If you watched any of the trailers for Ang Lee’s recent Taking Woodstock , you’d think that the ‘60s were a gentle-hearted, kooky time filled with benign cross-dressing and bad haircuts. There has been a thorough pop cultural rewriting of the ‘60s, which in reality was a time of national chaos, violence, and upheaval- the center was not holding , as Joan Didion said at the time. Two news stories dominating headlines today-about Woodstock-era rock star John Phillips raping his own daughter Mackenzie, and about the death of Manson follower Susan Atkins -remind us that it wasn’t all folk songs and love-ins.
Lifestyles like Phillips’-one quarter of the Mamas and the Papas-have been thoroughly defanged, commodified, and romanticized in the intervening 40 years. The legacy of the Manson followers is different, as most people think they’re still monsters. But people like writer and director John Waters have stood up for these female acolytes of Charles Manson, even though they brutally murdered Sharon Tate and several others. Of course, not every work of pop needs to be entirely faithful to reality. It’s just good to be reminded that sometimes there are really bad acid flashbacks.