Music and the Counterculture Music essay

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'All you need is love,' sang The Beatles. But they sang against a backdrop of militant demonstrations, the hazing of soldiers, environmental 'monkey-wrenching,' self-destructive drug trips, and a knifing death at the Altamont Rock Festival in 1969. Apart from the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society, which took Charles Manson as its hero, most people who identified with the 1960s counterculture deplored violence as much as they deplored the war in Viet Nam. Yet they were able to adapt the Boone myth to their own purposes by playing down its violence and emphasizing the first half of the regenerative cycle, the Indianizing of white pioneers. For those on the political left, as well as those on the right, the wilderness and the Indian were ideologically charged symbols (Herr 1991) (Bates 29)."

While Herr's assessment was tainted with the experience of a returning Viet Nam era war veteran, he is correct that the assessment of the 1960s counterculture was somewhat self-serving, if not tainted in its own perceptions. The music industry that served to flame the passions and whose lyrics were the call to arms for domestic resistance and unrest, earned literally billions of dollars for he record labels, feeding the wealth and excess of the corporate establishment that the people involved in the movement and even those who sang the songs, claimed to deplore. Yet the musicians did not sing for free, nor did their audiences pass around a coffee collection to fund the bands; it was a business for the stars, the industry, as much as the excessive use of illicit drugs was akin to the illegal governmental operations and the greedy capitalistic corporate ventures that the young people sang about and protested.

The excess of the American counterculture youth is perhaps best memorialized by a series of music industry related events. On March 27, 1969, John Lennon, who was by the time the event took place a "former" Beatle; with his new wife, Yoko Ono, staged a "bed-in" for peace in the presidential suite of the Amsterdam Hilton (Kane 110). It probably drew more attention to the break up of the Beatles as a group, since Lennon's new wife was accused of having been the dividing factor in the group's break up. Lennon was indeed a peace advocate, but he also had by that time evolved, as did the counterculture movement and youth, to reflect the excess of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The "bed in" resulted in one of the most successful songs of Lennon's career, The Ballad of John and Yoko (1969), whose lyrics are this:

The Ballad of John and Yoko

"Standing in the dock at Southampton,

Trying to get to Holland or France.

The man in the mac said, "You've got to go back."

You know they didn't even give us a chance.

Christ you know it ain't easy,

You know how hard it can be.

The way things are going

They're gonna crucify me.

Finally made the plane into Paris,

Honey mooning down by the Seine.

Peter Brown called to say,

"You can make it O.K.,

You can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain."

Christ you know it ain't easy,

You know how hard it can be.

The way things are going

They're gonna crucify me.

Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton,

Talking in our beds for a week.

The newspaper said, "Say what you doing in bed?"

I said, "We're only trying to get us some peace."

Christ you know it ain't easy,

You know how hard it can be.

The way things are going

They're gonna crucify me.

Saving up your money for a rainy day,

Giving all your clothes to charity.

Last night the wife said,

"Oh boy, when you're dead

You don't take nothing with you

But your soul - think!"

Made a lightning trip to Vienna, eating chocolate cake in a bag.

The newspaper said, "She's gone to his head,

They look just like two gurus in drag."

Christ you know it ain't easy,

You know how hard it can be.

The way things are going

They're gonna crucify me.

Caught the early plane back to London.

Fifty acorns tied in a sack.

The men from the press said, "We wish you success,

It's good to have the both of you back."

Christ you know it ain't easy,

You know how hard it can be.

The way things are going

They're gonna crucify me.

The way things are going

They're gonna crucify me.

Lennon's song has just one reference to "peace," which is a clever double entendre, given the bed in; nonetheless is not called Bed In for Peace; it is the Ballad of John and Yoko, about their experience as a couple, about gives no indication of why anyone is going to "crucify" Lennon. While the song drew very little attention to the ongoing Viet Nam peace process, it drew plenty of attention from religious fundamentalists who were outraged by Lennon's use of "crucify" in the song (Martin and Segrave 180).

The height of the counterculture movement, the epitome of the movement's musical expression of their ideologies and passion, culminated in one of the most memorable events in music and American history: Woodstock. In August, 1969, on a 600 acre farm belonging to Max Yasgur, in upstate New York, with estimates of as many as 400,000 young people and music fans in attendance for the three day music festival, the Woodstock music festival took place (Perrone 41). Photographs of the event bear out at least that figure. The festival was three days of peace, love, and rock and roll, with music headliners like Country Joe McDonald, whose combination The Fish Cheer & I Feel Like I'm Fixin to Die Rag (1965) summed up the feelings of the youth regarding Viet Nam. These are the lyrics:

The Fish Cheer & I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag

Gimme an F!

F!

Gimme an I!

Gimme an S!

S!

Gimme an H!

H!

What's that spell ?

FISH!

What's that spell ?

FISH!

What's that spell ?

FISH!

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,

Uncle Sam needs your help again.

He's got himself in a terrible jam

Way down yonder in Vietnam

So put down your books and pick up a gun,

We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it's one, two, three,

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on generals, let's move fast;

Your big chance has come at last.

Gotta go out and get those reds

The only good commie is the one who's dead

And you know that peace can only be won

When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.

And it's one, two, three,

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Huh!

Well, come on Wall Street, don't move slow,

Why man, this is war au-go-go.

There's plenty good money to be made

By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade,

Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,

They drop it on the Viet Cong.

And it's one, two, three,

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.

Come on fathers, don't hesitate,

Send 'em off before it's too late.

Be the first one on your block

To have your boy come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

The song's lyrics speak to the large numbers of young men who were being sent to Viet Nam, only to return home in caskets. The song reflects a casual disregard for life of the victims, which was the way that the counterculture movement's young people believed that the U.S. Government treated the young. The government acted as though the sons and brothers of American families were dispensable. The Viet Nam was the first American war that was televised, and each night the public was inundated with frame after frame of news footage showing fallen young American men dead on foreign soil. There was, too, the issue of the destruction…[continue]

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