Or perhaps the now-famous Mercedes that was flipped over and destroyed could have exploded under the stress, eliminating some of the thick-necked, shorn-headed middle-class thugs who create the contexts for America's Columbines. Or else the swine could have just beaten each other with fence posts into ineffectual stupors. Even North Jersey wiggers in ballcaps can't rape adolescent girls if they?the wiggers?happen to be unconscious. But life's rarely esthetically complete, and there was enough corporate property destroyed to have rendered the event worthwhile anyway: the above-mentioned sound tower and Mercedes, plus an additional telephone truck, 12 storage trailers, a number of tents and three ATM machines. Hundreds of kids looted, rampaged and set fires for hours before the cops enforced order.
Who's complaining? The marauding kids were inarguably disgusting?several thousand of the incipient fascists who rule the nations' suburban high schools?but that's all right. They're brutal enough that you can fairly consider them, collectively, as little more than a tool, a battering ram with which Fate bludgeoned the event's buccaneering promoters, the amphibious Michael Lang among them.
The idea that small-time local vendors were victimized by the violence would be affecting were it indisputably true. But one gets the sense that the vendors were no good, either. The Daily News' online edition last Tuesday included the following passage:
"Tom Fall, 52, of Putney, VT, was among the handful of original Woodstockers to attend the '99 version.
"'We felt threatened,' said Fall, a vendor. 'This was supposed to be peace, love, harmony. I was at the first Woodstock. That was a disaster also, but there was no violence.'"
He's half right. In a sense, Woodstock didn't create much overt violence until the Woodstock President?Bill Clinton?slithered into office and started committing murderous atrocities around the globe, and to the urbane applause of society's better element. But at any rate, Fall's presence at the festival exhausts your patience with the canard that the vendors were harmless local businessmen. At least one of them, it seems, is an old Aquarian who showed up at Woodstock '99 with a sack full of trinkets and a greedy imperative to do what events prevented him from doing back in 1969: cashing in. Voracious old hippies, fleecing kids with $4 bottles of water and overpriced baubles, still kicking themselves that they didn't have the foresight to sell Thorazine tablets at a 10,000-percent mark-up to their bad-tripping peers at the 1969 event. A riot? One understands.
Meanwhile, the media's editorializing was dominated, predictably, by self-congratulatory thumb sucking of the by-gum-when-we-were-young-we-knew-how-to-have-an-epochal-music-festival-and-we-stopped-a-war-while-we-were-at-it variety. Nonsense. But there it was. Mostly the material was a predictable melange of prurience (naked chicks!), nostalgia and middle-aged moralizing. You got the sense that dozens of midlife dorks in newsrooms had been waiting for years for something like this to happen, so that they could vent that emotion that's central to the self-definition of many baby boomers: hatred of?rage at?their children. "Woodstock was spontaneous, extraordinary, crazy, and unforgettable," preached The Boston Globe in an editorial typical of what the media was disseminating, "but it can't be duplicated. Anyone who tries will be disappointed or worse. That's the great lesson in the passage of time."
Oh, eat me. And gimme your wallet.
The ugliest piece I happened upon was one by The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten, who's either a bad satirist or a churl of the highest caliber. The following is from the beginning of Weingarten's "open letter" to his teenage children:
"Hey kids. This is payback time. Didja hear what happened at your 'Woodstock '99' Sunday?
"Your generation tried to show you were every bit as coolly disaffected as mine, every bit as saturated with love and tranquillity and an appreciation of the transcendence of music as a unifying force for peace and oneness and beatific harmonious munificence and thus such.
"Here's what happened, as summarized in news accounts: 'It ended in a destructive melee. There was looting. Marauding bands of shirtless, bellowing men set fire to twelve trucks and...'
What a wretch of a man. One can only hold out hope that those teenage children of his whom he so passionately hates someday make him very, very unhappy.
Amazingly, The New York Times carried the most sensitive opinion piece about the disaster, a July 28 "Editorial Observer" article by Gail Collins, who avoided sentimental claptrap and opined that only "pure terror" kept the original Woodstock from devolving into something ugly. "Circumstances that nobody anticipated had left us in the middle of nowhere, the roads clogged and impassable in every direction," she writes of the 1969 festival, "with no way for us to get out or anybody else to get in. We were on our own, and if we behaved well, it was probably because we knew there was nobody to protect us from ourselves."
Later in the article she writes: "But when the music ended at night and you found yourself walking through the dark, packed in the middle of several hundred thousand adolescents, it was hard to avoid contemplating what would happen if somebody suddenly yelled 'Fire!' and started pushing."
I don't know if Collins is a mother, but if she is, I'd bet she's a good one.
"We've definitely cleaned up the magazine since Flynt bought it," Dave Carnie, managing editor of the suddenly controversial Larry Flynt-owned skateboarding magazine Big Brother is telling me over the phone from Los Angeles. "We've had to. The magazine never made money before Flynt bought it."
Which makes it ironic, what happened recently. Because the context for Carnie's comments is last week's hullabaloo between Big Brother and right-wing radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger, during which the hateful woman attacked on the air what she characterized as a pornographic magazine. This was a good one: a battle between two similar?because both are stupid and corrupt?manifestations of the American wickedness. On the one hand, Dr. Laura, the most obnoxious termagant defender of phony "Judeo-Christian" values this side of Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, the proprietor of Larry Flynt Publications, a pornographer who's decimated the respectability of his profession by publishing naked pictures of ugly women, and a thoroughly conventional middle-American gutter-capitalist who in the past year has been a militant defender of status quo politics as embodied by his hero, the President of the United States of America.
But back to last week's Schlessinger-Big Brother controversy. "The dispute began Sunday," the Orange County Register reported on Wednesday, "when Schlessinger and her son went shopping for T-shirts and shorts at Beach Access [a surf store in Costa Mesa, CA]. While there, Schlessinger saw a copy of Big Brother Skateboarder in a pile of magazines set out for customers to read. The 100,000-circulation magazine is published by Larry Flynt Publications, which also publishes Hustler magazine.
"Schlessinger asked the manager if he knew that Big Brother was connected to Flynt. She also asked if he knew it was pornography. When he said he did know that Big Brother was connected to Flynt but that he didn't think it was porn, she said she wouldn't buy any products from Beach Access and left the store.
"The next Beach Access heard from Schlessinger was on air, when Dr. Laura recounted the story and told listeners that the store 'intentionally put a Hustler magazine, hidden under the name Big Brother Skateboarder,' in view of young people." The lying bitch. And now, naturally, Beach Access is receiving hundreds of abusive phone calls from bullies. "This is totally wrong," store owner Tom Moore was quoted as saying, poignantly. "We're as mild as we can possibly be." The Register's story continues: "Though Big Brother does deal in graphic written material, it doesn't publish nude photos, according to Managing Editor Dave Carnie.
"'Dr. Laura's right. The pornography in the magazine is well-hidden, because I haven't seen it either,' Carnie said."
Here's where the story becomes something more than another tale of American stupidity. Because the fact is that Carnie's being a bit disingenuous there. It's true enough that Big Brother doesn't publish nude photos. But it certainly used to?and did much, much worse, too, back in the early- and mid-90s, when it was still one of the funniest, smartest, nastiest, most disgusting, best magazines in the country; before, that is, Flynt bought it in 1997, bowdlerized it and robbed it of its edge. At one point earlier in this decade, Big Brother encapsulated a spirit similar to the one that made SST, the great Los Angeles-based punk record label, so interesting 15 years ago: a creatively destructive, loose-jointed nihilism that didn't preclude intelligence (and occasionally even literacy) and that was aware, even if without acknowledging it, that ugliness for the sake of ugliness is one of the few viable political stances left in a mendacious era in which Bill Clinton's a "leftist," his wife's a "feminist" and Larry Flynt epitomizes "free speech." Ugliness, the magazine seemed on some level to realize, is difficult to co-opt. Big Brother possesses the outrageous distinction of having been made cleaner by Flynt, who, run-of-the-mill Kennedy-hobnobbing pimp/capitalist that he is, ruined the magazine. Now, with the exception of the occasional good article?and most of those are by Carnie, a good writer?Big Brother's just a run-of-the-mill youth mag, dedicated to shilling the paraphernalia?the t-shirts, the punk records?native to the skateboard industry.
So it's ironic that Schlessinger's latched onto the magazine now. If she'd seen Big Brother as recently as two years ago, her head would have exploded. Here's the charming cover of one pre-Flynt issue, for example, which bears on thick, glossy stock a beautiful black and white photograph of a bloody Christ crucified on a cross made out of skateboards. I would have loved to see Schlessinger confront that gloriously offensive image. Flip inside and there's a Freshjive advertisement featuring unclothed porn star Chasey Lain entwined with another naked girl. The mail page includes a letter from a semi-literate Chicago epistler who's enclosed, for publication, a picture of his naked friend fucking a cat: a censoring red star covers the point of penetration. The letters, amusingly, aren't censored for grammar; neither, apparently, are the editorial responses by the month's guest editor Bo Turner?a professional skater and legendary maniac. "Rub my balls!" Turner answers one correspondent. "Don't write here no more, and your mother blows. Suck my ass pipe."
And on and on. Bong and malt liquor reviews. A section called "The He-Man Ed Hater's Club," into which readers can write with violent homophobic abuse of pro skater Ed Templeton, who's (falsely) rumored to be gay. A Shorty's clothing ad consists of a photograph of star skater Chad Muska smoking a joint with a girl.
Or take another old issue (not all old Big Brothers were dated, which?deliberately or not, and in concert with the heavy, quality stock?had the droll effect of making these ribald publications look like collector's editions) epitomizes another old Big Brother trope: straightfaced interviews with pro skaters who reveal themselves as violent sociopaths, but whom the magazine sits down for long conversations as if these kids were so many Ralph Naders visiting the offices of The National Interest. From a Q&A with a skating thug named Andy Roy: "I lie a lot. Hey, to get girls, you've got to lie. You can't be yourself. You got to tell phony stories... That's how you get laid... But since my teeth got kicked out, it's hard now... And I have pretty eyes, but now it's gonna be hard to get pussy. I'll have to buy it and shit. I'll go to Capp Street. I'll buy seven dollar headers. It don't matter."
And onward. A scan through my pre-Flynt back issues yields an exhilarating cornucopia of wonderfully entertaining and sophomoric vulgarity. Big Brother was the Ted Williams of 90s magazines; it generally batted around .400. The endless photos of people vomiting, or else passed out drunk and half-naked; or the bare-ass photos; or Carnie's featurette, with photos, in which he and his friends get drunk, don diapers and then defecate into them. In fact, here's a frontal photograph of Carnie, on a skate tour, stark naked and flipping the bird from the open door of a moving van, all hairy and gross and up-front dangling. Bare female breasts bob regularly through the pre-Flynt magazine's pages. The pre-Flynt magazine was a wonderfully entertaining, unapologetic glorification of thuggery, ignorance, failure, underage drinking, cloacal humor, free-floating sociopathy, teenage drug use, petty thievery, vandalism and general suburban depravity. Best of all, it was unalloyed by any hint of irony, that 1990s disease. All that, plus good skating pictorials (plus a lot of big glossy advertisements for skateboard equipment and clothing, the implications of which I'm ignoring now). It's not saying much, perhaps, but it's saying something: Big Brother used to be one of the best magazines of the decade.
Depressingly, that's no longer true. The magazine's decline began soon after Flynt purchased it?it used to be published by an El Segundo, CA-based outfit called Dickhouse Publishing?in 1997. And the decline's accelerated recently, since Flynt's organization was forced to circle the wagons in the wake of the Flynt Report.
"Since the Flynt report we've been really careful with everything, down to cusswords," says Carnie. "We're hoping that the heat will blow off of us? Things just keep flaring up, as they tend to do for us? Things were just starting to mellow out, and now we're high profile again."
It's true that excellent material kept appearing in the magazine for a while after the Flynt acquisition. Notably there was Carnie's February 1998 report from a skate contest in Austin, in which he mostly ignored whatever skating went on and described his own ugly attempts at Austin tourism, which seemed to amount to so much crack-smoking and meth-snorting. And another 1998 article, in which some moron tested personal defense devices on himself, even going so far as to put on a flak jacket and shoot himself, was first-rate, old-line Big Brother material. Carnie test-drove penis pumps in the September 1997 issue. In addition, I recall a queasy, upsetting, and to that extent effective, January 1998 piece that included detailed, illustrated instructions about how to poison and booby-trap candy and other treats: "The ol' razor blade in the apple?a classic!"
Flynt's been trying to mainstream the publication in order to make it acceptable for the children of bluenose maniacs like Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Even the magazine's stock is of a lesser quality now. It's a shame. The latest, Sept. '99, issue is uniformly disappointing, almost indistinguishable in tone from Thrasher, the "mainstream" skating magazine against which Big Brother used to stand in implicit opposition. Certainly, the current Big Brother gestures toward the depravity that once characterized it. There's an interview with Gwar's singer in the current issue, for instance. But it's just that: a mere gesture compared to the violent transgressions the magazine used to habitually commit. Big Brother's PG-rated these days?it's a dry hump of a magazine. Reading it's similar to reading Maxim. There's enough metaphorical skin to compel you to thumb through the pages, but ultimately frustration imposes itself, because there's not enough to turn you on. A story about a skaters' road trip in the new issue ends with the following sentence, which under the circumstances is stunning: "The booze, the women, the drugs and all the other things that you won't be reading about in this article were the things that will be long remembered by those who participated." What? In the old days, the article would have been about nothing other than the booze, the women, the drugs, and graphically so.
So that's the context into which Dr. Laura slouched last week. Far from abusing the pornographer, Laura should be sending Flynt flowers for bowdlerizing a magazine that, in its heyday, would have inspired her to announce the death of American civilization, such as it is. Dr. Laura, wandering into a Costa Mesa surf shop in 1999, doesn't know how good she has it. It's a shame that he did so, but there it is: Flynt has saved Laura's delicious little boy from encountering reading material that's truly objectionable.