Another Woodstock Relic

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

A recent New York Times article celebrating the 40th anniversary of the three days of Peace, Love and Music in Bethel, New York, in 1969 surprisingly drew a lot of nasty comments Most of the negative criticism and “get-over-it-already” attitude appeared to be the opinions of those aging baby boomers who didn’t attend.  They are either still harboring a 40-year grudge that they missed it, or else they are the same uptight crowd that give us baby boomers the evil reputation (among younger generations) of being greedy old bastards who are hell-bent on destroying the economy and the planet.

I’m one of the relics, a leftover of the 400,000 or so who made their way to Yasgur’s farm to spend three days and nights listening to the premier musical artists of our day. What we found when we arrived was something even more amazing, and that’s one reason we’ll never forget our experiences. It’s the stuff that cultural legends are made of, a story to hand down to future generations. I’m sorry if the uptight crowd still thinks we were a bunch of unwashed, drug-addicted, sexually depraved hooligans. I’ve lived another 40 years as a contributing member of society and I’m going to tell my story, if you care to stomach another version of the Woodstock legend. Those three days changed my awareness, all for the better:

It took a couple of weeks to convince my boyfriend to come back from his summer job in New Hampshire to accompany me to what was being touted as the music event of a lifetime. Eventually, he gave in and we purchased tickets for all three days. I don’t remember exactly what they cost, but I do remember it was a hefty sum for two teenagers in those days. The irony, of course, is that when we got there, so many people had shown up, that tickets became irrelevant.

Neither of us had a driver’s license, so we bummed a ride up to White Lake with some high school friends of mine. About 3 or 4 miles outside of the festival, the two lane highway had turned into a massive parking lot headed one way to the festival. We got out with my friends’ camping gear and walked the rest of the way. It was the first time in my life I can recall walking that far. It seemed like such a great distance for me, spoiled and pampered as I was at the tender age of 17.

There were a lot of people even on Friday afternoon before the concert started, and as the evening turned to night, more people kept showing up. I remember the opening act: the rough urgency of Richie Havens’ voice and guitar, and then Melanie, young, slender and pretty, who later immortalized her own memories of looking out from the stage into an ocean of hopeful young people as we lit matchbooks and candles in the rain. When I saw her years and years later performing for free on a beach in Florida, the crowd broke out the cigarette lighters, shining like stars in a sudden downpour. I filled with my own sudden downpour of tears. I was older, Melanie was a plump, aging hippie with two grown daughters, and it seemed like Love, Peace and Music was a dusty concept to brush off and air out at concerts performed by has-beens.

Many wax ecstatic over their memories of Woodstock. Like the old joke about the ’60s…”If you remember them, you probably weren’t there,” I have my doubts about the validity of most of these reminisces. After all, most everyone was high, and they are all 50 years old or more now. I can barely trust my own memory, and I wasn’t stoned that weekend. What I do remember, besides the thirst, the hunger, the heat exhaustion, bug bites and waking up in a cold puddle of mud was the sheer power of almost half a million young people spontaneously coming together to celebrate life with a collective free spirit that had never been seen in such magnitude.

Without hearing many of the groups perform that I’d come to watch, I begged my boyfriend to help me find a way home on Sunday morning. Painstakingly, we hitched rides one after another until we got to New Jersey, and from there we took a train to New York City. As we passed a newsstand in the bowels of Penn Station, I saw this headline on the front page of the Sunday New York Times…”300,000 at Folk-Rock Fair Camp Out in a Sea of Mud.” A 5×6 aerial photo showed the stage in the right bottom corner and the rest of the frame was filled with tiny dots, somewhere among them my own. Like 100s of thousands of pinpricks of light, we had come together in a galaxy of peace for one brief weekend in time.

I was paralyzed with a feeling like pride, and realized that I had just been part of something significant. I had, for the first time in my life, experienced something much bigger than just myself. It took many years for me to begin to understand how we are all a part of one another, something a lot of people who came to Woodstock that weekend already seemed to know. Still, it was a start for me, and though I wish I’d been less self-absorbed at the time, I could not help but take away a seed of understanding that germinated and grew long after we left the festival behind.

Peace be with you,

Long live the spirit of Woodstock 1969: Peace, Love and Music

When is nature not theatrical enough?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Yosemite is practically in my backyard since I moved west in 2004;  so yesterday, with no advance planning at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my friend and I drove the 2 1/2 hours to get there, and I saw Yosemite for the first time in my 57 years. Years of exposure to Ansel Adams’ stunning black and white photos and Sierra Club calendars did nothing to diminish my joy and delight at actually being in one of nature’s finest temples. I am ready to return in a heartbeat, so please don’t take what I’m about to say as a put down of nature’s majesty. I’m a huge fan. I’m just curious about how constant exposure to movies, TV, Internet and other media affect our real life experiences of those same things.

On the drive home, we decided to take a longer route through a narrow mountain pass. At midnight, we were still negotiating hairpin turns and trying to avoid a) hitting deer which were roaming all over the one-lane road, or b) plunging over steep inclines to our certain death. The thought of stopping to stretch our legs in the thick of what could only be described as the “forest primeval” (or “prime evil” depending on how many slasher movies you’ve seen), filled me with visions of chainsaw toting, hockey-masked killers or giant grizzly bears lurking behind every tree.

When we finally did stop to use a campground latrine, the only thing looming was silence and the milky way so resplendent you couldn’t count the stars. Can you believe it was something of a let-down? My pooling adrenaline was left unsatisfied!

I recall as we drove on and on and on through miles of towering trees (reminiscent of Hollywood or Broadway fairy tale sets) that in the headlights, those trees looked too pristine, too perfect to be real. The deer were too placid, the night too peaceful without a menacing soundtrack.

I hate to think after my nearly six decades of exposure to movies, theater and TV that life doesn’t imitate art well enough! I really don’t want to believe that what was millions of years in the making isn’t thrilling enough for those of us who have witnessed feats of technology in the last few years to make one’s head spin.

I keep remembering those trees lit by our headlights as we drove through the night and how I wondered whether they were real enough.

One sentence at a time

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Shaking off the shackles of writer’s block (as any writer knows) is not easy, but I’ve learned that anything worth doing is rarely as easy as it seems when you start out. Occasionally, just starting out is the difficult part.

I decided to use the strategy my own coach, Scott Lewis, taught me when I first complained to him that I wanted to write–knew I could write–if only I knew how to get myself to do it. He asked me to commit to two minutes of writing a day and report back to him the following week.

Two minutes of writing a day? “Are you kidding?” I thought. “Anyone can do that!” I took the challenge. The first night I stared at the computer blankly. What to write? Being one of those people who takes her commitments very seriously, I looked around my room and decided whatever my eye landed on at the moment would be good enough to morph into the opening, and probably closing, sentence. (After all, two minutes isn’t much time to write more than a couple of sentences.) From the second night, I was writing for 10 minutes, and after that, I was pounding the keyboard in oblivion for two hours, not two minutes, a night.

I wrote my way out of my block the last couple of days by just sitting down and writing the next sentence, and then another. I figured if I didn’t like the direction it went, I’d be revising it sooner or later anyway.

It worked. That and a little help from some tunes of my favorite divas of ’80s dance music–Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters. Why not? I left my plucky boomer protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, in a quandry about pole dancing in public. All she really needed was some inspiration!

Down The Internet Rabbit Hole

Monday, April 20th, 2009

My friend emailed me this morning to say she had gone down another “rabbit hole” on the Internet.

I know exactly what she means. When you are easily distracted by a wide variety of ideas, as I am, it is easy to forget what you started looking for and end up getting excited by something that leads you away from your reason for getting online in the first place.

I’m beginning to think I could benefit from a support group for souls lost on the Internet, if I could only find one without winding up responding to other people’s blogs for a couple of hours or joining another online Baby Boomers group found while following bread crumbs on Twitter.

I wonder if I actually did stop surfing long enough to find an online group for networking-holics, whether I’d be tempted to surreptitiously surf while participating in the group,thus dooming myself to complete and utter failure.

I might as well face facts. If I’m procrastinating this afternoon by answering a survey from a social networking website about why I use social networking websites, I have a bit of a problem. I mean, taking 3 Facebook quizzes a day that analyze what I already know about myself so I can agree with the results is no longer serving my original purpose for networking!

Cherish the old while embracing the new

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

The end of one year and the beginning of another signifies leaving behind the old to embark on a journey into the unknown. For some, shedding what we know and identify with is a daunting, if not downright scary proposition. Many of my fellow baby boomers frequently send me nostalgic emails that are a medley of the wonderful icons of our youth–The Mouseketeers, The Beatles, Elvis, Hula Hoops–the list goes on and on. They opine the loss of “the good old days,” although for anyone who doesn’t suffer from selective memory, the old days had plenty of not-so-good things that I’m glad are gone–McCarthyism, big hair, lynch mobs, and 8 Tracks, to name but a few.

2008 was the year we voted for CHANGE, and I’d like to see Boomers, along with their younger fellow citizens, step up to the plate and embrace the new, and sometimes scary, present and future. It’s a great idea to “make new friends, but keep the old” like a song I remember from MY good old days. No need to ditch The Beatles to listen to a new rock band, or throw out your cherished collection of vinyl while downloading iTunes to your mp3 player. Hang onto the old, but welcome the new. I hear too many boomers dissing new technologies, new ideas, saying “I’m too old to change. This is how I’ve always done it.”

“Yes I Can” applies to those of us over 45, too.