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Sex, Drugs, Music, Mud

Woodstock at 40.

Aug 31, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 46 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Say what you will against the crowd at Woodstock, they did not murder sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar when he played "Raga Puriya-Danashri/Gat in Sawaritai," which, if it was as long as its title, must have tried the patience of even the most blissfully stoned.

There was the Incredible String Band "whose folk-psychedelic improvisations featured banjo, oud, mandolin." What fun! "Robin Williamson started the set by reciting a lengthy poem." Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead confessed, "Jeez, we were awful!" Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane admitted, "I sang the goddamned songs with my eyes closed, sort of half asleep and half singing." Country Joe McDonald got reunited with his band "and everything was going really well," he said, "until Barry Melton, who was the lead guitar player of the Fish, brought two cases of beer in aluminum cans and started throwing them into the audience and hitting people in the head." About The Band, Lang says that "they didn't connect so well with the kids."

Graham Nash, of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, opined, "I thought we did a lousy set." And the famous Jimi Hendrix performance took place at, of all times, 8:30 on Monday morning when everyone who was able to leave Woodstock had done so.

"Hendrix was okay. I had heard him better," said Nash.

Woodstock Revisited was edited by Susan Reynolds, author of, among other works, Change Your Shoes, Change Your Life. That cannot be a more idiotic book than this one. Woodstock Revisited is far too well described in its subtitle: "50 Far Out, Groovy, Peace-Loving, Flashback-Inducing Stories From Those Who Were There." Say no more. Please.

The 240-page paperback contains exactly one intelligent sentence, from a Jeremiah Horrigan, who asks, "Who invited Sh-Na-Na to the party?" It provides one insight into political liberalism, from a Linda W. Hamilton, who writes, "After the riots in 1968, I spent many hours in the D.C. ghetto tie-dying T-shirts for the neighborhood children." And it delivers one plea for new, fireproof drapes: "Woodstock . . . ignited international change while weaving the value of countercultural ideals into the vibrant tapestry of modern life." That statement was made by a Dixon Horne, who now contributes articles to a magazine called Mature Living.

Duller even than Mature Living is Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories. It is a photo book. Especially dull are the nude photos. Two facts are evident from these pictures. The gym had not been invented. And the ratio of boys to girls at Woodstock was of almost Castro District proportions.

Woodstock looks quite sad. At least the fellows on Castro Street didn't go there hoping to meet girls. Woodstock also looks drab, dated, and inspirational only in a "Every Little Bit Hurts" way. Woodstock PM&M is otherwise notable for this thought in the foreword by Michael Lang's cohort, Artie Kornfeld: "That mud was like heavenly water washing away all that was wrong with the world at that time." In case you were wondering where the tranquil prosperity of the Reagan era came from. And do not look at page 199 where there are very, very scary snapshots of John Sebastian and Melanie as they look today.

And yet Woodstock is somehow apparently immortal. I speak here, of course, of the one great core contribution to our cultural heritage made by Woodstock: Snoopy's friend, the bird Woodstock, in the comic strip "Peanuts" which amazingly continues in syndication even though Charles M. Schulz is dead as a smelt. And so are Jimi, Janis, Abbie, Jerry Garcia, Max Yasgur, and a whole bunch of my brain cells.

P. J. O'Rourke, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author, most recently, of Driving Like Crazy.