Netflix’s riveting new documentary about Woodstock ’99 has few heroes, many villains

I was off in a world of my own in 1999 — I spent the millennium New Year’s Eve surrounded by 5,000 people at a wild all-night circuit party/rave in the South Beach convention center — so that is proof enough that current events were not on my radar that year.

So I have been ignorant (or simply don’t remember) the horrible events that transpired in 1999 when promoters tried to recreate 1969’s fabled Woodstock that year in Rome, New York.

Thanks to Netflix, you, too, can get caught up on those three days in July 1999, thanks to their new 3-episode documentary “Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99”.

I found it so engrossing I ended up binge-watching all three episodes.

If you had to boil those three days of rage, mayhem and violence down to a few things, it all started when the event was turned into a purely commercial enterprise where promoters tried to wring as much money out of the young people as possible with high ticket prices, and a ban on bringing food and water into the festival where, once inside the perimeter fences, exorbitant prices reigned.

And, despite charging the equivalent of $240 per ticket in today’s dollars (plus service fees) the concert grounds themselves — a punishing asphalt-covered abandoned Air Force base that is also a Superfund site — were inadequate to the needs of the crowd that was baked in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not enough shade, non-existent trash removal, expensive food and water, and toilets that began backing up and overflowing onto the concert grounds on the first day, and the mood of concert-goers quickly turned sour.

Add to all of these disasters the fact that promoters had booked as headliners bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, whose young frat boy followers were prone to hypermasculinity and violence at their concerts during the best of times, and the fuse was lit.

MTV’s on-air personality Kurt Loder noted at the time, “It was dangerous to be around. The whole scene was scary. There were just waves of hatred bouncing around the place… It was clear we had to get out of there… It was like a concentration camp. To get in, you get frisked to make sure you’re not bringing in any water or food that would prevent you from buying from their outrageously priced booths. You wallow around in garbage and human waste. There was a palpable mood of anger.”

In its review of the documentary, The Guardian says:

A brisk and often horrifying watch, Trainwreck is effective at ramping up the tension and building a sense of dread and impending disaster. Each episode follows a day of the festival, from an optimistic start on Friday through to the apocalyptic scenes in the early hours of Monday morning, using a ticking clock to count down to each fresh catastrophe.

There were omens of an ill-tempered weekend from the start. The crowd was – by many accounts and from the plentiful footage of the time – macho and aggressive, a “frat boy” culture dominating the event. A cardboard sign saying “show us your tits” – which someone had taken the time to make – is waved at female artists from the crowd. Sheryl Crow bats away sexist heckles with more patience than the audience deserve. Teenage girls talk about being groped and molested as they crowdsurf.

It isn’t until the final few minutes of the last episode that its most notorious and terrible legacy – reports of multiple rapes, including in the moshpit – is fully addressed, to the clear distress of some of those who worked in the team, and the frankly appalling defensiveness of others.

There are obvious villains here, though their shocking lack of self-awareness makes it debatable whether they would see themselves that way. There is a lot of finger-pointing and blame-shifting, from one organiser to another, from the organisers to the crowd, from the crowd to the organisers. Was it the fault of the nu-metal acts who stirred everyone up, or the bookers who didn’t vary the tempo of the acts on the stage? Was it the kids who interpreted those old 60s notions of free love as a licence to maraud, or the profiteering managers who failed to provide even the most basic infrastructure that might have placated 250,000 “high as balls” attenders? Was it the culture, or the environment? Was it greed, or naivety? One of the most telling slogans, sprayed on what barricades were left standing, reads: “Down with Profitstock”.

It should be noted that the 1969 Woodstock had its own problems, including food shortages that you can read about in this excellent article. And, as with the 1969 concert, the 1999 concert featured incalculable amounts of drugs and alcohol. But that makes the 1969 concert all the more remarkable. Despite its own share of problems that will always come with staging a three-day rock concert for 400,000 people in the open air, the 1969 event remained largely peaceful.

As for Woodstock ’99, I don’t want to dump on all the young people who were there. They were so clearly victimized over three long, hot days by the promoters that I think the rage that built up and eventually overflowed in widespread violence against the venue, entertainers and promoters was partially justified, notwithstanding the misogyny and sexual violence.

You can read the rest of Rebecca Nicholson’s Guardian review here.

Trailer for the documentary is below.

Watch the actual documentary on Netflix at this link.

I did not know the basis for “Go Ask Alice” was basically a con job

If you’re a person of certain age, chances are you were assigned the 1971 book “Go Ask Alice” in middle or high school. The book was used by educators everywhere as a cautionary tale against rebellion and drugs. Kids loved it because of it contained swearing and frank expressions of sexuality.

I don’t recall reading the book, but I remember seeing it everywhere.

I also don’t remember the attendant controversies. Publishing industry drama is rarely on a teenager’s radar. Apparently it was a big deal.

From Wikipedia:

Upon its publication, almost all contemporary reviewers and the general public accepted it as primarily authored by an anonymous teenager. According to Lauren Adams, Publishers Weekly magazine was the only source to question the book’s authenticity on the grounds that it “seem[ed] awfully well written”. Reviews described the book as either the authentic diary of a real teenage girl, or as an edited or slightly fictionalized version of her authentic diary. Some sources claimed that the girl’s parents had arranged for her diary to be published after her death. However, according to Alleen Pace Nilsen, a “reputable source in the publishing world” allegedly said that the book was published anonymously because the parents had initiated legal action and threatened to sue if the published book could be traced back to their daughter.

Not long after Go Ask Alice’s publication, Beatrice Sparks began making public appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor. (Ellen Roberts, who in the early 1970s was an editor at Prentice Hall, was also credited at that time with having edited the book; a later source refers to Roberts as having “consulted” on the book.)[54] According to Caitlin White, when Sparks’ name became public, some researchers discovered that copyright records listed Sparks as the sole author—not editor—of the book, raising questions about whether she had written it herself.Suspicions were heightened in 1979 after two newly published books about troubled teenagers (Voices and Jay’s Journal) advertised Sparks’ involvement by calling her “the author who brought you Go Ask Alice”.

I bring all this up because New Yorker writer Casey Cep takes a look at the ongoing questions about “How a Mormon Housewife Turned a Fake Diary Into an Enormous Bestseller.”

If you had twenty dollars and a few hours to spare during the fall of 1970, you could learn about “The Art of Womanhood” from Mrs. Beatrice Sparks. A Mormon housewife, Sparks was the author of a book called “Key to Happiness,” which offered advice on grooming, comportment, voice, and self-discipline for high-school and college-aged girls; her seminar dispensed that same advice on Wednesdays on the campus of Brigham Young University, a school from which she’d later claim to have earned a doctorate, sometimes in psychiatry, other times in psychology or human behavior. “Happiness comes from within,” Sparks promised, “and it begins with an understanding of who and what you really are!”

Such an understanding seems to have been elusive for Sparks, who was then calling herself a lecturer, although she would soon enough identify as a therapist and occasionally as a counsellor or a social worker or even an adolescent psychologist, substituting the University of Utah or the University of California, Los Angeles, for her alma mater, or declining to say where she had trained. But, wherever she studied and whatever her qualifications, Sparks was destined to become best known for being unknown. Although her book on womanhood was a flop, she went on to sell millions of copies of another book, one that even today does not acknowledge her authorship, going into printing after printing without so much as a pseudonym for its author. “Go Ask Alice,” the supposedly real diary of a teen-age drug addict, was really the work of a straitlaced stay-at-home mom.

I think it’s hilarious that the whole thing started to unravel because Sparks, the moralizing anti-drug housewife-turned-crusader, was greedy for attention and couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

You can read the rest of the New Yorker article here.

BTW it’s a common misconception that Jefferson Airplane’s hit “Go Ask Alice” was based on the book, when it was actually the other way around: the publisher picked the name because of the song.

There was a made-for-TV movie of the same name starring William Shatner and Andy Griffith. Weirdly, it has a not terrible rating from IMDB. As usual with movies of this kind, the bad reviews are more interesting than the gushing ones.

See page below from TV Guide.

97 years ago today: Scopes “monkey trial” begins

From Wikipedia:

The Scopes Trial, formally The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, and commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was an American legal case from July 10 to July 21, 1925, in which a high school teacher, John T. Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which had made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held. Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he incriminated himself deliberately so the case could have a defendant.

Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100 (equivalent to $1,500 in 2021), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The trial served its purpose of drawing intense national publicity, as national reporters flocked to Dayton to cover the high-profile lawyers who had agreed to represent each side. William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow served as the defense attorney for Scopes. The trial publicized the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy, which set Modernists, who said evolution was not inconsistent with religion,[4] against Fundamentalists, who said the Word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all human knowledge. The case was thus seen both as a theological contest and as a trial on whether evolution should be taught in schools.

There was a time when I would have thought these sorts of religious incursions into public education were becoming a thing of the past.

And yet:

It’s worse now than at any time in my adult life. Scary.

This song popped into my head today for no reason whatsoever

It’s a song called I Hear Talk by Buck’s Fizz, a group that won the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest. The song is from 1984.

I love this video so much. It’s so low tech but still a great representation of what this group was all about at that moment in video production values.

Feathered hair for everyone! A lot of the video seems so random which, given how new music videos were back then, meant just doing something to a music track counted for doing something interesting.

Gay libertarian says Obergefell, Lawrence not at risk

Longtime gay writer (and noted libertarian) Dale Carpenter has an interesting piece over at The Volokh Conspiracy, in which he says there is plenty of evidence in the Dobbs majority opinion and concurrences that SCOTUS is not going after same-sex marriage soon:

In reaction to today’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overruling Roe v. Wade, advocacy groups are warning about the potential implications for other rights. Some analysts are pointing specifically to Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion, which calls for a reexamination of substantive due process precedents like Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). Certainly the three-Justice joint dissent is sounding the alarm.

Has the mask finally dropped, revealing the true intentions of the majority to wipe the slate clean of unenumerated fundamental rights that social and religious conservatives don’t like?

To begin an answer to that question, I count no fewer than four places in the Dobbs opinion that disavow any implications for other rights. I refer to these as the reassurance passages. Two of them were already in the leaked draft opinion. Two more have been added because they are responses to the dissent (which would not have been available when Justice Alito circulated his first draft in February).

The number and clarity of these passages are extraordinary.  To these one could add the separate concurrence of Justice Kavanaugh, who addresses concerns that were raised in the briefs:

First is the question of how this decision will affect other precedents involving issues such as contraception and marriage—in particular, the decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479 (1965); Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438 (1972); Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1 (1967); and Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U. S. 644 (2015). I emphasize what the Court today states: Overruling Roe does not mean the overruling of those precedents, and does not threaten or cast doubt on those precedents.

(As an aside, I don’t count Justice Thomas’s view as portending much.  It’s notable that he wrote only for himself.  His views about substantive due process are longstanding, well-known, and idiosyncratic.  No other sitting justice has ever expressed an interest in completely abandoning substantive due process and all of the precedents it has generated.)

I dunno. These justices already lied under oath to get their seats on the Court. They are more political animals than any recent justices Democrat or Republican.

It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that all these caveats they’ve placed in recent decisions about abortion and guns are simply smokescreens meant to blunt outrage or fears — both of which could drive progressive turnout in the midterms. These conservative justices know that the GOP gaining control of the House or Senate pretty much frees them up to do whatever they want until the presidential election.

I hope Carpenter is correct. But I wouldn’t place bets on it.

What do you get when you mix a love of Ayn Rand and child pornography?

I subscribe to The New Yorker because at least once or twice an issue, a truly interesting and/or bizarre article makes its pages. Of course, you have to wade through endless articles with New Yorkers navel-gazing about boring New York-centric things, including things that have a knowing only-in-New-York air about them despite the fact that most of them happen in cities across America every day.

Anyway, the current issue has once of those engrossing and weird articles, titled, The Surreal Case of a CIA Hacker’s Revenge. It concerns Joshua Schulte, a CIA coder who has, to put it mildly, interpersonal issues with others. First of all, he remains a devotee of Ayn Rand well into adulthood, long after most thinking people discard her for the nut she was. But Schulte has gone all-in on the “Selfishness is Good” mantra.

He loves Ron Paul. He loves arguing about his wild libertarian beliefs. He alienates everyone around him. In other words, he’s just like all of your obsessed libertarian friends.

And he allegedly leaked CIA secrets, which has landed him in much hot water.

Here is one section of the article:

Other classmates recalled sexually inappropriate behavior. One woman told me that he had repeatedly exposed his penis to students when they were both in the junior-high band. “He would try and touch people, or get people to touch him—that was a daily occurrence,” she said. She loved music, but she was so intent on getting away from Schulte that she asked her parents to let her quit the band. She was too uncomfortable to explain to her parents exactly what had transpired. “It’s hard to put it into words,” she recalled. “You’re twelve. It’s just ‘Hey, this kid is super gross, and it makes me want to not be part of this school right now.’ ” Her parents, not grasping the gravity of what had happened, insisted that she remain in the band. “I was traumatized,” she told me. I also spoke to a friend of the woman, who remembered her recounting this behavior by Schulte at the time. A third woman told me that Schulte and some of his friends got in trouble at school after trying to stick their hands into her pants while she slept on the bus during a field trip. Schulte, she said, took revenge by sending her an AOL message loaded with a virus, destroying her computer. He boasted about the hack afterward, the woman said.

Schulte’s friend Kavi Patel acknowledged that Schulte would “draw swastikas all over the place.” He wasn’t anti-Semitic, Patel contended; he just relished getting a rise out of people. He recalled Schulte telling him, “I don’t really care one way or the other, but it’s fun to see the shock on people’s faces.” Patel was also in the junior-high band. When I asked him if he remembered Schulte exposing himself, he said that he never witnessed it, but had heard about it happening “two or three times.” According to Patel, Schulte seemed to confirm it to him on one occasion: “I was, like, ‘Dude, did you do this?’ And he was, like, ‘Heh, heh.’ ” Patel added, “It’s not something that’s out of his character. At all.” (Presented with these allegations, several attorneys who have represented Schulte had no comment. Deanna recalled learning that Joshua had drawn a swastika in his notes for a lesson on the Second World War, but she and Roger said that they were not aware of other incidents involving swastikas or the junior-high band. They dispute the classmate’s recollection of the incident on the school bus.)

When Schulte was in college, he argued on his blog that pornography is a form of free expression which “is not degrading to women” and “does not incite violence.” He went on, “Porn stars obviously enjoy what they do, and they make quite a bit of money off it.” Of course, some women are coerced into pornography, and if you mistake the simulated enjoyment in a porn performance for the real thing then you don’t understand much about the industry. But more to the point: child pornography is not free expression; it’s a crime. After Schulte realized that the illicit archive had been discovered, he claimed that the collection—more than ten thousand images and videos—didn’t belong to him. In college, he had maintained a server on which friends and acquaintances could store whatever they wanted. Unbeknownst to him, he contended, people had used the server to hide contraband. He “had so many people accessing it he didn’t care what people put on it,” Roger Schulte told the Times.

But, according to the F.B.I., as agents gathered more evidence they unearthed chat logs in which Schulte conversed about child pornography with fellow-enthusiasts. “Where does one get kiddie porn anyways?” Schulte asked, in a 2009 exchange. This was another instance in which Schulte seemed recklessly disinclined to cover his tracks. His Google search history revealed numerous queries about images of underage sex. In the chat logs, people seeking or discussing child pornography tended to use pseudonyms. One person Schulte interacted with went by “hbp.” Another went by “Sturm.” Josh’s username was “Josh.” At one point, he volunteered to grant his new friends access to the child-porn archive on his server. He had titled it /home/josh/http/porn. Sturm, taken aback, warned Schulte to “rename these things for god’s sake.”

The article, by Patrick Radden Keefe, is so well done, and full of jaw-dropping revelations. And the article isn’t behind the New Yorker paywall.

Joshua Schulte

What do you call a reality TV star going to prison for fraud and tax evasion?

A good start.

Todd Chrisley is the eponymous star of the USA Network reality show Chrisley Knows Best, which follows him and his annoyingly privileged and self-absorbed family. This is how USA network STILL describes him on their network web page:

The patriarch of the Chrisley family, Todd is a self-made millionaire and successful entrepreneur. One of his many achievements includes creating and producing content for both the USA Network and Netflix.  However, he considers his greatest accomplishment to be his children.  Todd Chrisley isn’t your typical ‘cookie cutter’ father and his family wouldn’t have it any other way!  Brash, outspoken, opinionated, with a razor-sharp Southern wit, he keeps his family in line through his brutally honest form of parenting.  Though tough, Todd always places his family first.  The self-proclaimed “Patriarch of Perfection” attempts to keep everyone in line and help prevent their catastrophes even though they’re inevitable sometimes.  Because after all… “He’s been there, done that, and got the t-shirt!”

Here is how Todd Chrisley is being described in the pages of his local daily newspaper:

Reality stars and former Georgia residents Todd and Julie Chrisley were found guilty on all counts of bank fraud and tax evasion by a federal jury Tuesday in downtown Atlanta.

The jury began deliberating on Friday afternoon and returned the verdict on Tuesday afternoon. Sentencing is set for Thursday, October 6 at 9:30 a.m. The Chrisleys could face up to 30 years in prison.

The trial began three weeks ago.

“As today’s outcome shows, when you lie, cheat and steal, justice is blind as to your fame, your fortune, and your position,” said Keri Farley, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office. “In the end, when driven by greed, the verdict of guilty on all counts for these three defendants proves once again that financial crimes do not pay.”

The couple released a statement through their attorneys: “Disappointed in the verdict. An appeal is planned.”

Federal prosecutors, who indicted the “Chrisley Knows Best” couple in 2019, said the Chrisleys deliberately “swindled” at least $30 million from community banks from 2007 to 2012 by inflating their net worth to get loans, purposely targeting smaller banks that did less due diligence than larger ones. Then Todd Chrisley filed for bankruptcy in 2012, erasing $20 million in loan debt.

Prosecuting attorney Annalise Peters alleged they then actively hid millions they made from the reality show, which began in 2014, as well as $500,000 in taxes Todd owed in 2009. They alleged that the couple actively evaded taxes going back to 2009.

Ooopsies!

It couldn’t happen to a more unctuous couple unless one or two of the Kardashians was being carted off to prison for repeated affrontery to the public good.

That the Chrisleys can become rich and famous in America just for being a family of grifting Karens says so much about where we are as a society.

Will truck stops become a thing of the past?

I knew American trucking and truck drivers were in trouble. But I guess I hadn’t given much thought to what happens to all those truck stops when, say, self-driving trucks replace a lot of the humans out there driving now:

The industry is also on the precipice of a huge change. The driver shortages are reshaping the work force, as the specter of self-driving trucks increasingly threatens to transform how the work is done. Self-driving trucks are being tested now and are viewed as the future for shipping all manner of goods across the country.

As trucking evolves, the patchwork of businesses across the United States that exist to support the industry is at risk of disappearing.

There are no figures on how many people work in the various professions that support the trucking industry, but it takes an army of truck washers, gas station cashiers and truck stop custodial staff to help drivers and their cargoes get from Point A to B.

I’ve done a lot of cross-country driving in a car. Truck stops always had a comforting familiarity to them, with their odd mix of customers, merchandise, amusements, and signs advertising showers in the back.

I hope many of them can adapt and stick around.