Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stardust. Golden.

Let me begin by saying, I was not there. More about that later.

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. The real Woodstock - the muddy, half-a-million-strong, Country Joe/Janis Joplin/Jimi Hendrix Woodstock, not the pale re-creations that followed. Truthfully, I've enjoyed watching all the documentaries and retrospectives, witnessing the fun and hearing the raw music from my own dry, cool place stocked with plenty of food and toilet facilities.

As crazy as Woodstock still looks even in this day and age, I find comfort in the fact that a number of long-term, monogamous, traditionally-married relationships grew out of the festival. Who knew? I guess we figured all those young folk just scampered off to communes and smoked themselves to death.

I find comfort in the fact that Woodstock-attendees are now mainstream journalists, business people, educators, religious leaders. They had a great time forty years ago and yet, survived it and moved on to become productive citizens.

And I find comfort in the fact that the music is still kick-ass. Way more kick-ass than anything that's come along since. Guess you need a real cause to create kick-ass music, and young folks haven't seemed able to find a collective cause big enough to inspire, well, kick-ass music.

Now. Back to me. In August of 1969, I was busy getting ready to head to college. A faraway music festival was barely on my radar until the news about it started hitting television news. And coming from a conservative, Republican, Southern Baptist family, my attending Woodstock - college preparations or no - wouldn't have occurred to me, anyway. So, yeah, I missed the music event of the century. But I found all the stories and film footage about the festival very cool, and the music forced me to think outside of my comfort-zone. (Uh, oh - was this conservative Southern Baptist girl going to be lead astray at some point in the future? Stay tuned.)

Still, even if I had the chance to go back to my 18th summer, knowing what I know now - knowing what a big deal Woodstock would be in the annals of history, I don't think I'd show up. I've never been much of a concert-goer. I don't like long lines, traffic jams, and music-amplification that makes my ears bleed. And I really wouldn't want to spend a couple of days in mud, even for Janis and Jimi. Such a wimp, I know.

But I love living the experience vicariously through films, documentaries, and interviews from my air-cooled, food-laden apartment with indoor plumbing. I salute the hundreds of thousands of kids who showed up for three amazing days of peace, love, and music at Max Yasgur's farm. It could've gone horribly wrong, but it didn't.

Some would say most of those kids eventually sold out, became Establishment. Well, yeah. Eventually, the Establishment becomes you. But, please. Is there anything sadder than an old hippie? I mean, one who still lives like a hippie? Yet, even those of us who were too conservative or too disinterested to attend Woodstock carry some little bit of the philosophy with us, I hope. The reality is, though, that Woodstock didn't change anything. Not in any huge, long-lasting way. Except to demonstrate that 400,000 or so young people could get together for three days of music without violence, government intervention, cellphones, and iPods.

For those of you sick of hearing about it, too bad. I'm sure you're tired of hearing about the assassination of JFK, the moon-landing, and the Beatles. Boomer retrospectives are no different from our own parents' recollections of the Depression or World War II. You'll be the same way about whatever it is you consider history-making for your generation.

The fact is that forty years ago Woodstock stood and delivered. And the music was kick-ass. Stardust. Golden.


Richard said...

For more on this refer to "The Boomer Century," by Richard Croker

MaryB said...

Shameless plug. But you're entitled. Must remember to get you to sign a copy for me next time I come to ATL.

Your Niece...Ashley said...

I would like to add, that as a generation X-er, I have watched every documentary aired this weekend in complete jealousy. While my generation did have enough "material" to create Lollapallooza and "T" in the Park, we will never live the dream of complete musical freedom. Any music festival since that muddy week end in 1969, will and forever more suffer by comparison. LONG LIVE THE HIPPIE!!..(especially the ones who became productive members of society). Peace, love, and music...

MaryB said...

And that's why you're so cool, Darlin'!

Peter (the other) said...

Having just experienced the 1969 Philadelphia Folk Festival, held a few weeks before Woodstock on a farm outside the city, living and sleeping in mud in a much smaller cohort (perhaps a few hundred), still digesting the state of my young mind being scrambled by the most intense mixture of nature, chemicals, great music and young women... schwew!

Woodstock? Nah, it was going to be too crowded, anyone could see that, besides: Sha Na Na? Perhaps the truth was I was still too shattered. I remember my sense of smug gratitude when the news reports drifted back, close highways etc.

Peter (the other) said...

Oh, I forgot that you might find this interesting. I was at the Folk Festival under the auspices of the college radio station at MIT (the THEN WTBS). I had a press badge, for what it was worth (meant I got to sleep it off rolled up in the performers tent flaps) and a NAGRA tape recorder hung around my neck! Where those tapes are, I'd love to know. I only remember interviewing a couple of people.

MaryB said...

Peter! You're back!(?) I figured you'd be just too damn cool for Woodstock. ;-) Boy - a Nagra. Now we're talking dredging up old memories. Who performed at the Philadelphia festival in '69?

Peter (the other) said...

I am like... (hmmm, too early, can't find word... oh!) crime, always lurking.

So many played. I was surprised by how much I liked Bill Monroe, Lone Cat Jesse Fuller, Eric Anderson, Incredible String Band and Doc and Merle Watson. I was less impressed then I maybe should have been, of Sir Douglas (and his Quintet, I had a natural prejudice against the "Farfisa" combo organ sound he was using at the time, which I have well gotten over) and the recently gone solo John Denver. Jr. Wells, having recently lost Buddy Guy, was a bit of a disappointment to guitar playing me... I found Big Boy Arthur Crudup less then inspiring... the rest is a blur. Time intermingles performances and places, who was seen where/when?

I remember really falling in love with the high lonesome string band sound at the festival... oh, I seem to remember that the Osbourne Bros were there.

Jesse Fuller was one of my interviews, he was a very nice man. He had just driven himself in from San Francisco with his strange looking one man band device, and no one was paying any special attention to him back in the performer's tent. He just wanted to talk and talk (perhaps the long solo drive at some 70 years of age, loosened his tongue) and gave me lessons on how to make and play his one man band contraption.

That Nagra was heavy, and the feed and care of its battery pack may be what limited the interviews, but one marveled at the Swiss engineering.

It was good to be young :-)