The Matrix: White Rabbit, Woodstock and Summer of Soul

The dormouse never said “feed your head.”1  Maybe that is the paradox of the Jefferson Airplane 1967 song telling you to remember something that never happened?  A sort of mind trick which make it perfect for the montage in Matrix 4: Resurrections, what’s real and what’s an algorithmic trick to maintain the status quo and enforce behavior? Grace Slick maintains the line “feed your head”  refers to education.2 In honor of the Matrix, a trip down the rabbit hole?

Grace Slick @ Woodstock

Jefferson Airplane closed day two of Woodstock in August of 1969 after a performance by the Who. The set list included White Rabbit. Woodstock went on to become a cultural phenomenon – 3 days that defined a generation. By the numbers, Woodstock had an estimated audience of 400,000 (or we can go with Joni Mitchell…by the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong; but, she wasn’t there) Who played before the Who?  Sly and the Family Stone. The concert promoters planned for a “diverse” crowd by having 4 non white performers out of 32 , Richie Havens, Carlos Santana, Sly & the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Look at any photo, watch any footage, it did not work. But any Negro would tell you, it’s the 60s, no way am I going to a remote farm with a large white crowd. No! No, no, no, no, no. Get out!

Sly Stone @ The Harlem Cultural Music Festival

But, back to Sly and the Family Stone. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s recent movie, Summer of Soul is a documentary on the Harlem Cultural Music Festival; a series of 6 free concerts in the summer of 1969. On June 29, Sly and the Family Stone played the first concert. The group, as mentioned would go on to play at Woodstock in August. The NYC police refused to support the event and the Black Panthers provided security. 4 This festival was peace, love and happiness. There were over 300,000 attendees. Strangely enough, while the event was recorded, it wasn’t released in any form until now. There wasn’t to much more discussion about it until the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and several articles referenced the peaceful “black Woodstock”…even though Harlem was first.

At Woodstock, there were over 700 drug overdoes, women were groped, harassed and raped; There were riots and destruction. A Washington Post article from August 13, 2019 described riots, deaths, sexual assault.

Flimmaker Andy Zax credits the mythology around Woodstock to come from the 1970 documentary about the festival which created this idyllic image. “Everything we consider to be a real, canonical Woodstock moment … is from the film,” he said. “It’s a very constructed version of Woodstock.” He added; “A lot of people felt like because they saw the movie, they felt they were there. “It sold a version of that festival that was only partially true, but people took it as fact.”

Maybe Woodstock was always a nightmare.

Woodstock became sanitized and mythologized and got a tagline. The Harlem Cultural Festival? So, 1969 in review. June- start of the Harlem Cultural Festival; July – man lands on the moon, August – Woodstock. Which, did you know about? These realities co-existed. 

The question is, can the US, accept dual realities. The uproar over the New York Time’s 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones would indicate No! No, no, no, no. Get out! People want cleaned up sanitized versions of history. Five states, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota introduced legislation that would cut funding to schools and colleges who provided lessons from the 1619 project. The desire to obscure history is so strong, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee have banned Critical Race Theory in schools. Stunning, unbelievable and disgraceful. It’s feels like a true option between take the blue pill and remain ignorant of the black experience in America or take the red pill see reality.  Like the film Woodstock, current history, as taught is only a partial version of the truth.

The Matrix asks, what is real? I ask, who decides. Who codes the algorithms, makes the rules?  In 1998, the writers and directors of the first Matrix, known at the time as the Wachowski Brothers, intended for the character Switch to be a man in the real world and a woman in the Matrix. Warner Brothers would not allow it saying the audiences aren’t ready. In 2020, Lily Wachowski confirmed the Matrix is a trans metaphor4. And so it goes along the lines of esotericism deeper meanings. With that knowledge, the film is even more powerful and can be viewed with a different lens and framework, the images of toxic male masculinity and the support of diverse and marginalized communities in triumph.

You can skip ahead if you have no familiarity with Matrix. The first gig the Jefferson Airplane played was a club called the Matrix in San Francisco California. The song, White Rabbit5, was penned by Airplane singer Grace Slick on an acid trip listening Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain and references the effect of two different pills. Did this influence the film The Matrix? Does this add any significance to San Francisco as the location for the Matrix Resurrections?

We have emotions with an experience. Time and information can shift our perception of what happened. and This week, consider, who and what shape your reality.

1 This  came up in one of those deep conversations I had with a boyfriend in 1988. He proclaimed the dormouse never said feed your head.It stuck with me.

2 The Story Behind Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit

Slick herself always maintained that White Rabbit was aimed at hypocritical parents and their habit of reading drug-laced stories to children at their most impressionable age. “In all those children’s stories, you take some kind of chemical and have a great adventure,” she told writer Mark Paytress. “Alice In Wonderland is blatant. Eat me! She gets literally high, too big for the room. Drink me! The caterpillar is sitting on a psychedelic mushroom smoking opium!” She also argued that the song was about the importance of education: ‘Feed your head,’ the rousing climax to White Rabbit, was intended as a call to liberate brains as much as the senses.

3 The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism endeavor developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States

4 The Matrix is a “trans metaphor” Lily Wachnowski says

5 How Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick Wrote White Rabbit

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