BACK TO THE GARDEN: WOODSTOCK Across 50 Years

August 13, 2019

 

 

This beautiful world is a garden of flowers . . .

This beautiful world is a city of pain . . .

This beautiful evening it’s time to rock and roll

Mandy Mercier

 

Time flies, fun or no fun.

Deborah Milosevich

 

 

Here is Woodstock remembered in 1983, 1989, 2009, and a coda done now, 2019. As I read them over, wincing more than once, I find that as the years passed my memories have not dimmed, perhaps because even standing in its midst it was hard to believe. And, even then, I couldn’t (and still can’t) get over the IDEA of Woodstock, and how shocking it was to the expectations and ideas of that time and every time since. As a phenomenon, Woodstock also was, and is, paradoxically beyond ideas. I’ve believed ever since that without Michael Wadleigh’s film, no one now would believe it happened as it happened. Woodstock 50 years later, as it will be 100 years later, is immune to exaggeration — the real thing outdid and outdoes anybody’s dis or anybody’s wow.  ~  MV 

_________________

 

. . . as remembered in 1983:

 

The original 1983 essay, an analysis of "The Big Chill" (a film purporting to comment on the 1960s), warned that such cinema was about the erasure of memory, the surrender of identity, and the installment, in their places, of an all-purpose, non-threatening nostalgia. In an age when media overpowers the unwary and infiltrates memory, it becomes more important every day to pry your memory from media and to live with your own past instead of the past that is being sold collectively as an artifact. 

 

Part of that 1983 essay veered toward Woodstock:

 

 

 

The most joyful noise we made — and it may yet go down as the most joyful noise ever made in North America — was at Woodstock, where, thank the gods, someone (Michael Wadleigh, bless him) had a camera crew and would do the job of seeing that the weekend didn’t pass entirely into legend. Otherwise, by now, the reality that the film preserves would have been pooh-poohed as exaggeration. In that last summer of the sixties, several summers past the first and short-lived “summer of love” (it didn’t quite last a summer), everything that had been wonderful, everything that had been visionary, the quintessential joy of that collective impulse that we all felt with such private heat would gather on a hillside for a few days as though to transmit its remembrance into the future. For future generations, “the Sixties” would be distilled into that long weekend that was further compressed into two hours of film . . . while "Woodstock" exists nobody can take it all away.

 

 

But to be there wasn’t at all like watching this film or any film. Who were we, on that hillside? A lot of more than slightly delirious children, of various ages — I was a few months short of 24, and I was older than most. I remember the shock of walking toward the lake and seeing three naked men walk casually down the road, unremarked by the crowd. And, at the lake, simply to sit and stare at the loveliness, the gentleness, of a lot of naked strangers looking truly innocent in that water. Yes, we’d gotten ourselves back to the Garden. The Army helicopters, bringing food and medical supplies, would buzz the lake and everybody would wave — everything was all right that day, even the Army. We seemed to sense that they were just kids like us.

 

My friend took off his clothes and went in. I was too shy. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I had the feeling that nobody could. Not at the lake, not while watching the music, and certainly not the musicians, who for us plebeians were far-off, sheltered people. For once in American pop culture the show was not on the stage. What characterized the Sixties often, and this weekend in particular, was that the show was in the audience, the show was the audience, and the music was inspiration, was accompaniment, was expression — but had no existence separate from that audience. These were our songs. They were just singing them. And they knew it. And they were proud of it. And nobody could quite believe it really felt that way that day: Oh my God — I’m not here all alone.

 

(photo, below: Jerry Garcia at Woodstock, 1969)

 

 This was the world we wanted. It had happened by mistake, because too many people came to a concert, ten times more people than there were facilities for. And the leaders of the concert, who were no older than the rest of us, decided that instead of trying to control the situation — which was not possible, but could have been tried, with God knows what awful result — they would lose their million dollars and just try to take care of this migration of souls that had alighted in front of their stage. Nobody could have planned such a weekend.  And every time someone’s tried to plan a “Woodstock” since it’s been hollow, or, at worst, it’s been Altamont (put on by the same promoters). We all seemed to have come through a gap in our shared notions of the possible. Here was the Promised Land, the New Age, the Other World. Nobody knew what to do with it, but here it had materialized, and there were many giddy expressions, as though to ask, Am I dreaming?

 

The answer, of course, was YES. We were dreaming. Together in the same place, we were living the dream we’d dreamed. And what does one do with a dream but remember it? You may or may not interpret it, but interpretations fade and you remember the images, the feelings — some dreams stick with us for decades that way. You may not be able to live them, but to deny them would be to deny yourself. You keep their possibility within you, and try not to stray too far in your heart from the moment when the dream reached toward reality and reality reached back to dream and taught you that the world is immense, truly, and the way we’re doing things in this world is only one of the many ways we might be doing them. Once you know this, then you know that we’re not just alive, we’re the bearers of life. Anything can change.

 

Woodstock was all this, certainly. And it was just as certainly the beginning of the end. You can’t film or record a smell, but the stench there was a part of its meaning as well. The overpowering odor of garbage in the heat in front of the stage. The songs and the film tell you nothing of the people sitting in, even sleeping in, the mud overflowing from latrines, a mud rich in shit and piss. We were that powerless. Even in our dream! A decade was ending. It had taken all our energy to get to that hillside, and once there we had just enough left to say, “Wow,” softly, in utter bewilderment that we’d made it, and listen to Grace Slick as the sun came up: “You are the crown of Creation,” she sang, as we took a morning piss in our own mud. My friend and I trudged off through that mud for home, utterly exhausted, exhilarated and depressed at once, long before the next dawn when Jimi Hendrix would play his electric version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That was the summer we first put men on the moon, but soon the concert at Woodstock would seem a lot farther away than the moon ever had.

 

From “The Big Chill Factor,” in LA Weekly, 1983, revised and collected in Shadow Dancing in the USA, 1985.

 

 

_________________

 

. . . as remembered in 1989:

 

There were these three naked men. When I think of that time, that weekend and the place, they are the first thing I think of. Yet there was nothing extraordinary about them except that they were naked. My friend and I were walking from that much-peopled hillside down the dirt road toward the pond. The paths and the fields were only about as crowded, say, as Central Park on a Sunday; compared to that hillside, it didn’t seem crowded at all. And walking in our midst were these three naked men.

 

 

We were older, it seemed a lot older, than most of the others. Pushing twenty-four. And we were working class, or whatever they call it in this country (they try not to call it anything, to pretend it doesn’t exist), and most of these people obviously weren’t. That was, and is, no small gap.

 

For five years I’d been a working stiff who would try to hoard a couple of hours at night to write. Most of that time I’d supported my mother, two of my brothers and my sister in a two-, then three-room apartment in the Bronx. As with most working people, “Turn On/Tune In/Drop Out” weren’t exactly viable options for me. There was no medical insurance on my job (as on most jobs then), not even paid sick days — I couldn’t afford to be ill, much less drop out, still less go to jail. To risk the job or even one paycheck (though it was only about sixty-five dollars take-home a week) was unthinkable; the consequences for my family would have been drastic and immediate. Experimenting with drugs and/or civil disobedience were definitely out.

 

I’m telling you this not because it was true of one would-be writer, but because it was — and is — true of millions. Beyond listening to FM stations and buying a few records (the “merchandising” that snooty commentators look down on, though they don’t seem to mind their comments being merchandised), the Sixties were something most of us couldn’t afford. But we did watch. Often with great excitement.

 

Not with political hope, however. At least, not much. “The Movement,” as it called itself, behaved as though we working millions didn’t exist. My resentment at that ran deep. SDS was, after all, Students For A Democratic Society. They and the other public intellectuals played for and with students and intellectuals, and gave the impression that, insofar as we existed at all, the role of us (white) working stiffs was to watch what they did on television. It was as though they didn’t try to organize us because they didn’t think we were smart enough or (unlike blacks) interesting enough. It was a palpable attitude — and it doomed their movement.

 

Still, I and many I knew were thankful for those radicals, if only because they wouldn’t let Vietnam be taken for granted and because they relished the word “revolution.” Their way of going about it may often have been childish, show-offish, and politically ineffectual, but there is more to revolution than politics, and they knew it. They stirred things up, and stirred and stirred, and those stirrings gave a conceptual weight to that crazy nameless something in the air, the greater stirring that the movement, too, was caught up in: good-crazy and bad-crazy both, dangerous, unpredictable and alive with raw possibility; when all our light and all our darkness danced with all our hope and all our fear. (Some people call that state “love.”)

 

A nameless but definite “something,” hard to pin down, impossible to ignore. You could hear it on the radio, see it on the news, dig it at a concert, wear it, inhale it, trip with it, talk it, live it. In fact, you had no choice. You couldn’t walk anywhere without it sticking to your shoes, like it or not. The privileged young could act it out, but they didn’t invent it, they caught it, like everybody else.

 

At work we spoke of it, of one or another of its costumes, nearly every day, into the early Seventies, and late at night in the Bronx, trying to write while my family slept, I felt a part of something that the whole world seemed trying desperately to birth. That was the groundnote of the time.

 

Do you think I’ve rambled too far afield from the image of meeting three naked men on a dirt road? But see, for me that whole time somehow seems to swirl around that moment on that road. It feels like the reason my friend and I had traveled to that hillside and (after Joe Cocker’s set, I think it was) gone looking for that pond. And there they were.

 

 It was twenty years ago, but it could have been twenty thousand. It seemed for a moment that those young, naked, laughing men were the true representatives of the human race as a race, at home, even serene for that one precious and precarious short walk through our era.  Or maybe their casual, scruffy-haired nakedness had a quiet authority about it that made my well-practiced street-kid’s strut seem awkward and artificial by comparison. But I remember vividly that they were not being exhibitionists, there was no self-consciousness about them, none of the unmistakable air of people who want to be noticed; they really were just walking and talking, laughing among themselves, just going from one place to another.

 

What made them stand out was the very fact that, though there were hundreds of clothed people all around, those three naked men didn’t stand out. Nobody else in sight was naked, yet people passing on the road paid them no special attention. And it was the very fact that they didn’t stand out, a fact immune to the callow rhetoric of that day or the resentful revisions of this, that makes them so important.

 

For when naked people can walk the road among strangers without disruption; when half a million disoriented, surprised individuals who don’t know where their next meal is coming from can stay crowded together without tension or violence — in fact, in a spirit of camaraderie; when sexual strictures reinforced by every power of state, religion and family seem suddenly to evaporate; when you consider that most of these people were not on drugs (drugs were scarcer than food that weekend); when something as ephemeral as music was able to sustain all this; and when you remember that virtually all of these people were fairly average specimens of their world, of a society that (in practice) has always been antagonistic, even viciously hostile, to the values that that weekend stood for . . . 

 

. . . then it’s hard to avoid realizing how tentative any human arrangement is, even the “real world” which the few who manipulate its powers would like us to be “realistic” about. The present dominant version of “HOW TO BE A WORLD” is only one version of human possibility, and if the elements are right it can be swept away in a weekend.

 

The so-called real world may come roaring back next weekend, it has tremendous force of inertia behind it — but it’s only inertia, not “human nature.” Human nature is just like other sorts of nature, capable of staggering varieties of organization and expression. A quarter-million years of humanity has evidenced myriad ways to live, and, as that weekend showed, there are more to come, each with its own grace and nightmares. The yearnings of a few in one century can become the motivating ideals of millions in another. (That’s not fanciful; it happens regularly.) A new gadget like a compass or computer chip can turn the course of generations. A new music can be the seed, the laboratory, of half a dozen world-challenging movements. While things that seem imperishable perish all the time. And new ways, at least new for us, can manifest even here, at any moment, spontaneously, from the most unexpected source (a shipyard in Gdansk or a shabby recording studio in Memphis), beyond anyone’s capacity to predict or control.

 

That’s the truth people are running from when they pooh-pooh that weekend, those people, that era. For it was an era when this truth was celebrated by many. Just because it’s not being celebrated now in America doesn’t make it any less true.

 

Farther down the path was the pond where nearly everyone was naked. Not me, though. (A Sicilian upbringing is apparently harder to discard, at least in the open, than a WASP one.) I sat near the water, feeling a little silly and quite happy, full of admiration for the people around me. Sad, too. On the street, judging the toughness of others is a precise and necessary skill. If you don’t have it, it is hard to stay alive and impossible to keep your manhood. So I knew that, however lovely these people were, they just weren’t tough enough. It would take more than loveliness, more than goodness, to sustain these changes. It would take the will and the knowledge to go the distance. And it would take not being afraid of the dark. There wasn’t near enough of that in this movement. So, thinking of the three naked men, I wrote this note:

 

We know now that our dreams are not going to come true. Are never going to come true. We have learned that our dreams are important not because they come true, but because they take you places you would never have otherwise gone, and teach you what you never guessed was there to learn.”

 

“Back To The Garden,” LA Weekly 1989, collected in Letters At 3am: Reports On Endarkenment, 1993.

 

 

_________________

 

. . . as remembered in 2009 – part 1

 

Rereading a beat-up paperback, the cover long since torn and taped, a date on the first page, written in my hand, evoked a different summer: 7/12/69. Two weeks after Stonewall. Eight days before men walked on the moon. About a month before Woodstock.

 

(photo below: Janis Joplin at Woodstock, 1969)

 

 It's a slow read, Brooks Adams' The Law of Civilization and Decay (1896, American edition), written for people better educated than any today. So I must, at 63, as I did at 23, slog through Adams' myriad references to events and names of which I'm ignorant and go for his gist, astonishingly contemporary, as is his summary of American society more than a century ago:

 

"Although the conventions of popular government are still preserved, capital is at least as absolute as under the Caesars, and, among capitalists, the money-lenders form an aristocracy. Debtors are in reality powerless, because of the extension of that very system of credit which they invented to satisfy their needs. Although the volume of credit is gigantic, the basis on which it rests is so narrow that it may be manipulated by a handful of men."

 

In prose aglitter with now unfamiliar usages, Brooks Adams (great-grandson of John Adams) presented a vision of history from ancient times to his own. His conclusions: Eventually, the power of the West will decrease as the power of Asia (especially China) increases; power always concentrates where capital is most plentiful and production most efficient; when any centralized polity reaches its apex, it begins to disintegrate; all societies oscillate helplessly between periods of centralization and decentralization.

 

Wrote Adams, "Another conclusion forced upon my mind, by the examination of long periods of history, was the exceedingly small part played by conscious thought in moulding the fate of men."

 

A fantastically instructive work. Studied it most of that summer of '69. My habit was to carry reading matter everywhere, so it was probably in my gear when Duke and I lit out for Woodstock, though I did no reading there. By the wee hours of Saturday, Aug. 16, radio reports made it clear that Woodstock was, well, Woodstock! Duke said, "They'll talk about this for the rest of our lives. Let's go." A drive of 100 miles. We left New York City at maybe 2 a.m. His small Saab easily weaved around the temporarily abandoned Detroit behemoths that littered Route 17B. We parked a short walk from the concert. That wide shot in the movie of half a million people on a slope that rose gradually to a height maybe twice that of the stage? Duke and I reached the top of that slope just as the sun rose behind us and glittered upon Grace Slick's white outfit. "Wake up, America!"

 

Flash-forward 40 years. Amazon zaps me a missive.  "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition."  I've often said if Michael Wadleigh hadn't made that film, folks now wouldn't believe us when we spoke of Woodstock. I ordered the box. It arrived ridiculously wrapped in imitation buckskin frill (to appeal to whom?).

 

Was it only 40 years ago? Brooks Adams might say the spectacle of Woodstock spans history. Its idealism was Victorian. Its pageantry was medieval. Its licentiousness was Roman. Its privation and faith of purpose were straight out of the Children's Crusade. Its living conditions were Neanderthal — but no, for only the civilized could peacefully accept sitting and sleeping in mud and the overflow of Porta Potties, as only the civilized can be herded into boxcars by soldiers whom they outnumber, and as only the civilized can be trained to be such soldiers.

 

And only the civilized can produce such a variety and depth of music as was on that stage. Woodstock's pretense was that it represented rebellion against civilization; actually, it was a phenomenon of high civilization. All it lacked was civilization's unique capacity for savagery. But that, too, was not entirely true. As an artist, I've always contended that, at our core, all artists are monsters. We'll do virtually anything to do what we do. In the best sense, then, savagery was on the stage, for it takes a dash of savagery to be truly free, and few are as truly free as artists in the throes and fits of their arts.

 

But artists do not create in isolation, however isolated we may feel. Artists, especially young artists, create in dialogue between their private spirit and the spirit of their time. A generation's aspirations, not its achievements, are expressed in its arts. A moment of high historical aspiration created the phenomenon and music of Woodstock. If the aspirations sung and spoken on Woodstock's stage seem naive now, it was a noble naivete. Most people there celebrated what they thought would be a resplendent flowering of culture and peace. Peace was a dream — a world at peace is not a human possibility, but the (comparative) liberation of women and gays, and a level of racial and ethnic tolerance unknown in history, is not a bad record for one generation, however much that generation dived wholeheartedly into the materialism that, for a short time, it protested.

 

 Personally, I didn't have much fun at Woodstock. But lots of others did. They did all that I did not — took recreational drugs, walked naked, screwed, enjoyed being part of the mass, and, in the most profound sense, let themselves go. As a working-class Sicilian New York guy, averse to drugs, shy as well as reserved, helplessly intellectual — and valuing, too, the tough as well as the gentle— I stood apart.  I listened and watched, trying to figure what, if anything, Woodstock proved. I believed (and believe) that, as Brooks' brother Henry Adams wrote, history is "in essence chaotic and amoral" and would remain so, no matter what. Yet, witnessing Woodstock, I saw something to surprise even Brooks' and Henry's vast knowledge of history, for Woodstock was something undoubtedly new upon this earth.

 

When I wrote of Woodstock's 20th anniversary, I figured what it proved as much as I've been able: "The present dominant version of HOW TO BE A WORLD is only one version of human possibility, and, if the elements are right, it can be swept away in a weekend. Human nature is just like other sorts of nature, capable of staggering varieties of organization and expression. A quarter-million years of humanity has evidenced myriad ways to live, and, as that weekend showed, there are more to come, each with its own graces and nightmares. The yearning ideals of a few in one century can become the motivating ideal of millions in another. (That's not fanciful; it happens regularly.) A new gadget like a compass or computer chip can turn the course of generations. A new music can be the seed, the laboratory, of half a dozen world-challenging movements. While things that seem imperishable perish all the time. And new ways, at least new for us, can manifest even here, at any moment, from the most unexpected source . . . beyond anyone's capacity to predict or control."

 

I sat by the pond fully clothed while Duke — as working-class and intellectual as I, but freer in spirit — got naked, swam, and splashed with those other lovely, naked souls. The county had been declared a disaster area. Army helicopters flew in medical personnel and supplies. A chopper swooped low over the pond, its doors wide open and its soldiers, young as we, grinned and waved at the naked people, and the girls' breasts flopped prettily as they jumped and grinned and waved back. It was as sweetly innocent a moment as has ever been.

 

And then we all went home, where most of us would become more like our parents than we'd have believed that weekend, while the war those soldiers fought bloodied on for six more years.

 

I turn the pages of The Law of Civilization and Decay and realize I must have had it at Woodstock, because where else would I have written this on its last blank page? "I find myself in an absurd, chaotic, vicious time; I can't help but look upon it as innocent of itself, like a beast."  

 

“A Paperback At Woodstock,” Austin Chronicle, July 17, 2009

 

_________________

 

. . . as remembered in 2009 – part 2

 

Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," a masterpiece song of the era (written and recorded after Woodstock, the concert) expressed the longings of that summer of 1969: "We've got to get ourselves back to the [capital G] Garden."

 

 

I don't remember anyone at the time questioning the worth or the downside of fulfilling such a wish, but a mostly unconscious acceptance of paradox was typical of what we wished for then ~

 

We wanted liberty — AND security. We wanted the war to end — but not the excitement of being against the war. We wanted the fall of capitalism — and all that capitalism could supply. We wanted innocence — but did all we could to experience its opposite. We wanted to "drop out" — so long as we might still order pizza, which meant that someone, somewhere, had to keep the mechanisms of society going. We wanted holiness — and publicity. We wanted the self-knowledge of meditation — and to be stoned.

 

Yes, these are vast generalizations (I, for instance, didn't want to get high). But if we are to believe our own music (and there is no doubt of its sincerity), through the technology by which it was created and disseminated we wanted all this and more, not the least paradoxical of which was how we wanted somehow to transcend the technological world that supplied the means by which the music connected us all.

 

And one more thing, one more beautifully impossible paradox:

Like many before and after us, we wanted a freer sense of order.

 

One irony lost on most, as it was certainly lost on me, is that the summer we yearned to get back to the Garden was also the summer we celebrated humanity's presence on the moon. Surely they are opposites, the Garden and the moon. You can't go back to the Garden and also go to the moon. A people that tries for the one can't have the other. But yearnings aren't rational, especially the yearnings of that summer, and, in the most stunning image of that era, the garden that is this planet was photographed from the moon, and we saw our home whole for the first time.

 

As it turned out, the moon was merely a picnic site, visited for show, then abandoned. The dream of the fabled Garden, too, was abandoned. Overwhelmingly, my generation gardened mostly on real estate that they owned on terms allowed by bankers whom they would spend their lifetimes obeying. As for me, to employ a city usage, I didn't know from gardens while growing up in Brooklyn and the Bronx. I was 14, maybe 15, when I got my first taste of the "Garden" — and it scared me silly. I lived, by then, with my foster family in Maine. One night, we drove a country road. They stopped the car. The woods all around were, as Robert Frost wrote, "dark and deep." The stars overhead were bright. For the first time in my life, I saw the night as my ancestors saw it, without electric lights or any human light. This terrified me. Precisely: It terrified my body! I felt a helpless terror in my flesh and tried to hide it. The others left the car and walked a bit, exhilarated. I made as though I was leaning on the car. In truth, I was too scared to lose touch with that manufactured artifact. The city and the car were a "nature" I knew in my bones. The wooded, starry night was as alien to me as the moon, and scarier. If I'd walked on the moon, I might have felt wonder: "Oh my god, I'm on the moon!" In that ever-ancient nighttime of forest and stars, I felt a pagan's terror before the unknown.

 

What I felt, I see now, was why we left the Garden. The Bible is mistaken. We did not fall; we journeyed.

In that Garden, or that dark and deep forest, we could not express and live out the fantastic multiplicity that is human nature. To do so we needed agriculture, villages, roads, and the creation of every society that expands beyond the primitive: a city. Be it Athens, Tenochtitlán, or Manhattan — a city. They rise and fall, they change over time, they've been arranged in myriad forms under myriad systems, but the constant of human aspiration, ancient or modern, is the city.

 

What were we dreaming of, going to the moon, but one day to build a city there? And from there, to build cities wherever possible, on Mars, on the moons of Jupiter, on some planet in Andromeda. It's what we do. Surely that was the root of our excitement the night of the moon landing. We believed Neil Armstrong when he said, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." We believed we were headed thataway. 

 

Toni and I watched the broadcast of the moon landing in her apartment in Manhattan's West 80s, a rough neighborhood in those days. They called Central Park "Needle Park," and it deserved the name. Nobody sane ventured its byways in the dark — except that night. Too excited to sleep or stay indoors, Toni and I gravitated, as if by some basic instinct, to Central Park. Hundreds of others obeyed the same impulse. People played music, danced, greeted each other, laughed, or just stared at the spectacle of it all. "We" (represented by three white male astronauts) were on the moon! The greatest journey — so we thought — had begun.

 

Some three weeks later I was at Woodstock with Duke, surrounded by the celebratory sense of "We've got to get ourselves back to the Garden." I'm sure I wasn't the only one at Yasgur's farm who had also cavorted in Central Park to celebrate landing on the moon. It's not that none of us was thinking; it's that we were thinking in several directions at once and were pulled toward whatever most strongly attracted us on any given day. Later, if only because we couldn't help it, we grew up.

 

In an episode of "Dollhouse", scripted with Jane Espenson's usual excellence, a character refers to Eden as a prison.

    "Eden wasn't a prison!" exclaims another.

    "Are you kidding?" says the first, clinching with, "The apples were monitored."

 

Woodstock deserves its status as the most legendary concert of all time, but paradox is a necessary ingredient of legend. Who helped us survive and escape that muddy, Edenic prison but the very butts of our protests? The Army, bringing in doctors and supplies, and the cops! The DVD box set Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition notes that the evacuation of Woodstock was aided by "100 local sheriffs, [and] several hundred State Troopers and deputies from 12 counties."

 

We rebels against society needed all society's resources to get our asses safely home.

________________

 

The moon landing, too, richly deserves its legend. Our country was at a crossroads. Would we be mighty like the Romans or find a new and more creative way to be mighty? We chose the way of the Romans, wasting ourselves in exploits of empire, and we'll go the way of the Romans, only much faster. Space is still Gene Roddenberry's "final frontier," but, if it is to be humanity's greatest diaspora, it will be under the banner of someone else's civilization, not America's — though we'll always retain the honor of proving it could be done.

 

As yet, we are still a species that reaches the brink of a truly new age, then backs away, preferring the dream to the venture. Greeks know something about that, their great new age having lasted not two centuries.

 

I think of the Greek poet Kostes Palamas (1859-1943), who saw in our longings a pattern: "the new age/which we always await, which always tries to arrive/and is always lost, a fragment, at the turn of the cycles."

 

But it would be a mistake to underestimate the value of that fragment and its capacity, unexpectedly, to renew itself, revive us, and send us again on our way.

 

“The Garden And The Moon,” Austin Chronicle, July 31, 2009

 

_______________

 

. . . coda: as remembered in 2019

 

Two or three young women gave birth at Woodstock. Trusting that their offspring live, those kids turn 50 this month and they remember nothing of their birthplace but tales told by their old mothers. 

 

Look at that footage! Look at the photos, hear the stars sing — every single person in every single shot is, at present, old or dead. No matter how much money they made or did not make; no matter their fame or anonymity; no matter if they liked the lives they’ve lived or if they’ve lived like people who’ve boarded the wrong bus; no matter their smarts or their stupidities; no matter who they voted for then or later; no matter what they ate or how they exercised; no matter whether or not they believed in God; no matter whether or not they embodied kindness — pretty or homely, handsome or plain; really good dancers, other dancers, and those who couldn’t dance a lick . . . every damned one is old or dead. As my dear friend Deborah says: “Time flies, fun or no fun.” 

 

 Which is to say: Look at these Woodstock people on these Woodstock days having such a fine time, even in that pissy mud! Go then, friends and strangers, and, even in these drastic days, be not among those who denigrate fun or spoil fun or are incapable of anything like fun.  For it’s amazing how soon you shall begin a sentence with: 

“Fifty years ago, I . . . “ 

 

______________________

 

Michael Ventura © 2019. All rights reserved.

 

Michael Ventura is a writer who lives in the mountains of Northern California.

 

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