In 1969, I enlisted one of my high school English teachers and her husband to go with me to Woodstock — they even had the requisite Volkswagen microbus. Alas, my plan fell through: my mother said no.
A sorry state of affairs. If it wasn’t for all the 40th anniversary celebrations of Woodstock, the primary cultural contribution of the month would be the announcement that former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas will be a contestant in the next round of “Dancing with the Stars.”
You have to wonder if Tom will specialize in that favorite Lone Star dance, The Cotton Eye Joe, or more appropriately, some variation of The Sidestep, immortalized in Broadway’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
The corrupt governor in the show sings, “Ooh, I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t. I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step, cut a little swathe and lead the people on.”
No doubt there will be a lifting groundswell of GOP voting that will keep DeLay light on his feet through at least the first rounds of the competition. But as far as leading people on, the ex-congressman would do well to remember what happened the last time he tried to jury tamper with the scorekeeping on “Dancing with the Stars.”
You see, this is not The Hammer’s first time at the rodeo. Three years ago, several weeks after his resignation from Congress, he sent a letter to his fan base urging them to vote for country singer Sara Evans, a “Dancing with the Stars” contestant.
“Sara Evans has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in the media,” DeLay wrote. “From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we all believe in. … One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans.”
Jerry Springer wound up outlasting Evans, who dropped out of “Dancing with the Stars” in the midst of a messy divorce during which she accused her husband of serial adultery. He made similar charges against her.
If DeLay equated the comparatively harmless Springer with smut on TV, goodness knows what he would have made of Woodstock, the peace-love-music, free-for-all celebration that in 1969 churned upstate New York dairy farmer Max Yasgur’s pastures into mud.
DeLay was 22 back then, perhaps just a hair past prime for the Woodstock generation, but still in his pre-probity days. He might have enjoyed himself (remember that while in the Texas state legislature his nickname was “Hot Tub Tom”).
Me, during the summer of Woodstock I was getting ready to go away for my freshman year of college. I saw one of the first ads for the festival in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and enlisted one of my high school English teachers and her husband to go with me — they even had the requisite Volkswagen microbus. And the concert site was only a four-hour drive away, tops.
Alas, my plan fell through for that most rudimental of reasons: my mother said no.
Several months later, at the end of my freshman year, some friends and I hitchhiked to a midnight showing of Michael Wadleigh’s extraordinary Woodstock documentary. Hard to imagine that four decades later anyone would have the creative courage — or chutzpah — to try to recapture the experience.
But two sets of filmmakers have done just that and the results are terrific. “Taking Woodstock,” a feature film directed by Ang Lee and written and produced by my friend James Schamus, is a funny, touching look at the festival from the periphery. The performances are on pitch and the movie captures the period and the event perfectly, without once slipping into caricature or retrospective smugness.
So, too, with “Woodstock: Now and Then,” directed by the great documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple. Using footage from the original Wadleigh documentary, combined with a wealth of other archival material and new interviews with many of the participants, Kopple tells the story of the concert from its inception through the bitter financial wrangling that tore its promoters apart from the moment the music was over.
The dog days of August allow us time to reflect on a Woodstock Nation that never really materialized, its moment of rhythm and harmony trumped by the heavy-footed dance stylings of men like Tom DeLay.
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local air times or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.