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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not getting to Woodstock

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In August 1969, a couple days after Woodstock ended, I turned 13. I would have my first real kiss the next summer. I was a straight kid, didn't carouse in high school and only went to one drinking party in a farmer's field one hot summer night where I took a couple of nasty sips of beer from a flimsy plastic cup. My older and wilder brother had taken me to the party, but he watched over me. That Michigan meadow party was about as close as I got to Woodstock, and the girl in this photo is about as far from my experience as she can be. For years I bemoaned my protected life, being a preacher's kid. But any secret grains of recklessness never took root.

For different and very annoying reasons, Joni Mitchell never made it to Woodstock, yet she wrote the song about it, which David Crosby said captured the gathering better than anyone who had been there. She said herself that the deprivation she felt not being there, watching it on television, provided an "intense angle" for writing it.

In writing classes, my mentor Diane Wakoski always said it is hard to write a good, happy poem. It's difficult to avoid cliches. Truly, I found it easier to write poem after poem venting angst about growing up in a churchy life. She also said the best art and writing comes from those who have had to overcome obstacles. Think of your favorite artists and writers and see if that isn't true.

One month after Woodstock, at the Big Sur Celebration, Joni sang her new song for the first time publicly. I wonder if she isn't partly glad now that she didn't get to Woodstock, so she could write such a song as this. Below is that Big Sur performance.

And no, I'm not sorry I was protected. I've gotten over the regret of being a goody two shoes. I also recognize the oddity of seeing the thoroughly good life of a pastor's family as an "obstacle." Another funny thing is that I looked the part of a hippie in my tattered blue jeans and long wavy, wildish hair, and many people - including the staff at the church camp where I worked one summer - were convinced I smoked pot with the best of 'em.

By the way, did you know that Joni Mitchell considers herself "a painter first, and a musician second"? See her paintings.


48 comments:

Susan said...

Ruthie, we're two peas in a pod! I was sixteen and I don't think I even knew about Woodstock until a couple of years later! Sheltered? I would say so. Thing is, I would have hated it. I hate crowds and I hate being icky dirty. Yep, I'm a priss.

João said...

My Woodstock was the portuguese 1974 revolution. I was about the same age has you were, when Woodstock took place, I was a child of the working class, so I had to fight against capitalism and its evil machinations.
We were against Amerika and every opressive regime, but didn't know how it was like behind the iron curtain or in China, Albania all those paradises for the working man...
I was a bit of a freak, because the rock music bug had already bit me, so I was all for rock'n'roll and its culture and that mean America and all its culture, Hollywood, hippies, pop art, Kerouac, Naked Lunch, etc, etc...
So a couple of years after I started to move away from the active political life and growing up on my own, picking my readings and following my music.
In a way I feel I should have kept a more active civic life, but inside me I know I wasn't meant to be someone out in the open.
I'm private and quiet, except for the Internet...

Your post is very good, it has the quality of making us, thinking what was the moment when I became aware of global things, things outside our pre-adolescence realm, where everything gravitated around home and family. Bless you.

Kat said...

Nice video. I was 16 and too young to make the drive to NY from Cleveland, OH. My sister, me and my 2 cousins dreamed of going. We did get to see the whole sha-bang (much after the fact)sitting on the hood of a car at the drive in movies! It was almost like being there. haha.

rauf said...

i never knew it was Joni Mitchell Ruth, i thought it was a CSNY number until recently. 20, 21 1 was and i watched the movie, except in Chennai the movie did not run well in India in its first run. Chennai is known for serious music lovers, serious about other things like reading and movies. Its just fashion in other cities, just knowing and name dropping. The movie was released a year later and it was a big hit in the big cities. Watched it don't know how many times, i never knew i was watching history being made.

This number reminds me of an English band called Athlete.

'clouds' and 'both sides now' albums had her portrait painting on the jacket, never knew that it was a self portrait, never knew she is a good artist as well.

Not many are lucky to have a sheltered life Ruth, what you don't have is always romantic.

ellen abbott said...

I was 19 that summer and though I was not a preacher's daughter I was well under the thumb of my father and Texas was too far from NY for a rebellious excursion. I would have loved to have been there though.

*jean* said...

ooo joni is my shero! i was too young for woodstock but being the youngest of 5, my siblings were very much a part of that time, including my brother who served in vietnam...the sixties wreaked havoc on my family...in good and bad ways...the first concert i ever went to was joni - in 1976 with my brother...have loved her ever since...there is a great interview with her done for the PBS American Masters Series if you are interested..and yes, i did know she was a painter...

Ginnie said...

I was 24, Ruth, and was about ready to get married the next month. I came from essentially the same cookie mold as you, though your being the baby of the family did set you apart in a different world from what I remember...even if still from a preacher's home. It's funny what we remember and what we don't...or what we missed or didn't. I "missed" Woodstock but have never sensed that I missed it at all.

amuse me said...

I was in high school and on the edge of all the changes coming at us fast and furiously, but I got married a year after graduation and settled in that life. But now, reading all the remembrances of that time are bringing back some wonderful memories of coming of age in the late 60s and early 70s. What a time. :) M

Babs-beetle said...

I also had a fairly protected upbringing, being taught good morals, manners and behaviour. I was not allowed to stay out late, and my friends were always quietly checked over by my parents. I'm not sorry either. It made me who I am today, and I think I'm fairly rounded. Well I'm definitely round :)

caroldiane said...

I was 12 that year and completely oblivious to the upheaval going on in the world that was seen at Woodstock. I was what my kids describe as "a cookies and milk" girl. Sheltered and protected until I was out of high school. Regrets? I don't think so! Thanks for the post and insights!

Arti said...

Thanks for the memory Ruth, and the info about Joni writing this song... I never knew. JM is a fellow Albertan, and was in Calgary studying at the Alberta College of Arts and Design for a year before she left for Toronto. I was of course, a bit young to know all these until later.

About upbringing, I never regret about my choice of the Christian faith and have in turn brought up my son to respect that. You have a unique and admirable upbringing to cherish a whole life long.

Jeanie said...

Gee, I didn't know much about Woodstock when it happened. I was pretty sheltered, too, and my little high-school-going-into-college life was centered around acting and plays and getting ready for living in a dorm! I always loved the song -- and you are so right about wondering if Joni could have really written if if she'd been there. Now, well, I wouldn't have coped well, but I have to say it must have been an amazing experience that was never forgotten!

ds said...

What a huge summer that was. I was ten and oblivious. Moon landing? Yeah. Woodstock? I don't think I even heard of it until well into high school. Sheltered? You bet. Uncool? In a big way. But oh, how I wanted to be the other...

Lots of food for reminiscence & thought here, Ruth. Thanks. And oh, the purity of Joni Mitchell's voice!

The Bug said...

I was just 5, so I was clueless until years later.

I remember starting a poem after I got married: "I'm not depressed enough to write a poem." Now that I'm older I let poignancy do my writing...

CottageGirl said...

Love Joni Mitchell. She certainly was a voice of that time.

Not too long ago I downloaded the movie Woodstock.

Watching it brought back lots of different feelings that I had 40 years ago ... the year of my high school graduation.

Feelings like ... pride in what great music was coming out of our generation and ...

also pride that so many people my age could get together for a long weekend in peace, while on the opposite side of the earth, so many others were at war.

But I also felt a sense of dread that summer. Dread that morals were really going down the tubes ... and fast. Yep ... I was a sheltered Mid-Western girl, but the drugs ... and it was everywhere ... and random sex were very scary. Where was our world headed? Traditional values were so blurred. Lots of kids were OD-ing.

Thanks for letting me relive a bit of that time.

It was the best of times ... it was the worst.

shicat said...

Oh Woodstock, I was a bit to young but was envious none the less. I have to think your parents were/are very strong,keeping all of your brothers and sisters in the line. My parents let up on the reins after two children,which left me free-er:)

No doubt that life challenges can bring on the necessary emotionality that is sometimes needed to stimulate the creative process,but it can also just burn you right out,especially when your fifty. Now I just like to stare at trees,flowers or even the walls to get inspiration:)

Love, love, super love Joni,I really enjoyed her web site,thanks. I have seen her paintings and knew she was a talented artist but never knew she considered herself an artist first, interesting.

Butler and Bagman said...

I was just the right age and even a hippie -- well more of a wannabe Beatnick really -- and I missed Woodstock and always regretted it. But I wouldn't have remembered it anyway.

dutchbaby said...

I did not go to Woodstock but I did go to most of the free concerts in Golden Gate Park. I lived only six blocks from the park. I saw things that a naive 14-year-old should probably have never seen - I did not have an older brother to shield me.

Janis Joplin was amazing and so was Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I was always the teenager who said to myself..."I am NOT doing that. It looks dangerous!". When I turned 40, I finally felt like the right age. Although my husband is completely besotted with Woodstock, the music more than the "scene"... it looked dreadfully uncomfortable to me. The heat, the smells, the mud....my God the mud....

I've always adored Joni's paintings. She's the real deal on every level!

Ruth said...

Susan, did you ever like camping? I can't imagine being that grimy-muddy and not being able to clean up with a hose or anything. Bleh. But I think when you're stoned you don't care so much.

Ruth said...

João, it is an education hearing what folks in other countries have done with Amerika all these years. Before the media access we have now, we were pretty sheltered from the negative feelings we naturally created out there. The impact of our mega-corporations, our government, our music, our culture has been a giant locomotive, very loud and destructive, and also bringing some good too.

When I was a teenager I was quite oblivious, but my views were shaped by my older brother Bennett - not so much by the brother I mention in this post. Bennett's political views, music, photography, and simple lifestyle have probably shaped me more than anything in my life. He is gone now, sadly, but he remains in me.

Ruth said...

Kat, I never saw the movie, but it's on my Netflix queue now. I wish I'd seen it in 1970 to compare then and now, how it feels to see that time again.

Ruth said...

Oh rauf, that Deja Vu album is one I listened to constantly while ironing. It was Bennett's album of course. I can still see all the nicks and creases on the album cover.

I don't think he ever had the Woodstock recordings. I remember an album he had from the Monterey Pop Festival, and I was in love with it, listened over and over. I don't know what year of the festival it was. That's where I first heard Ravi Shankar - never heard a sitar before that. Now his daughter Norah Jones has made it big. The spirals keep coming, influences get passed down, from siblings, parents. The things that shape our lives can't be predicted. As you said, you didn't know when you watched the movie of Woodstock how momentous it was.

I have been thinking about what you and others said even before the comments, after writing this post. I am very fortunate to have so many choices every day.

Ruth said...

Ellen, I can imagine a Woodstock in 2010 for those of us who wish we'd been at the one in 1969. Maybe there have been Woodstock Revisited's, I haven't been paying attention, but it seems there have been. But it would be cool to have one where no one could go who went to the first one. But then, how would you police that? And policing would be rather antithetical, heh.

Ruth said...

Dear Jean, I'm sorry about the impact of Vietnam on your family. It must have been terrible for your brother, for one thing. Thanks to Joni, and Neil, and the other musicians who help us remember the time through music. Thanks to you for your beautiful flowers and getting ourselves back to the garden.

João said...

Ruth, perhaps like your brother Bennett I like to think of America as the place where dreams come true and justice prevails.
People go there from everywhere in the world to make this happen.
This is also the very opposite of ameriKa...

Wild things run fast*

Ruth said...

Boots, you were a beautiful bride, in your long flowing strawberry blonde hair. I remember thinking how you looked a little hippie-ish later when I saw the pictures (since I couldn't be there standing with you, so sick was I). You were glowing (in the heat I suppose) and there was something that radiated from you I haven never thought of until now. Your last words triggered it: ". . . have never sensed that I missed it at all."

Ruth said...

Marion, at first when I worked on this post, I felt joy - from the music I think. In these couple of days since the post, I feel a sort of horror too, coming back, that was always under the surface.

Ruth said...

Heh, Babs, you're the cutest.

Parents now protect kids in different ways, and I don't like it much. They take too active an interest in every little thing and make decisions for them. They need to just boot them out the door and let them learn a few things for themselves. If I get a call in the next couple weeks from parents about what classes their kids have in college, I think I'll give them a piece of my mind.

:)

Ruth said...

Hi, Caroldine, I liked reading your thoughts about Joni at your post too.

I don't know if anyone will ever understand the angst I had to be free as a bird - free from constraints. Maybe I'll find a book about someone like me, or maybe I should write a book about it. I probably never will.

Ruth said...

Arti, I have just read your post and the article Pearls Before Breakfast about Joshua Bell's incognito performance in a metro station. I am stunned.

What I didn't know at the age of 13 is that there was a lot to be thankful for. When you want only what you do not have, what you are surrounded with is hollow. Even agnostic and atheist friends over the years have helped me see and understand the richness of my heritage. I'm very grateful for that.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, you must have been a vibrant actress in high school. Have you done any community theater? I've seen you on TV many times in the WKAR fund raisers, so that is another kind of performance!

freefalling said...

I feel very hostile towards "Woodstock".
I dunno why.
I just do.

Ruth said...

DS, it's painful to think back to adolescence, and how it was spent figuring out who was cool and who wasn't, and which category I fit into. Actually I have had uneasiness remembering this time this week.

Joni's voice has faded, but I still enjoy her new albums. But yes, the strength, honesty and clarity of it in her youth - glorious!

Ruth said...

Bug, that's good, you were not depressed after you got married. :) And you get it, about writing.

I hope the recovery goes quickly.

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, I've been feeling mixed emotions too this week, reminiscing. We watched the news every evening, heard the death count in Vietnam. Young people were very angry, and I had nothing to be angry about. I wasn't quite old enough to understand the war, and the politics of it. It was a momentous time that shaped the decades that followed. The music alone - could there be any better music?

Ruth said...

Cathy, I have friends and relatives who do that staring thing. I know it took its toll, living large in those days. I am grateful now for the protection, and what would adolescence be without angst? We have to long for something, and we have to find out what in the longing is worth keeping.

Ruth said...

Heh, B & B, sour grapes?

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, San Francisco and northern California are a dream to me. Most of the free concerts? Amazing. I bet you saw some hot tickets for free.

See, the music that came out of the peace movement is inspired!

Ruth said...

Pamela, I've felt a sort of tremor come back this week, thinking back on these days. Those who lived it hard seemed oblivious to the danger. We who looked in either wanted it or didn't, but we can still enjoy the music.

I agree with you that Joni is honest. A rock and a flower at the same time.

Ruth said...

João, wild things run fast.

It is true that with all the complaints over our devastating country, people do want to come. Hope still blossoms out of the brownfields.

Ruth said...

Letty, you are younger than me I think. It's hard to understand it from the outside. Something in me wishes I were there, but I wonder if I'd have liked it after all.

Babs-beetle said...

You're right about kids being too protected. They wrap them up in cotton wool now days, and turn them into wimps who can't cope out in the real world ;)

Oliag said...

August 1969...I had just finished my freshman year at college...the first time I had ever been away from home...the first time I had the freedom to make poor decisions...it really was a difficult time for someone as naive as myself...I really wanted what I thought was the excitement of a hip, drugged life....but fortunately was too scared to enter it too deeply... friends of mine did go to
Woodstock and I have always been glad I didn't go after hearing their stories...The Woodstock soundtrack is what plays in my memories of that year though...All I can say about Joni Mitchell is that I would have loved to be her at that time!

shoreacres said...

I'm enough older than many of your readers for Woodstock to have been a defining event in my life.

Yes, I had the beads, and the gold octagonal granny glasses, and long dresses worn with sandals. Yes, I wore tie dye and had mandalas on the wall. Fixing-to-Die-Rag was my anthem, and Tom Paxton a saint.

It was the music that appealed more than the drugs - I discovered early on that pot gave me a ripping headache, and that was the end of that. But Country Joe and the Fish? Strawberry Alarm Clock? Grace Slick? Janis Joplin? Jimi Hendrix and the Doors? The Grateful Dead? Yep.

I missed getting to Woodstock, but made it to the Haight and loved the Fillmore. I saw Joni Mitchell in Golden Gate Park, and Mimi Farina, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger at the Bread and Roses concerts. Music was the soundtrack of our rebellion, and then of the terrible Vietnam years.

As the saying goes... you had to have been there. Today, I see it very differently than I did then. I've a new poem about Woodstock I posted just today. Forty years is a long time to live with one event.

Ruth said...

Babs, bleh. Yes.

Ruth said...

Oliag, in your brief comment you rescued me from further regret over my protected life. Thank you. And I've just rented the two-disc film version of Woodstock. I will likely fast forward through some of it, but since I've never seen it, I look forward to seeing all the bands and get a fresh look at the times. You are right that it is the music of that time that represented the cultural phenomenon.

Ruth said...

Linda, as you said at your post, the magic bus broke down.

I love that what was true at the time has remained true, the music defined it, expressed it and keeps on reminding us of it. There must be other historical periods when music defined a generation, but I wonder if there are any so much so as this one.