The following opinion piece appeared in the April 30 edition of the Townsman.
No, I didn’t go to the Woodstock Festival. I was tending bar and couldn’t get the weekend off. It makes me one of the three people in America to admit he wasn’t there. I probably should have gone, anyway. The town was empty that weekend. Empty. Vacant. Bare. Get the idea? The guy who owned the Corner Cupboard in those days bought a truckload of beer with the false notion the town would be packed. Ha! Everybody went to Woodstock™ instead of Woodstock. Beer sat there until Labor Day.
Anyway, after decades of shame my absence from the Festival finally turned up heads, yes, has given me a glimmer of fame and celebrity, and I guess I’m going to have to go out and buy new hats.
A young man, Apostolos, who works for a film production company in Athens, yes, that’s Athens Greece, home to Socrates and Plato contacted me. He and his cameraman were in the area shooting a documentary about the 40th anniversary of the Festival. He interviewed Michael Lang and Ike Phillips, went to Bethel and got footage there, and now he wanted to interview me, The Man Who Didn’t Go.
This would be like interviewing the sole survivor of Custer’s cavalry – had there been one – but in reverse. I was the only person in the world, with the three exceptions – all Samoan’s, incidentally – who didn’t go!
Oh gosh, but it made me think back over the years that once seemed like tiny cracks in the sidewalk and are now wide as the Grand Canyon.
The actual town whose name would be co-opted (unintentionally) to initiate my generation to Totalitarian Consumerism, the era which ended just recently not in a bang but a Madoff, in the ‘60s domiciled about 4200 people, 3800 of them since God created the valley and the rest of us because of those strange accidents life just can’t stop itself from repeating. The town was cheap to live in. The same $1000 that today will buy you a soy gelato could almost buy a shack, and certainly pay a year’s rent for a shack with indoor plumbing. 3800 natives still shot deer from their kitchen windows back then; the rest of us couldn’t shoot a cap gun. We were tainted by New York City blood, the kind that said, “Let’s abandon the great novel, the great painting, the great sculpture, and the great bars and get out of this Lower East Side dump and go raise our little buggers in a WHOLESOME environment.” And, without cutting up our feet too badly, we grew up among those shards of responsible planning.
By ’63 Woodstock already had a beatnik bar, the Café Espresso, and yes, during the halcyon days prior the Gulf of Tonkin incident you saw Dylan and Baez and Tom Paxton and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Phil Ochs and other folkies strumming and humming the time away. It all seemed very innocuous at the time. Who knew?
The town had manifested, but by the early ’60s was dissipating its first incarnation as an art colony. But the rent stayed cheap and sometime after ’64 or so the electric musicians began to arrive, perhaps lured by visions of Dylan, et al. With them came “pot.” In those days it was just pot. No Pana-manian Red, no Colombian, no indicus, no Michoacán – just pot. There were nineteen other townships in the county, but we were the only one with pot. Sometimes somebody would get arrested for pot. The local newspapers and radio stations screamed like we had boiled babies. The times were that innocent. If you’d said something like “hydroponic,” people would have thought it had something to do with dual-carburetors.
The last time I saw Dylan he was drinking a beer in the Sled Hill Café, and these two girls walked in (the northern New Jersey tainted type) and started screaming and he split and the next thing I heard he was in Malibu or a Christian. I could tell you that he had a lasting, good influence on our local music or songwriting. What did endure is that back-of-the-throat way Dylan has of speaking. It affected everybody he hung with, and until Reagan’s second election we still had guys around here that couldn’t get a spoken word cleanly over their tongue because their girlfriends had picked up the affectation of gagging syllables from hanging around, or on, one of Dylan’s two hundred bass players and passed it on to their partners like an STD. Everybody’s got a theory about Dylan, and here’s mine: he’s a deep-well pump. If you ain’t sitting on something really good and deep, don’t waste your time. I know I wouldn’t.
Some of this was interesting to Apostolos; I have no idea how much or even if any of the footage will survive the final cut.
My main point to him was, Woodstock is still beautiful. Tell your friends in Athens to Google Earth it or fly to New York and take the bus. It ain’t Ulan Bator, gosh, it’s a lousy one hundred miles north of Washington Square. The mountains are round, the valleys and seeps are lush, there are “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything.”
Anyway, as soon as the documentary is released I’m flying to Athens to be a big star, The Man Who Didn’t Go.
Happy Anniversary, Woodstock Festival, it was truly an historic event and I have yet to meet one person who regretted going, and only two others who admit they weren’t there.