Saturday 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