54/).
The spiritual thirst of America’s youth had found little that was appetizing in increasingly liberal and anti-supernatural traditional forms of Christianity and Judaism. This irresistible spiritual hunger was about to crash into an immovable American religiosity.
Francis Schaeffer remarked that “the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too … More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature … As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man’s concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side” (Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution & the Death of Man).
A hard rain’s gonna fall
An entire generation of baby boomers grew up with a nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 seeded existential fear across the continent. Why plan for a distant retirement when faced with the clear and present danger of total human destruction? The ‘American Dream’ was beginning to look like an illusion. The assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy as well as of Martin Luther King shook the stability of a nation.
These and other pressures colored developing social dynamics:
- disenchantment with ‘business as usual’ and middle-of-the-road cultural norms
- fear and rage against all representatives of authority
- civil disobedience influenced by romantic revolutionary propaganda
- the hot blood of youth
Disintegrating values were leading to disintegrating boundaries.
This was the matrix from which Jefferson Airplane sang out at Woodstock:
Look what’s happening out in the streets!
Got a revolution, got to revolution
One generation got old, one generation got soul!
This generation got no dissertation to hold
Pick up the cry! Hey now it’s time for you and me – Got a revolution, Got to revolution”
(“Volunteers,” Marty Balin & Paul Kantner, © BMG Music)
The Who’s stunning performance at Woodstock threw the spotlight on a similar message:
Things they do look awful c-c-c-cold. I hope I die before I get old…
Why don’t you all fade away and don’t try to dig what we all s-s-say
I’m not trying to cause a big s-sensation. I’m just talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-g-generation
(“My Generation”, Peter Townshend,© Brunswick/Polydor)
The disillusionment with Western materialism in general and with America in particular bubbled up into what many see as the anthem of Woodstock – Canned Heat’s ‘Going up the country’ –
I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away.
All this fussin’ and fightin’ man, you know I sure can’t stay
So baby pack your leavin’ trunk, you know we’ve got to leave today
Just exactly where we’re goin’ I cannot say but we might even leave the U.S.A.
(Alan Wilson, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
Outwards appearance and secret societies
Mark Twain once declared, “Clothes make a man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Woodstock was famous for tie-dye t-shirts, fringed jeans and skinny dipping. Those outward manifestations nevertheless had a significant influence on Western society.
A music/social philosopher Bill Mankin offers some insight on this point:
- “As I walked up one side of the (Atlanta) street I noticed a guy with very long hair walking down the street on the other side … As we drew near to our opposite points across from each other, we both broke out into huge smiles, nodded our heads in recognition, and flashed each other the two-finger ‘V’ peace-sign. We were complete strangers, yet we felt an immediate and solid rapport between us, as though we were members of a secret society – all based on our outward appearance” (https://likethedew.com/2012/03/04/we-can-all-join-in-how-rock-festivals-helped-change-america/#.XV-TPVQzbIU)
- “Most revelatory for festival-goers – no doubt in large part because of the sheer size of the crowds – was the sudden sense that the counterculture was big, and because people often came from great distances, it was geographically diverse and interconnected … Audience members could feel that they, themselves, were actually part of it. They were making it happen just as much as anyone else. They now held one of the brushes and were helping to paint the countercultural canvas … There was almost nowhere else than at a rock festival where it felt like one could tap so deeply and directly into the communal coronary artery of the counterculture. It was truly heady stuff … Once someone had been to a rock festival, they often felt like they had been initiated into a very special tribe – exclusive yet enormous, and growing. Every time they subsequently heard the music of any of those festival-playing bands – whether on the radio, on records, or at another concert – it was like hearing the tribal yell …They could be anyone they wanted to be. They felt empowered and emboldened, and their eyes, ears – and minds – were open. They could engage in any version of this brave new world they chose” (ibid.)
The circle of life
The promise of a new generation that Woodstock hoped for – that utopian dream of a turned-on world, a transformed humanity and a new spiritual age – rapidly fell by the wayside. The nightmare of the Altamont Speedway Free Festival (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altamont_Free_Concert) barely four months later saw an African-American stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels bodyguards while a white British rock-blues band (the Rolling Stones) played Sympathy for the Devil and Under my thumb. “Altamont became, whether fairly or not, a symbol for the death of the Woodstock Nation” (Mark Hamilton Lytle, America’s Uncivil Wars: The Sixties Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon, p. 336).
The Rolling Stones were not the cause of Woodstock Nation’s collapse. The spiritual pillars of the Aquarian Age had been tottering from the outset. And the moral compass of the movement was giving a false reading of the true North from the get-go. It is said that the apple does not fall far from the tree. In the end the hippies of Woodstock did not walk that differently from their fathers.
- “Some young people began in 1964 to challenge the false values of personal peace and affluence, and we must admire them for this. Humanism, man beginning only from himself, had destroyed the old basis of values, and could find no way to generate with certainty any new values. In the resulting vacuum the impoverished values of personal peace and affluence had comes to stand supreme. And now, for the majority of the young people, after the passing of the false hopes of drugs as an ideology and the fading of the New Left, what remained? Only apathy was left … The young people had been right in their analysis, though wrong in their solutions. How much worse when many gave up hope and simply accepted the same values as their parents – personal peace and affluence. Now drugs remain, but only in parallel to the older generation’s alcohol, and an excessive use of alcohol has become a problem among the young people as well. Promiscuous sex and bisexuality remain, but only in parallel to the older generation’s adultery. In other words, as the young people revolted against their parents, they came around in a big circle – and often ended an inch lower – with only the same two impoverished values, their own kind of personal peace and their own kind of affluence” (Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, pp. 209-210)
Joni Mitchell, famed Canadian singer-songwriter, has a verse which might sum up this aspect of the Woodstock journey: “And the seasons they go round and round. Painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game” (Joni Mitchell, © Siquomb Publishing Company).
Searching for Paradise Lost
The spiritual yearnings which were part of the warp and woof of the rock festival crystallized in another Joni Mitchell song ‘Woodstock.’ According to David Crosby, Mitchell captured the feeling and importance of the Woodstock festival better than anyone who had actually been there. Her anthem describes a spiritual journey to Max Yasgur’s farm, making conspicuous use of sacred imagery and comparing the festival site with the Garden of Eden.
Well, I came upon a child of God. He was walking along the road
And I asked him, “Tell me, where are you going?”
This he told me. Said, “I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free”
Well, then can I roam beside you? I have come to lose the smog
And I feel myself a cog in something turning
And maybe it’s the time of year, yes and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am but life is for learning
We are stardust, we are golden. We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden
(Joni Mitchell, ‘Woodstock’ © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
The Woodstock Generation was suddenly cut adrift. Within a year the three ‘J’s (Jimi, Janis and Jim Morrison) were dead of drug overdoses. But many of hippies soon came into a deep spiritual encounter with the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua, during the Jesus Revolution of the late Sixties and early Seventies. A significant number of these were Jewish people, and some of them became the leaders of the Messianic Jewish movement around the world and in Israel.
Who remembers the Babylonian Hit Parade?
Over 2,600 years ago Judah was crushingly exiled to Babylon. The Jewish people may have lost their homeland, but they didn’t lose their common sense. They realized that God had exiled them to a foreign land (Psalm 137:4). The prophetic restoration and future of their people lay in remembering the national connection between the scattered Jewish people and their Promised Land (verse 5). Indeed, every Jewish wedding shouts out these words: May even the high joy of my wedding day pale in comparison to YHVH’s promises to doubly restore the Jewish people – spiritually through the Messiah, and physically to the Land of Israel!
In the same way that no one today remembers the ancient Babylonian Top Forty, the Jewish people also no longer remember the Hebrew melodies we were forced to sing beside the Euphrates River 2,600 years ago. But do the Jewish people still remember the fact that most of Jacob’s sons and daughters are not in Israel, but still reside in the lands of our Exile (2 Kings 17:23; 25:21; Ezra 5:12; 9:4; 10:16; Isaiah 5:13a; Jeremiah 16:13-15; 29:13-14; 30:10-11; 16-18)?
Many Jews in the Exile have lost their memory. We have forgotten Zion and are desperately trying to fit in to the lands of our enemies (see Ezekiel 39:25-29; 20:38). And all the while we are afraid that if the Gentiles remember our connection with the Land of Israel and realize that we are only ‘strangers in a strange land,’ they will turn on us and do us evil (Ezekiel 34:5-6. 11-16; 20:32). France once threatened their Jewish community with something similar (http://archive.jewishagency.org/jewish-community/content/24142).
Most English-speaking Jews in the Exile have forgotten these truths, just as they have forgotten the language of Zion and the layout of Jerusalem’s hills. When world leaders remind our people of our need to remember Jerusalem and to be loyal to our people or homeland, this is a divine call for the Jewish people to wake up and press in to know our God!
- “Come, let us return to YHVH. For it is He who has torn, but he will heal us. He has struck down, but He will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days. On the third day He will raise us upto live in his presence. Let us press on to know YHVH. His coming is as certain as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth … What can I do with you, Judah? Your loyalty is like morning mist, like the dew that disappears early. For it is loyalty that I desire…” (Hosea 6:1-6)
How should we then pray?
- Pray for the survivors of the Woodstock generation to ‘get back to the Garden’ and receive a revelation of Yeshua
- Pray for those who still idolize Woodstock to come to an idol-shattering encounter of repentance with the God of Israel
- Pray for Messiah Yeshua to be revealed to and accepted by many hungry Jewish hearts
- Pray for the Jewish people to turn their hearts and lives back to Jerusalem
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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