The Magazine

Sex, Drugs, Music, Mud

Woodstock at 40.

Aug 31, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 46 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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The Road to Woodstock
by Michael Lang
Ecco, 320 pp., $29.99

Woodstock Revisited
50 Far Out, Groovy, Peace-Loving, Flashback-Inducing Stories From Those Who Were There
by Susan Reynolds
Adams Media, 256 pp., $12.95

Woodstock
Peace, Music & Memories
by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague
Krause, 256 pp., $24.99

No social phenomenon can be completely analyzed, thoroughly critiqued, and given its full philosophical due in just one word. Except Woodstock. Altamont.

And that--except for the shaded sidebar containing the titles of the reviewed books--should be the end of this book review. However, the long weekend of August 15-17, 1969, was one of the great where-weren't-you? moments of recent history. Along with 202,177,000 other Americans, where I wasn't was at Woodstock.

Though it was not for lack of trying. I was 21 and smitten with a girl--call her Sunflower--from exotic Massapequa, Long Island. I had come by motorcycle from Ohio with the idea of Sunflower riding pillion to a "Woodstock Music and Arts Fair" which, according to a poster in a record shop back in Yellow Springs, was "An Aquarian Exposition" featuring "Three Days of Peace and Music." I pictured something on the order of a wind chime sale with evening hootenannies and maybe a surprise guest appearance by Mimi Fariña.

Sunflower, alas, chose the Sunday prior to make a feeble gesture at doing away with herself. (Such feeble gestures were more or less obligatory among fine arts major co-eds in those days. There was a bridge at an Ohio women's college from which at least one art student per semester would plunge. The drop was less than two yards into a foot-deep duck pond.)

While her parents were out slicing Titleists and lobbing Wilsons, Sunflower emptied the family medicine cabinet, swallowing upward of half-a-dozen Midol, One-A-Day, and Miltown tablets. There was a great crash of Cadillacs backing into each other as mom, dad, aunts, etc., raced from the parking lot of the Massapequa Golf Club, Par Venue Links. Ambulances were called. A tummy was pumped. (A rather cute little tummy, if memory serves.)

I was slightly disappointed to be missing Woodstock until the nightly news reported that it had turned into a catastrophic, drug-addled, rain-drenched disaster area lacking food, water, shelter, and Port-A-Potties. Then I was furious to be missing Woodstock.

What this says about 21-year-old boys I needn't tell anyone who has been, dated, or raised one. Furthermore, Sunflower's suicide attempt was the result of a fight with her mother about a department store charge plate bill for a $128 peasant blouse and had nothing to do with Sunflower's desperate romantic feelings for me.

To top it off, a few years later I became a Republican.

What with one thing and another, I was always touchy on the subject of Woodstock. I'm over it now, thanks to various books celebrating the 40th anniversary of too many people in bad haircuts going to an upstate New York dairy farm for no good reason. I've counted three of these books so far. Since counting to three was as much as most Woodstock attendees could manage on goof butts and silly pills, three is where I stop.

Each book is worse than the others, and any would be enough to banish all interest in Woodstock even if you were guilty of (or pleading) nolo contendere to having been there.

The Road to Woodstock is the painfully boring epic of how it all came together--or, rather, didn't. A quote from "festivalgoer" Rob Kennedy says more than needs saying:

On acid, the numbers of people were overwhelming. The concept of finding your way back to a huddle of four friends when you went to piss was mind-boggling. So we pretty much hunkered down in one spot from Thursday night through Sunday morning.

As the neologism "festivalgoer" indicates, Woodstock veterans would remain so out of it that they never watched Seinfeld. Kennedy (no relation to the more famous, if equally clueless, family) went on to pursue a career cultivating medical marijuana.

The Road to Woodstock is "by" Michael Lang, one of the two original promoters, "with" Holly George-Warren who is coeditor of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll and thus, presumably, knows the alphabet. I have no idea how much of the book Lang wrote, but he doesn't seem to have read it. He is described therein by a pair of ex-business partners as having "a face that is, by turns, evil, wanton, fey, impish, and innocent." This is more than I would let ex-business partners of mine say about me in my book.