Sunday, August 16, 2009

Re: But How Was The Music?

At first I thought it was one of those questions like, "So Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" The subject line was on an email from a friend with a Wall Street Journal article attached about Woodstock that described the music as "marred" by complications like poor sound quality and bands that were no-shows. I guess I've grown a little defensive since the media frenzy escalated on the occasion of the 40th anniversary where it seems everybody has an opinion. In response to him for what it's worth, here's mine:

I went to Woodstock at 17 with my then boyfriend, Robbie, and I loved the music, particularly Country Joe and his F cheer with the military choppers flying over and the guys flashing the peace sign and then Santana who blew us away and who nobody'd heard of since they didn't have a single record out yet.

What's most amazing to me is the hostility from people who either didn't go or are gen x or something and blame boomers for everything from the stock market to SUVs. Glad they stayed away or were too young or it would have been an entirely different scene.

I was pretty shocked when I mentioned it to some musicians on a forum and one guy jumped down my throat saying "oh yeah, we all went to Woodstock" as if I was lying. I've given up mentioning it, especially these days. Instead I emailed Robbie on Friday after not being in contact since 1970 (what would I do without Google) and he answered right back telling me he was watching the movie on TV the other night and was wondering what ever happened to me.

Great op-ed piece in the Times (below) but even there, many comments repeated "where's the picture of you to prove it." Obviously they don't get it at all. It was all about spontaneity. Guess they missed the point of the article where Gail Collins writes, "The lesson I took away from it is that whenever anybody asks you to do something off the wall, you should really try to do it." She adds, "When I was actually at Woodstock, it never occurred to me anybody was going to want to discuss it 40 years down the road." Or, I add, that we'd have to prove our having gone as the-god's-honest-truth. Hey talk to my mom. It was her car I returned covered with mud inside and out (that never crossed my mind to bottle and save.)

We read about the "Aquarian Exposition in White Lake NY" in an ad in the playbill from the Fillmore East (yes they had playbills and no I didn't think to save any of them either) and decided to go "check it out" at the last minute without tickets, driving up Rt 206 to 209 from Jersey and having to ditch the car just west of the Monticello harness racetrack to hike the last seven miles. How many of us thought to bring a camera? Or food? Or water (no bottled crap those days)? I mean, WHO KNEW??

Our return home was uneventful except for that humongous haystack (as in the needle-in-a-haystack kind, not to be confused with a hay bale) I came upon in the dark in the middle of my lane that I had to swerve past. I can't prove that either, even to Robbie who was sitting next to me in the passenger seat, fast asleep.

August 15, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
To Be Old and in Woodstock

Forty years ago this weekend, I was at the Woodstock concert, and now I am getting alarmed about all the retrospectives. They’re beginning to make me feel like Frank Buckles, the 108-year-old last surviving veteran of World War I. Although I will never come up with a line as good as Frank’s secret to a long life. (“When you start to die, don’t.”)

Also, it has brought back my concern about the fact that I do not have any memory whatsoever of having heard any music. Woodstock-wise, I am the walking definition of anhedonia.

I spent a lot of time trying to talk a state policeman into helping me charge the battery on the car I had borrowed from my boyfriend. And, having left the picnic basket behind on the front porch, I was in charge of finding food for myself, my brother and the six friends who came with us. This took a great deal of time, and involved making my way to a little town down the road, where the store shelves had been stripped nearly bare and the people seemed to feel as if they were living out an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

Fortunately, it turned out that eight people could live on peanut butter and marshmallow fluff for much longer than you might imagine.

But it was still a great adventure. The lesson I took away from it is that whenever anybody asks you to do something off the wall, you should really try to do it — unless it involves being unethical or a two-plane connection. You might not enjoy it while it’s going on, but somewhere down the line the anecdotes will always come in handy.

When I was actually at Woodstock, it never occurred to me anybody was going to want to discuss it 40 years down the road. In fact, the only time I envisioned the concert having any impact on my future was on the way home when I decided all of us were going to die in a massive traffic jam.

It was already dark when a girl walked up to my car — which was easy to approach, since we hadn’t moved for several hours — and said something like: “All the people ahead are going to sleep, so you might as well just settle down for the night.”

Then she gave me a flower and walked away. This was a sweet gesture, but I was so overwhelmed by the wish that the flower was, say, a saltine cracker, that I didn’t really respond.

As the hours slowly ticked by, I decided that the cars were never going to move again — and that months later rescuers would find our desiccated bodies, some collapsed behind the wheel, others slumped over the glove compartment where they expired while searching for a stray cough drop.

I fantasized that this mass tragedy would cause all the people over 30 to regret the terrible way that they had ignored the wise advice that the younger generation had been offering on how to run the world. Then the much-discussed revolution would finally occur, the world would achieve peace and harmony and we would be remembered as the Woodstock Martyrs who made it all happen.

Or, you know, we might just decide to get out of the cars and walk.

The Woodstock-mania must drive young people crazy since it is yet another reminder that the baby-boom generation is never going to stop talking about the stuff it did, and that when they are old themselves there will probably still be some 108-year-old telling them how everybody slept in the mud but that it was worth it because Janis Joplin sounded so awesome and the people were all mellow.

Current younger generation, I know you would be equally good-natured if you found yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, cut off from the world with 400,000 other people and a bunch of bands. But it will never happen because although you will have many, many fine adventures of your own, you will never be cut off.

My sister-in-law Laura just got back from the Lollapalooza concert in Chicago, which was the exact opposite of Woodstock in the sense that it was an extremely pleasant way for a middle-aged person to spend a weekend.

The thing that struck her most — besides the misting tents, the lobster corndogs and the truffled popcorn — was that “at any point you could look around and 50 percent of the people were texting or reading a text. Which is fine for keeping in touch, but I wonder how truly involved you can get with the music.”

As the person who went to Woodstock and didn’t see the concert, I can’t really comment on that last point. But 40 years ago, I knew eight people who would have killed for that lobster corndog.