Fifty Years after rhapsodic auguries of the acid-informed era involving the coming “Woodstock Nation,” the US citizenry—convulsed by violence, strung out on all the wrong drugs, and with the Rolling Stones still touring—stumble in mortification through the grim phantasmagoria of the United States Of Altamont. What a long, strange, bad (Nixonian in its dour, paranoid cultural and political aura; Reagan/Clinton/Obama in noxious, neoliberal fantasy; Bush/Trump in cresting tsunamis of raging stupid) trip it has been.
By the mid-1970s, across the suburbs of the U.S., public and private space thronged with clog-shod, lank of hair, denim-clad, reefer-reeking legions of teenagers—my “peer group”—(the (supposed) progeny of an incipient Woodstock Nation. Appearance was far from factual. Was it true and to what extent, to appropriate the argot of the era, had our collective consciousness been raised?
Granted, we possessed an increased tolerance for the superficial aspects of the “Counter Culture” but only the superficial aspects of the cultural phenomena of the 1960s, due to an internalisation of the relentless, all-encompassing commodification retailed by the image-manipulating, co-opting operatives working in the service of capitalism’s over-the-counter culture. As the Seventies shambled forth, egalitarian sharing of a joint was superseded by face-to-the mirror cocaine consumption, and the concomitant, self-obsessed, grandiose, coke-prattle facsimile of human discourse. Cocaine delivered a spurious sense of confidence and surges of manic energy acting as compensation against the increasingly depressing socio-cultural conditions of the era. But come sunrise comedown: Nasal passages scorched, dry mouth, smothered in angst-dampened polyester fabric, tightness in chest, teeth-grinding, blinded by daylight, jittery trudge through a landscape of economic stagnation.
Sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll ethos had, on the surface, prevailed—but reactionary forces seethed beneath it all. The eros of life seemed as appealing as a hotdog nuked in an early microwave oven. Even sex on cocaine made flesh feel as sensate as polyester. “Do your own thing” fashion-wise was subdued into adherence, first, to a monotonous sea of denim then to disco dress codes and the snobbish scrutiny inflicted at velvet rope lines.
Auguries of the arrival, at the end of the decade, of an ex-Hollywood movie and television actor, a highly compensated shill, since the advent of the Cold War era, working in behalf of the profiteers of Cold War militarism, a homily-happy, anecdote-rancid manqué who had been groomed for the role of kindly-but-resolute, cowpoke grandpappy to the nation. Over the years, Ronald Reagan had become an adroit fabulist of Hollywood manufactured mythos—who, because he believed his (self-serving) confabulations—his Hollywood hokum and hoary American exceptionalist fables were retailed as balm to ameliorate the humiliation wrought by the nation’s defeat in the Vietnam War. The pomade-lacquered, Hollywood costume shop warrior’s “resolve” was marketed for the purpose, according scripts manufactured by public relations flacks, for the purpose of banishing American spirit undermining, leftist naysaying and hippie anomie from the collective psyche of the nation.
U.S. culture by the advent of the 1980s was dominated by mass media artifice. Concurrently, the same breed of mass media, dark magicians responsible for contriving Reagan’s manly image of steely resolve were responsible for foisting the mythos of millionaires (later billionaires) possessing a mystique of glamour and elevated, Olympian purpose—a noxious and obnoxious cultural mythos that allowed, decades later, for the rise of a trust fund mountebank, posing as a real estate tycoon, whose image was honed within the fantasy factory termed Reality Television but, in the realm of verifiable reality, was a perpetually failing-upward fraudster possessing a talent for self-marketing.
The tangerine-tinged fraudster marketed himself as being gifted with a golden touch, when, in fact, he is a reverse alchemist whose machinations have transmuted, time and time again, wealth into financial shit-dust. Given the serial betrayals of his smoother, hope and change peddling, con man predecessor, Barack Obama (AKA President Citigroup von Drone)—Trump, the Crown Prince Of Imperial Rot—now gloats and glowers, enthroned atop a mountainous-in-scale dungheap of empire.
“We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.”―W.H. Auden
By means of a phantasmagoric delirium borne of mass media swamp fever, the Altamont of U.S. Presidents, Trump (the anti-Orange Sunshine) lords over the nation manifested as a seemly endless bad trip inflicted by cartels of ruthless dealers, e.g., the capitalist media elite. Delusional pronouncements, as if resultant from ingestion of dodgy street drugs, roil the hallucinatory media landscape. Some of the criteria is comic, e.g., the Orange Eminence chosen by divine admonition as the King Of The Jews. Some odious:
Separation of children from their parents is a Dickensian form of evil; imprisoning them in cages displays a level of evil borne of the mind of Heinrich Himmler.
The foul activities are aspects of the power trips of militarist empires, brooded in the deranged minds of the empire’s high-on-dopamine, hyper-authoritarian—therefore flat out crackbrained —personality types (from cops to intelligence agents, from media personalities to the political class) who act as the operatives and functionaries of imperium and thus have little to nada accountability to anyone other than higher level power freaks.
Brutality reigns when the survival of an empire depends on subduing large swathes of the world’s population in order to deliver ill-gotten swag in the form of resources back to the homeland in an attempt the sate the power addiction and concomitant insatiable id of a craven class of economic, political, and militarist elite. Paranoia is plangent: High walls, reinforced fortifications, a code of silence, secrecy, perpetual coverups, reflexively violent cops and soldiers, and mendacious apologists protect the system.
Its insular and airless nature are stultifying to the culture at large, thus mindless, dehumanizing spectacle and the proffering of tabloid piffle replace public discourse. Traumatised, the general public regresses into an infantilized state. The elites intimidate the hoi polloi into passivity; yet, in a double bind-imposing form of gas-lighting, shame them for their weakness. Thus self justifying lies replace reflection. Daily life becomes a grotesque pageant that oscillates between the manic and the grim, the cruel and the self-pitying. Bullies regard themselves as victims and lash out with even greater impotent rage. Nefarious plots are perpetrated, as life-negating insularity causes all touched by it to languish.
Cruelty flourishes because desperation rules and its perpetrators do not have accountability, sans to other, more powerfully positioned perpetrators of cruelty. Those who torture children by acts of caging view themselves as victims; racists fume they are victims of racism; jingoists, plangent with paranoia, believe themselves under siege (although only by phantoms bristling malice within their own skulls) while, in reality, they are victims of their choice to surrender an independent mind to the soul-devouring machinery of a State that has grown monstrous. Their lives have been merged with a dim beast of insatiable appetite. The grim reality: They have been devoured by it.
The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice—
Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.
—Excerpt from In Memory of Ernst Toller, W.H. Auden
As I was composing this essay, the news arrived, David Koch is dead. This Earth, that he did so much to harm by his cupidity, will receive his corpse. The carnage to his soul can only be estimated by the carnage he inflicted on the world and the harm he inflicted on living things. If that is the case, his soul has been dispatched into eternity as a befouled, reeking rag.
Does being released from the constraints of time and the bondage of self allow for the soul to be reborn free of the taint of treachery individuals such as Koch perpetrated during their lifetimes? He—and his still breathing brother—damn well better hope so.
In this veritable, material plane, the burning rainforest of the Amazon should be utilised as his funeral pyre.
In stark contrast to choices made in regard to one’s interaction with the world, when the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, attempted to present the Grand Vermeil Medal for bravery, the most prestigious honour awarded to civilians by the French city, to Pia Klemp, the German ship captain, animal and human rights activist and author, honouring her selfless efforts in rescuing sea-stranded refugees, Captain Klemp refused to accept the medal, replying: “At the same time your police steal blankets from people you force to live on the streets while you suppress protests and criminalize people who defend the rights of migrants and asylum seekers [and while you deny] ‘documents and housing for all!’ [and you suppress and deny] ‘Freedom of movement and residence.!’ […] ”What we need are freedom and rights” […] ”It is time we call out hypocrite honorings and fill the void with social justice. It is time we cast all medals into spearheads of revolution!”
Indeed. Thus endures the spirit of Woodstock Planet. It would prove propitious for the world’s powers to regard and act against the perpetrators of the fiery carnage being inflicted on the Brazilian rainforest with the same fury of sacred vehemence displayed by Pia Klemp in her rebuke of Europe’s neoliberal elite.
Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: firstname.lastname@example.org and at Friends of Phil: A group for those who follow the writings of Phil Rockstroh on Facebook.