Maxed out 

The stuff of legends


In honour of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, I rummaged through the boxes of vinyl mouldering in the basement of Smilin' Dog Manor and dug out the three-record album released several minutes after the concert was over and weeks before the mess left behind was cleaned up. I didn't play any of the discs; just laughed at the photographs and wondered why I ever found any of the music compelling.

If forced to choose, for example if someone broke into the house, held a gun to my head and said, "Play something off the Woodstock album or I'll kill you," I think my best chance for survival would be the Sly & The Family Stone medley - Dance to the Music, Music Lover, and I Want to Take You Higher - on side five. The way I figure it, about the time Sly segued into Music Lover the wave of nausea sweeping over the intruder would give me a chance to grab his gun, tie him up, cram earplugs into my ears and make him listen to the remaining five sides of drivel until he pleaded with me to put him out of his misery. "If we chant real loud people, maybe it'll stop raining." Ugh.

Contrary to the treacle that's been written about it by apologists for the marquee excesses of the Baby Boom (de)Generation - ironically enough all written by Baby Boomers who fail to grasp the irony - Woodblock was not the apex of the 1960s, the peace movement, free love or, for that matter, even good drugs. Woodcock was to the music and concert world what Star Wars was to movies: the apex of wretched excess and the beginning of the end. And like Star Wars, everybody loved it... at the time.

The people who were there loved it for the same reasons survivors of natural disasters love to tell their tale of their survival. It sucked, it wasn't at all what they were expecting but it garnered enough attention to confer some weird derivative of status on those in attendance. Question half a dozen people who were actually at Woodsuck about what they remember and the only element that runs through all their descriptions is this: they can't remember the music. I like to think that's nature's defense mechanism at work. Who knows how many psychoses were narrowly averted by half a million impressionable people not noticing Sha-Na-Na greasing the stage with their retro rendition of At the Hop . Bad enough it was captured on film.

What they do remember is mud, toilets adequate for a crowd of 10,000, no food, emergency supplies of air-lifted food that was almost as appealing as eating the mud, the unbridled relief they felt when John Sebastian finally left the stage and that weird lizard guy announcing the brown acid they'd all taken was bad, bad, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

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