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Michael Winship: Tom DeLay and the Woodstock Nation

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Tom DeLay and the Woodstock Nation"
By Michael Winship

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 Tom DeLay of Texas – birther, born again and former Republican House Majority Leader -- will be a contestant in the next round of DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Still, better to see DeLay trotting the boards of ABC’s hit “reality” show than back marauding the halls of Congress – or roaming faraway Saipan with now imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, praising the US possession’s sweatshops as “a perfect Petri dish of capitalism.” (“It’s like my Galapagos Island,” DeLay enthused.)

When he makes his debut on 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. So it goes when bad things happen to good people.

Now 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”).

At the time, he was working on his final credits toward a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston. He majored in biology, which before he went into politics led to a career not, surprise, in evolutionary science but insect extermination.

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 – not a whiff of contemporary filmmakers betraying their subject matter with a “weren’t they adorable and feckless back then” attitude.

(In fact, Schamus told me the only thing people who were there in 1969 think TAKING WOODSTOCK lacks for atmosphere is the stink created by acres of muck and half a million people.)

So, too, with WOODSTOCK: NOW & 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.

In his NEW YORK TIMES review, critic Mike Hale wrote, “In one way her film is probably truer to the actual experience of the average Woodstock attendee than Mr. Wadleigh’s was. She focuses less on the music, which for some portion of the half-million people in attendance was merely a rumor.”

There is a fearful, ironic symmetry in the TIMES’ praise of Kopple’s documentary, for one of the most interesting points of her film is how that paper, as well as other publications at the time, initially tried to shape their coverage to match a prejudiced preconception.

It was a “Nightmare in the Catskills,” the Times editorialized. "What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?... Surely the parents, the teachers and indeed all the adults who helped create the society against which these young people are so feverishly rebelling must bear a share of the responsibility for this outrageous episode.”

NEW YORK TIMES reporter Barnard Collier, who was covering the actual concert, pushed back. Interviewed in Kopple’s film he recalled, “When the stuff started getting back to New York, the editors there said, this is not what we want. We want a story about what a mess this is. They wanted me to write a story that said Woodstock was a catastrophe about to happen. I said I wouldn’t write it. They said, you gotta write it. I said, I refuse to write it, unless it gets in [my] way. I said, and you gotta read it to me before it goes in, so that I know somebody hasn’t penciled it, you know, taken it apart.

“Finally, I got to [TIMES executive editor] Scottie Reston, and Scottie Reston said, okay, we’ll go with it the way you see it.”

In this time of dying newspapers and the domination of television news by cable networks featuring bombastic opinion and little else, it’s wistful to remember a time when a reporter could persuade an editor to do the right thing. Wistful as well 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.

(TAKING WOODSTOCK opens at theaters in New York and Los Angeles August 26 and nationwide on August 28. WOODSTOCK: NOW & THEN already has premiered on the VH1 and The History Channel cable networks. Keep your eyes open for repeats. )

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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I enjoyed the discussion on Money Driven Medicine. I have been a nurse for over 40 yrs and could add much to the debate that has not been even mentioned. However, I would like to ask Ms. Mahar a question of whether she included workers compensation costs in the data of cost of health care. I think you will find most unnecessary surgeries and care will fall under this umbrella. I am a case manager and see many surgeries, mostly back surgeries that were not indicated by testing or exam and the patient later wonders why he/she feel no better after the surgery and in some cases they will never work again. The outcomes are often not good and the cost is very high. A spinal fusion may be around 100,000 or even higher if further surgery is needed. I will buy her book as it is very relevant to the debate. Another addition to above, in workers' compensation it is a medical legal environment and patient, attorney, physician and other medical providers are thinking of the monetary value to them rather than what is best for the patient. The providers are paid at 100% and sometimes forced to proceed with unnecessary care due to the legal environment it is in. I also think there are duplications of reimbursement and of course other factors I will not go into here.

songweasel ferrets out the infotainment. I visited the Orlando Sentinel and posted a Borg comment about President Obedient resembling Locutis. As raggedy as that costume looked the Republicans must plan on recruiting street vagrants.

you gotta take a look at this...the head of rnc comms speaking to fl gop convention...

I know…tom delay on “dancing with the stars.” Wow. whodathawt…
somehow I can’t picture him in satin shirt open to the waist and fringed pants as he spins his partner in a spirited meringue or samba. (oh great, now I have that image in my head…oh no…)

Its time for another revolution, only this time lets turn it up a little and play some Hendrix Star Spangled Banner.

The Star-Spangled Banner - Jimi Hendrix (High Quality)


I wonder how many Woodstock attendees are conservatives that are yelling the loudest now? Amazing how attitudes change when one has to get a job. So much for peace, love and all that other crap.

I was 13, a washed up kid actor when Woodstock happened. Work in Europe meant I'd take a GED to college in California. Now I'm glad I was in Greece. I knew more about the world and the crimes of the United States than 99% of the Woodstock attendees. I think Dick Cavett did more to popularize Woodstock than anyone else, with Joni Mitchell and CSN on his show. Actually the druggies outshone the folkies at Woodstock, typified by John Sebastian. Maybe the NYTimes had a point, no one could live like that for long.

Even Tom Delay can't "live like that" for long. Maybe he'll choose Bill Frist as a partner in case he breaks a hip. They could come out in a horse suit, do the Shag, then the Huckle-Buck and finish with the Dawg. American celebrity worship was revealed as empty at Woodstock and is in negative graphic territory on D with the S. Starving Marie Osmond earned more points with the judges doing a fainting split than Cloris Leachman could have gotten jumping over the Moon. Vulnerability and helpless embarrassment are the game object on Dancing. Soon contestants will have to die to win; then expire just to compete. Delay may not know it, but he is appearing as a test to see if he can Delay his tormented eternity in Hades. Shouldn't have signed in blood, Old Tom.

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