Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Sunday, August 27, 2006

#27 - By the time we got to Woodstock...

“Wooden Ships” – Crosby & Nash (live in Los Angeles 10/10/71)

Boy, the summer just flew by. Mine's been okay. Hope your's has been, too.

So check it: Yesterday I drove --- or I should say, more to the point, made pilgrimage to --- Woodstock. Not the real Woodstock, the town in the eastern Catskills, but the apocryphal one, that hovers like a tribe of ghosts over a bunch of rolling fields in Bethel, New York, in the western Catskills, where the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival was held 37 years ago.

Thirty-seven years ago.

This year, after much talk and time, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts opened, adjacent to the downward-sloping field where the stage sat at the 1969 festival. That field has been preserved like a holy site: seeded with lush grasses, cultivated with what I imagine to be the finest of petro-chemical fertilizers, mowed to a crewcut suburban length, and guarded by venue employees in maroon polo shirts, who would not allow anyone to tread the hallowed turf.

At least before the concert, which was, I should note, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Afterwards, the employees must have had other duties, and high concertgoers were free----free, man, FREE!----to skip down the incline to inspect a memorial totem pole in the center of the field.

I caught a ride with some older friends from Queens, Steve and Myra, who were almost hippies back in the day (they’re in their mid-40s now) and whose daughter, Ruby Jade, is one of my kids at Small World Day Care. None of us had ever been to the Woodstock site before, and as we sat in traffic along route 17B drinking cans of Tecate beer (whose current design makes them look very much like cans of Coke, a handy disguise when knocking one back in the car), we imagined the epic traffic jam of the original festival.

This time, however, noone abandoned their cars on the side of the road to walk. I guess you don’t just leave Mercedes SUVs and Subaru Forester XLs at the side of the road.

The show was remarkably moving. Sure, hearing the crowd of boomers shouting along to Neil’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” made it sound more than ever like a beer commercial (despite the fact Neil, as he demonstrated with This Note’s For You, doesn’t go in for that sorta thing). And some of the new material lagged, although songs from Neil’s current Living With War CD were accompanied by mock-up CNN video footage, with ticker-tape crawls that cited impressive facts---like George Bush’s refusal to attend any soldier’s funeral since the beginning of the Iraq war. (If he did, it would be front page news, and Karl Rove would never permit American military casualties to be top stories.)

But Neil’s guitar was on fire. He torched Graham Nash’s “Military Madness” with solos that recalled his former tour-mates Sonic Youth, and happily dueled with Stephen Stills---who looked worse for wear but held his own---on a ridiculously inspirational “Almost Cut My Hair.” Even a song as dreadfully over-exposed as “Our House” sounded gorgeous; with couples hugging each other and singing along, no doubt thinking about their two cats in the yard and the kids at home with well-paid nannies, only a complete churl could deny the holiness of the whole scene. Given my “family” situation, I couldn’t relate. But pop is about fantasy, yes?

And on that note, I’ll end this by pointing out that “Chicago,” Graham Nash’s song about the protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, was probably the evening’s most powerful moment. Its opening lyrics, in particular, were quite timely

So your brother’s bound and gagged
And they've chained him to a chair
Won't you please come to Chicago just to sing
In a land that's known as Freedom
How can such a thing be fair?
Won't you please come to Chicago for the help that we can bring

We can change the world
Rearrange the world
It's dying..

You might imagine people singing along feebly between sips of $10 wine from plastic cups. But they weren’t---they were hollering, shouting, belting it out. I got teary, and sang so loud I only heard the music soaring around me intermittantly.

(I’m 34, you see; I missed all this stuff first time around.)

I hope folks took some of this righteous fervor home with them in their Mercedes SUVs. I hope I did, too.


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