Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock: A Wuxi Expat Perspective

I just read about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.  Now I was alive at the time of the festival but I was too young to remember it.  I doubt if my father, an immigrant form Latvia who can boast that He saw Mario Lanza in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, was even aware of the festival at the time.  I can say have meet the requisite bunch of people who knew someone who went to there.
I have been brought up with the myth that Woodstock was an important cultural moment.  When I first drifted rightwards politically, I often thought to compare Woodstock to the Nuremberg Rallies.  Lots of people together to worship something earthly and ephemeral.  Now, I would say it to over the top to say Woodstock was extremely leftist and that it was all that significant.
It is in China that I have watched all sort of Woodstock documentaries (and Triumph of the Will) on pirated DVDs.  What has surprised me was how not so different everyone in the film seemed from the people I saw in my concert-attending days - I thought Woodstock goers would somehow seem closer to the fifties than the nineties.  The DVDs also showed that the festival was a logistical disaster and was interrupted by a heavy rain storm.  The performers were sometimes full of self-importance.  Much of the audience was just goofing off.
I could just imagine what Chinese students of the English language would think if they watch any footage of Woodstock.  They would look at it with bemusement and incomprehension.  I couldn't think how I could explain to then the strong impact it has on some Westerners' psyches.  The Chinese, in their incomprehension at Woodstock, would strike many Westerners as nerds.    Though,   I would have to say that nothing so irks a Westerner as having his self-perceived cultural coolness being burst by someone who tells them they like the Back Street Boys.
And when you think what the average Chinese person's life was like in the People's Republic in 1969, Woodstock really takes on the aspect of a big party for spoiled, self-important, and very self-referential teenagers.

1 comment:

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