Watching Woodstock the other morning, for the umpteenth time (strangely, though, i don’t think I’ve ever seen it all the way through.. I always seem to come in somewhere in the middle), it struck me: was 1969 the absolute worst year for music ever? A similar thought flitted across my mind recently when PBS was doing its annual fund-raising drive and seemed to think a concert film of Blind Faith performing in Hyde Park that same year was what would prompt the punters to cough up a donation (and hell, maybe they know their demographic, which is Anglophile and babyboomer). But Blind Faith was just dull; Woodstock, that’s a whole other order of ordure. Is there anything more obscene in rock than Joe Cocker’s blackface bawling? (He and Janis are surely the most unsalvageable elements from the entire decade). Perhaps 10 Years After’s Alvin Lee’s having-a-fast-angry-wank grimacing during the interminable "Coming Home/Baby Please Don’t Go” jam-arathon comes close. Especially combined (or even juxtaposed--do they go split-screen during that sequence, i can't remember)with the look of idiot bliss on his bassist’s face, who silently pounds his instrument’s soundboard in time to the beat with eyes closed in rapture, like the jizz whizzing past his earholes and over the audience's collective face are the most sublime sounds he’s ever heard! Now I’m a big Sixties person as you know but practically everything in the movie makes me cringe and recoil. The inanities uttered! And everyone looks so ugly, so badly dressed! The hair probably looked cute in ’66 when they first started growing it out, but as the decade's end approaches it's looking really bad. And most of all the terrible music, from Santana to CSN to Sha bloody Na bloody Na…. Just about the only good bits*: Richie Havens, surprisingly… Country Joe, well yes we all like "fixin' to die" the anti-draft satire don't we … oh and Sly of course… But even Jimi torturing the Star Spangled Banner goes on a bit. Intriguingly, the music was at its most dire at the precise moment that Rock was at its most demonstrably Important as well as at its most self-Important.
* I of course still get a tingle when the two Suburban Base samples appear -- “that kid’s gonna be far out” (John Sebastian onstage talking about one of the births that took place during the festival, as used on Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era’s “Far Out”)… and then “you’ve heard the heavy groups, now you will hear morning maniac music” (Grace Slick, introducing the Airplane at dawn, as used on Lick Back Organisation’s “Maniak Musik”)