Duffy was living in northern Connecticut then, working a construction job. On a Friday afternoon he saw a story on the TV news about Woodstock. He had just gotten paid, and on a pure whim he hopped on his motorcycle and headed up to Max Yasgur’s farm where the action was — roughly half a million people enjoying the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Joplin. If you watch the classic documentary film “Woodstock” and look closely, you can see Duffy at the edge of a scene — just ambling around, soaking up the atmosphere.
Talk about a neat souvenir for showing one’s grandchildren: one of the pivotal moments in American (some would say world) counterculture history. Seeing as this was decades before video and cell phone cameras reached their current level of popularity, it makes me wonder what percentage of us, the public, will appear for posterity in photos and videos of current news events, say, 40 years from now.
I know I’m in several just because of the professional hazard of working as a reporter: at the edge of the frame, holding my ink pen and notebook and looking confused and lost — which unfortunately is my natural expression any time I’m in a large crowd of people.
I don’t think I’m shown anywhere doing something that would embarrass me if my grandchildren saw the footage, knock on wood, but there are many unfortunate people who can’t say the same.
I’m thinking particularly of an event during the 2012 election, a televised Republican debate hosted by Wolf Blitzer, who asks the candidates a pointed question: If a person has a life-threatening condition, but has no medical insurance, “Should society just let him die?”
Before Ron Paul can answer, some members of the audience answer for him: “Yeah!” they begin to shout. “Let him die!” There’s a sprinkling of laughter and applause. I remember that the moment gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and for some reason I thought of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when all the stagecraft falls away and the true “wizard” is revealed in his smallness and shabbiness. The memorable outburst may not have single-handedly decided the election, but to me it represented the beginning of an elaborately constructed mask falling away. A popular movement that billed itself as representing limited government and fiscal conservatism revealed for a moment its true heart: an unimaginably perverse level of human selfishness that would rather let a human being die than to pay even a small amount extra in taxes.
The ultimate irony: this is the Party that boasts about being “pro-life.”
Will the people in that TV studio who cheered this spontaneous death wish someday show with pride a videotape of the debate to their grandchildren? Possibly. Sometimes sick ideas die slow and hard.
In the two years since, our government has made a relatively small, and somewhat flawed, stab at making sure that people don’t die because they lack health insurance. At least the Affordable Care Act is a start, and it has met with the expected outrage from millions who apparently agree with the sentiments expressed at the debate that night. Even a brief look at history shows that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, life-saving and life-enhancing programs that today we take for granted, met with the same misguided outcry of “Socialism!” when they were first introduced.
Woodstock was billed as a celebration of “peace, love and understanding.” In today’s bitter political discourse, peace and love are probably too much to expect any time soon. But a teaspoon of understanding is vital, now more than ever.
Not only would it be a start, but it’s a matter of life and death.
If only for strangers.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, books, photos and radio features are available on his website carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 and is archived afterward on his website.