Sex, Drugs, Rock and Peace

By AL GIORDANO  |  July 22, 2009

The logistical crisis was an opportunity for Abbie Hoffman, who immediately shifted into a different mode of organizing – one that startled observers who knew him only from his Yippie antics. He had learned it years earlier, working on the civil rights campaign in Mississippi.

By Saturday afternoon, the nightmare had become a dream. Hungry kids had been fed by the Hog Farm. Those on bad trips, brought about by what many called "brown acid" had been soothed by volunteers in the medical tent. The sun had emerged. And middles away, in newsrooms and broadcast centers, a shift occurred in the way the media elite perceived – and portrayed – the youth culture.

"Abbie did the most exquisite job of organizing I've ever seen when he organized the medical tent," Gravy recollects.

"Abbie and some really good logistical organizers got some of the movement people to help with medicine and food," Kopkind adds.

"The interesting thing was that the liberals turned at that point," Kopekind says. "The liberals all of a sudden approved. The conservatives and the repressive establishment didn't. But the liberals were so happy that they were peaceful. And after all, these were their children, and that was the crucial point. They started making allowances and seeing the best in them. The corporate overtones and the peacefulness tended to appease and allay the worst fears. After all, the kids were going to be part of the culture, even if they were spending the weekend tripping out of their minds and listening to some crazy, heroin-addicted black man play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' backwards."

Pursuit of LSD

Although the establishment voiced a grudging acceptance of the youth culture that had been popularized by Woodstock, there was one key part that America's fathers and mothers could not come to terms with: the drugs. As the New York Times described the Woodstock audience, "They showed that there is real good under their fantastic exteriors, if it can just be aroused to some better purpose than the pursuit of LSD."

The contradiction between praising the event's peaceful, cooperative atmosphere and railing against the use of hallucinogenic drugs has never been resolved. But 25 years later, it is time to consider the obvious: that disaster was averted at Woodstock not in spite of the fact that kids were taking certain drugs – but because of it.

"I think drugs clearly had a pacifying effect," Kopkind says. "But that's a double-edge sword, too. There was a bit of the zombie aspect. I remember seeing a lot of people totally out of it. There were far more people just kind of pleasantly tripping. I bet that almost everyone smoke pot, and that not nearly that many people took acid. I've always felt that the acid consumption was probably overrated and exaggerated. You had half a million people, so you had tens of thousands taking LSD, which is a lot. But you had hundreds of thousands of people smoking pot."

Woodstock was also shaped by which drugs were not taken in great quantities. "There was not much beer or alcohol," Kopkind remembers there were working-class guys with six-packs at the beginning, but none after the first day, unless people had secret stashes. There were other drugs, but not too much. Speed was not, at that point, in my circle. Smack had a terrible name then in the youth culture. Drugs other than grass or LSD by comparison were insignificant."

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Related: Interview: Michael Lang, Radical night out in Portland, Chicago 10, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , Media, Bob Dylan, John Sinclair,  More more >
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