Sex, Drugs, Rock and Peace

By AL GIORDANO  |  July 22, 2009

"Abbie walked out to another mike and started talking about John Sinclair being in prison. It didn't really matter because the audience wasn't ready to hear that. They were ready to hear the next song. Everything Abbie had said went over their heads. He didn't say, 'Hi, I'm Abbie Hoffman.' Peter looked up and said, 'Lo and behold, there's a stranger on stage.' He tapped Abbie on the side of his head with the end of his guitar. He didn't bash him or anything. Abbie was so startled anyway, he jumped into the press pit, which was right in front of the stage, about 15 feet down, and climbed over the wall into the audience."

Notes Krassner: "That scene wasn't in the movie. An interesting omission."

Many folks who didn't see it later heard that Townshend had bashed Hoffman over the head with his guitar, El Kabong-style, for guitar –smashing was Townshend's trademark. It came to symbolize the efforts of the concert organizers, the movie producers, and even some of the artist to erase the political content from the myth. Townshend would later brag that hitting Abbie with his guitar was the only over political action he'd ever taken.

McDonald adopted a cynical view of Hoffman's organizing efforts. "Abbie didn't have any effect on Woodstock," he insists. "I thought Abbie was irresponsible, and I had many arguments with him about his irresponsible behavior. I grew up in a socialist family, and he grew up in a capitalist family, so he was new to the business. He was a grandstander. That was the good and bad about him. He felt that you could force the revolution to happen by manipulating the festival. That was very risky business."

Ten years later, Hoffman cam to understand that his behavior at Woodstock was the manifestation of his manic-depression. It led to his suicide in 1989.

Hoffman at this time had been underground for six years, seeking to avoid a 20-year prison sentence for facilitating a cocaine sale at the request of an undercover officer. Speaking frankly into a friend's tape recorder, in words never before published, Hoffman recalled, "I again had no sleep for a long time, intense work, I was trying to save the festival by building all those tents and everything...I was a little weird and grabbed the mike and gave a little speech, and the mike was shut off, and I jumped off the stage, which was about 26 feet high. I had a tremendous burst of energy. I started writing a book and finished it in five days."

In other words, while in a mental state that his culture defines as crazy, Abbie harnessed that "burst of energy" in a way that contributed to the sanity of society. What some might call the "disease" of manic-depression may, in fact, be a gift.

Certainly Hoffman saw his mental condition as a gift – until society forced him underground, his mood swings "were beneficial," Anita says.

"He was totally productive-creative," she explains. "I don't know how much he slept during Woodstock. He was totally on, every minute, working at peak capacity. It wasn't until he went underground that he started to have depression as opposed to the disease, caused in party by the stress and loneliness of fugitive life. I knew he was on a manic thing. I remember him writing the book in five or six days."

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Related: Interview: Michael Lang, Chicago 10, Crossword: Not so full of it, are we?, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , Media, Bob Dylan, John Sinclair,  More more >
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