Woodstock Redux: Love It/Hate It (Hudson Valley 8/94)

Hate It: Farewell Aquarius

Woodstock Redux? Thanks, but no thanks. Personally speaking, the thought of all those aging baby boomers taking out their faded tie-dyes and rusty hash pipes for one last exorbitant–and, to my mind, contrived–blast from the past at Bethel ’94, the baby-boomer folkie-nostalgia show organized by Sid Bernstein, leaves me distinctly unenthused.

Nor am I exactly salivating at the prospect of mingling with the estimated quarter of a million berserkers expected to converge on the huger, more youth-oriented extravaganza orchestrated, again, by the self-styled P.T. Barnum of youth culture, Michael Lang, this time in Saugerties.

Frankly, I would rather participate in the 50th anniversary commemoration of D-Day–or the 25th anniversary of the 1969 anti-Vietnam War Moratorium–events which actually accomplished something.

But Woodstock? What did Woodstock achieve or signify–except the beginning of the end of the self-indulgent Counterculture?

And, not to be a party pooper about this, isn’t the very notion of restaging Woodstock, in either guise, antithetical to the spirit of that unique Happening?

By now, you’re probably wondering where I am coming from. Allow me to amplify:

No, I didn’t participate in the original hootenanny down on Max Yasgur’s poor, trampled farm. I wasn’t there. In point of fact, I was somewhere in the wilds of southern Nevada celebrating my own private Woodstock by that time.

Hey, I wasn’t there. But I was there, if you know what I mean.

The summer of my 17th year, to wax nostalgic for a moment, the summer before Woodstock, was my personal Summer of Love. That was the summer I met my first love. Marsha was her name. A fellow counselor at Treasure Island Day Camp in Oceanside, Long Island, Marsha was a wispy, ultra-sensitive Joni Mitchell type given to poetry and faraway looks–and, as I was later to discover, dropping reds, or Seconals.

I caught a lot of beta waves (as we used to call them) that mellow yellow summer–sometimes with Marsha (when she was sober), other times with my fellow rebellious graduates of the Science Corps of Jamaica High School, most of whom spend the summer–or, as in my hyper-liberated case, the next two years–partying and demonstrating (in about that order).

1968 was a great year for hearing live music. I heard The Fugs at Tompkins Square Park, Tom Paxton in Central Park–and just about everybody else at that year’s Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. I bicycled there on a whim and a dare with my friend Danny from Jamaica High.

Now that was a festival to remember. Janis was there. And Taj Mahal. And, of course, Joan Baez. Most sublime moment: lying on my back one starry July night and listening to my folk heroine carefully sculpt out the words to Farewell, Angelina. Heaven.

Hey, I was there.

Then I walked back to my bicycle and discovered that my expensive sleeping bag had been ripped off. Bummer. So much for Peace and Love. Still, I had had a groovy time, so I didn’t get too uptight about it. Overall, it had been a good scene.

The following summer–after catching a very weird scene during freshman year at august Cornell University, which happened to be in the process of self-destructing–my karma led me to Boulder City, Nevada, of all places, where I had lucked into the ultimate summer job as a roving photographer for the National Park Service assigned to the starkly beautiful Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Boy, did I have a scene going there: a huge trailer, a plane on call, lots of film, lots of dope, and my very own band–Iron Cross. We played a lot of Creedence–desert rock. I was on harp.

So there I was, just before dawn on Moon Day, sitting in the snake-infested scrub near my trailer, high on natural mescaline, shooting rounds of film of the cobalt-blue sky, with the moon up there and the Stones in my ears, recording that epochal moment for the people of the United States of America. Then, after the sun rose over the lake, I began running toward it, stopping every few hundred yards to crouch and take another picture of the hallucinatory solarama.

That was it: the apogee. Moon Day. Hey, southern Nevada looks like the Moon. That morning I landed. I was there.

And that is why, two weeks later, when I heard about Woodstock from an excited member of the band who had seen clips of the countercultural confab on the evening Las Vegas news, I thought, heh, that’s cool, too. But I didn’t need that scene anymore.

And then, of course, came Altamont and Kent State. And then, in quick succession, Jimi died, and Janis, and Jim. By the summer of 1971, our long generational party was definitely over.

Hello reality.

Back in Ithaca I fell into a major sophomore slump, aggravated by major marijuana use, with a little acid thrown in. I was suspended. Of course, my parents Freaked Out.

By that time, too, I had logged my very own Death Trip, that other countercultural rite of passage–an acid trip on which someone somehow convinced oneself that one was deceased. Which is why I nearly jumped off the balcony of my Collegetown apartment the morning after my 19th birthday, high on LSD. I was already dead, so it didn’t matter, did it?

No. I wasn’t at Woodstock–but I was there. Hey, for two years I was a virtual counterculture poster boy–and I wouldn’t want to relive or recreate any part of that insane, delusory period again. That long, self-indulgent party that was the late 1960s left too many psychological cripples, wasted too many talents and came too close to killing me for me to wax nostalgic about those good-old freaky days.

And Woodstock had nothing to do with the one lasting accomplishment of the politically active wing of my star-crossed generation–helping to persuade the country to extricate itself from the quagmire of Vietnam. If anything, Woodstock was a diversion from the War at Home, as several clear-headed observers pointed out at the time.

Woodstock Redux? Hey, thanks, but no thanks.

Farewell, Aquarius.

Besides, wasn’t the most beautiful aspect of Woodstock the spontaneity of it all? Woodstock was a Happening. Let it be. Move on. Or, if necessary, see the film.

Of course, I still love much of the music of the period. I still miss Jimi and Janis–I still have my Big Brother albums (or did I leave them at my ex-girlfriend’s? Hmm.), although I haven’t listened to them in a while.

And I still have enormous respect for the wonderful performers participating at Bethel ’94. I simply would prefer to listen to them in the privacy of my own head.

Frankly, I am more interested in finding and hearing new forms of music. Which is why, if forced to choose between attending Bethel ’94–or the more youth-oriented Woodstock ’94, I would choose the latter.

But only if I can get in for free.

Anyway, as I often tell younger friends of mine who tend to over-romanticize the ’60s and all that, there are still lots of beta waves Out There in the gloaming–and you don’t need something as contrived as Bernstein and Lang’s expensive jamborees to catch them. They’re still blowin’ in the wind.

Farewell, Aquarius.

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