scholars and rogues


WoodstockposterSaturday it’ll be forty years since the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair began.

To my fellow Boomers, for so many of whom (like me) Woodstock was such an existential moment, Bob Dylan’s question seems relevant: How does it feel?

To younger generations who see Woodstock only through the prism of history and who find the Boomers ‘ fascination with and smugness about this event alternately inscrutable and unbearable, John Sebastian’s explanation  seems fitting: It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.

Here are my stories. Make your own narratives….

August 15, 1969: A couple of friends and I have seen news reports and heard from friends about this fantastic thing happening up in a place called Woodstock, New York.  We recruit an older friend (19 – we’re 17) to drive and tell our parents some bullshit about a camping trip. We start to NY about 5 PM with high hopes. As the trip progresses north through the night from NC through VA into the narrow necks of WVA and MD into PA, we hear more and more reports about blocked highways, no food, and other conditions scary to small town Southern boys on their first great adventure. After a breakfast somewhere in PA, we reluctantly turn back.  School starts a couple of weeks later – we tell our story to admiring groups both male and female. The fact that we tried to reach Woodstock increases my cool rating geometrically – I get tons of dates (and several free beers at parties) out of an aborted car trip….

May2, 1970: My band and I go to Greenboro, NC, about 30 miles from our small NC town, to see the movie Woodstock. We get to the theater late and have to sit in the front row. After getting past the horror of Richie Havens‘ dental problems, I get blown away by The Who and Crosby, Stills, and Nash – for wildly different reasons. But its all so fantastic, so true, so right, so what we all believe in – the music, the people, hell, even the mud, dope, and chaos – and love. We leave the theater buzzed – and I am convinced that peace and music will change the world.

Two days later the Ohio National Guard kills 4 kids at Kent State. I learn one of my most useful lessons. The guys with the guns will have the last say….

Sometime in 1989: My then wife and I watch Woodstock on our local PBS affiliate. Now a classic cocooned Boomer thirty-something with small kids and a Wall Street Journal believing spouse, I find myself drawn in again by the greatness – not just of CSN or The Who – but by Joan Baez, John Sebastian, and, especially, Country Joe McDonald and the Fish.  “What the hell have I let happen?” I remember thinking.  My wife, observing my keen response, says a little too snidely, “I guess you’ll have to start playing your guitars again.”

The marriage collapses a year later. A year after that, the band reforms for one more try….

1994, 1999:  MTV hypes its “Woodstock” out the wazoo. I don’t even watch from the comfort of my living room.

Planned spontaneity and conformist uniqueness don’t impress me much.

August 13, 2009: As the resident old fart at S&R, I get asked to write the “reflection” on “Woodstock 40 Years On.” How do you tell strangers about rock and roll?

Here’s a try: Give me an “F…” Give me a “U…” Give me a “C….”

Categories: scholars and rogues

11 replies »

  1. Are those who attended Woodstock now the Town Hollers? If so how did their vision of utopia become our dystopia?

  2. Naw. These are the people who decided that living in a van and showering once a week is only “cool” when you’re young. Once you get a little older, those “righteous views” go right out the window.
    You graduate college, then you need a Beamer, a fancy McMansion and then you turn into one of the sell-out jackasses who have ultimately raped this country in more ways than “the man” they fought against during the hippie era ever dreamed of.

  3. “1994, 1999: MTV hypes its “Woodstock” out the wazoo. I don’t even watch from the comfort of my living room.

    Planned spontaneity and conformist uniqueness don’t impress me much.”

    Precisely why I am proud of the havok and destruction that was thrust upon the 30th anniversary by my generation.

    That was UNplanned spontaneity. Took it to the man who tried to take it to us. Too bad they still made a pocket full of cash.

  4. I wish kids would quit trying to relive the 60’s and just support their own scene.

    Haight-Ashbury died 40 years ago; get the hell OUT!

  5. I was there. I drove up from westchester NY with two of my clooseest friends. We broke down 2 miles before the entrance. Walked like every one else. Had tickets not needed it was already free at that point ( my mother found my tickets last year and gave them to me). Simply put it was a Trip. Three days of a trip and I’m sure that there was not one persone there that wasn’t , except maybe the cop’s. I did not see one single act of violence in any sense of the word, stopped going to concerts many years ago because it always would be there. There was definatly a sense that we were finaly setting up a knew paridigm as it progressed. Like al else in this society it was co-opped and twisted. ( like they lie about anti war protesters spitting on returning vietnam vets) Unfortunatly not enough true political and econimic educating followed up. When the war finally ended and our friends came home, if they did (the friend that drove that weekend didn’t come back from Nam) most people had thought we had won. yea right. Here we are again fighting two insane wars we should never have started. And the facist right seem to be winning the battle over health care like every other developed country in the world has. We didn’t all buy new BMW’s ( built the one I had from wrecks) or live in Mcmansions ( just build the cabinets for them like I do )

  6. So i read “Woodstock 101” (i don’t know why and i’m somewhat ashamed) and this struck me:

    “In a way, we came to Woodstock as half a million individuals and we left as a market,” said Makower. “A generation that had its own tastes and sensibilities and power in the marketplace.” Mr. Makower wrote Woodstock: The Oral History

    After subtracting for ABC’s editing of the interview, i’m still struck by the feeling of “holy shit, yer doing it wrong”. Thank god that the largest generation in American history found a way to garner power in the marketplace. Think how things would have been if Woodstock hadn’t happened?

    If Mr. Makower wants to do any justice to the legacy of that event, he should just shut the fuck up and let Jim Booth do the talking.

  7. I idolized the Woodstock generation because they had the… gumption to stand against authority. Authority is nothing but humans telling other humans what they should and shouldn’t do whether it is secular or religious in nature. This realization provided my motivation to seek the only authority who is righteous which is the Creator. Every since kids started being killed at Kent St. we have acquiesced on principle as long as we were provided with material comforts and as a result the authorities and their brain washed thugs are about to herd us up and take what freedom we have left. They think the world will be better without us well I say better to die fighting than to submit to dictation. One of our founding fathers: Patrick Henry said something like is life so dear and peace so sweet to be purchased at the cost of chains other men may choose what they will but as for me “give me liberty or give me death.”

  8. For those who cherish Woodstock: the event, the movie and the album, you must see The Festival Express. From Wikipedia:

    . . . a 2003 rockumentary film about the 1970 train tour across Canada taken by some of the world’s biggest rock bands, including The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Band. The documentary film combines footage shot during the 1970 concerts, as well as the train ride itself, interspersed with present-day interviews with tour participants sharing their often hilarious recollections of the time. …

    The idea was that rather than flying to each city, the musicians would travel by chartered Canadian National Railways train, fostering an atmosphere of musical creativity and closeness between the performers. The trips between cities were a mix of jam sessions and partying, fueled by excess alcohol. Among the memorable scenes depicted in the film was a drunken and acid-fueled jam with The Band’s Rick Danko, the Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, and Janis Joplin. …

    In the film, musician Kenny Gradney, who performed with Delaney & Bonnie, said: “It was better than Woodstock, as great as Woodstock was.”

    To see these musicians enjoying each others’ presence, partying together, playing together is a revelation to those who haven’t seen it.

  9. Kevin: I hear you brother. Lost friends in Nam myself. In fact, a friend bought gear for our band with money he received from a gov’t insurance policy after his older brother (our hero) died in SE Asia….That stuff stays with you forever….

    Lex: Thanks for the kind words.

    Russ: Have seen “Festival Express” a few times. Amazing film. Rock legends playing in places like shopping center parking lots. And that jam you mention…fantastic….

  10. I haven’t seen the film, but being a head i have heard something about it. The Dead did a song about the trip, which makes it seem like their favorite experience as rock and roll people. I’ll have to look into catching that soon.

    Jim, you’re welcome, but no thanks needed because the words were deserved. It was nice to see something not loaded down with cliches and tripe.