Music or memory? Which comes first? Do you get a sudden glimpse of the past while listening to music? Or do you remember the music only after recalling the times gone by? I think for all of us it’s a little of both. Add in an odor that curls in your nose—that’ll take you back as well. Sometimes, when I find myself in heavy humidity, pressing itself down into my shoulders, that languorous late summer smell of decaying leaves ready to drop and turn to dust, I flash back to those times I sat with five hundred thousand like-minded souls on the grass in that natural amphitheater, then later in the mud, rain coming down in windy torrents. There are many ways to gaze into the past, not the least of which are friends to help you along. Yes, I remember it well. I garnered memories for the days of future past. And then, the music started. We were one.
Richie Havens and Frodo
When I hear Richie Havens, I’m immediately transported to Woodstock in the summer of 1969. Sitting beside my friends on blankets while joints were being passed around, jugs of cheap wine and beer—all were in ample supply. Amazed at the size of the crowd. I had never seen anything like it. It swelled like a huge wave crashing in on a beach. I don’t know how Roger was coping. He was lying under his blanket, arms around his dog’s neck. The bottle of scotch was empty, lying on its side in the grass beside him.
Often, the first time is the best time. When Richie Havens came on at around five in the afternoon wearing a kaftan, I was sleepy. The air was alive, abuzz, electric. I felt clean from my skinny dip in the lake, but tired around the edges. Wanted a nap. I laid down on my back. Then he started to play. I gazed up at the sky and the clouds, listening to his gravelly voice tune the air. This was something new, something different. I sat up and watched him, mesmerized as he strummed his beat-up guitar—his hand was a blur, with a kinetic energy that sent shivers through my soul. At one point a string broke, but he kept going. He ended his set with “Freedom,” which poured waves up and down my back. I was now at my brightest, listening with awe-struck intensity. I’d never heard anything like it before. I was in a groove. Stoned as I watched the sun and its aura of red flame setting in the humidity. A giant wrecking ball crushing the tops of the trees bending on the western horizon. The sun bobbled and the trees danced, the leaves babbling to me in Entish. I had read an abridged, bootlegged copy of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings five years earlier. I had loved the part about the Ents, the sentient tree-beings, able to interact with the hobbits. I thought of Frodo and the buttons someone had distributed earlier in the day, one of which I wore: FRODO LIVES.
Movement City/Hog Farm
When Richie Havens finished, Sven, Autumn and I got up and wandered down to an area behind the hill where concessions were set up. One was called Movement City/Hog Farm, a place where good, wholesome food was sold. Brown rice and other hippie delicacies, if that’s what you want to call hippie food: gruel-like soups, beans and vegetables was more like it, but I was so stoned it tasted out-of-this-world, something my mother would never have served, so it was all right by me.
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Once I went and visited my parents for the summer, lugging along a gunny sack of brown rice over my shoulders, announcing, when I walked in the front door, that all I was going to eat for the next few months was what was slung over my back. My mother, being who she was, didn’t raise an eyelash. My father smoldered, but kept his tongue until he started to drink, then all hell broke loose as he slung invective arrows at me. I stuck to my macrobiotic diet until a few weeks before I left, when I broke down, having seen my mother’s home cooking all summer. The next few weeks before I was to leave for Denver, I slowly began adding other food groups to the rice, like beans, vegetables, and one night, gravy—delicious, mouth-watering brown turkey gravy. The next night I pushed the rice aside and lit into a steak my father had grilled. Of course, I got sick the next day. But what the hell? It tasted so damned good. I gave up the brown rice and went back to meat. Along with the rice.
Bones of the Night and the Long Day’s Journey into Light
We ended back up on the hill with the others. A band called Sweetwater was already in full swing, psychedelic and folksy at the same time. Lost in a haze of pot and drink, the day unraveled in front of me like brightly colored ribbons fluttering in my face. I saw mirror images of my friends dancing (they were really dancing—it wasn’t just my eyes). I was listening to many musicians at once: Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo “Bringin’ in a Couple of Keys” Guthrie of Alice’s Restaurant fame, and son of Woodie Guthrie. I fell back and took a timeless nap, watching the stars come out from behind the bones of the dark, serenading me.
When I awoke, Joan Baez was playing and it was still dark. I’ve never been into Joan Baez and, to tell the truth, she put me back to sleep. When I awoke again, it was time to leave. The music was over for the night—around midnight, if I can remember right. Or was it morning? We made our way back up the hill to our tent-site and the Plumber’s Helper. Then the real party started in earnest. We met new friends and even some old ones, passing through on their own trips. The fire raged and we were flying to an invisible, high-strung dance. Our minds were lit, not only by the blaze of fire, but the psychedelics as well, running like stoned white rabbits through the electric grass. Someone passed around some mushrooms. At that point, I retreated into the magical mystery tour of building memories, as if I were constructing a house from the ground up, a house made of light. I was determined never to forget. You can follow light—it’ll always show you the way. And then, I was one with it.