Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five stirring performances at Woodstock

I first saw "Woodstock" in the mid-'80s, when most rock and pop was weightless and overproduced, with all the shelf life of a stale fart.

As a teen bohemian-in-training trapped in what was in many ways a plastic, reactionary era, I found the movie fascinating. For over three hours I was transported to a time when personal growth and exploration didn't take a backseat to getting ahead, when brotherhood was more prevalent—and infinitely more hip—than greed, when the young men didn't look like frat boys and the women had long, straight, natural hair instead of those godawful '80s perms.

Musically, Woodstock remains a rock festival without peer, a distinction which is likely to stick due to the scale of the event and the quality of the bands. The list of soulful, high-caliber acts that performed on those four days 45 years ago is staggering:  Jimi HendrixThe Who; Santana; Sly & the Family Stone; The Band; Ravi Shankar; Janis Joplin; Johnny Winter; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Ten Years After; Crosby, Stills, & Nash; Jefferson Airplane; Blood, Sweat, & Tears; Joe Cocker; Joan Baez; Arlo Guthrie. 

Woodstock's high points could fill multiple posts, but I will focus on just five key moments. 

Richie Havens, one of the lesser-known acts at Woodstock, opened the festival. The first performance that appears in the documentary is Havens' closer, "Freedom." Never before have I seen a musician move an audience of 200,000 with just an acoustic guitar, his voice, and a lone conga player.

This turbo-charged rendition of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" features the Who early in their career, firing on all cylinders (see:  Pete Townshend's windmills, Keith Moon's kinetic drumming, Roger Daltrey's microphone lassoing). Added bonuses include Townshend's sonic performance art at the conclusion of this video and the heady split-screen footage spliced together from seven cameras positioned around the stage.

The backdrop to Woodstock was the United States' futile and bloody involvement in Vietnam. Country Joe, the relatively obscure leader of Country Joe & the Fish, captured the zeitgeist with an anti-war protest song, the "I Feel I'm Fixin' to Die Rag." Interesting historical footnote:  a young Martin Scorsese, serving as an editor of the documentary, came up with the bouncing ball-on-white lyrics effect that comes in at 1:42.


Ten Years After was one of my most potent Woodstock discoveries. Other than hearing "I'd Love to Change the World" every once in a while on classic rock radio, I had no familiarity with the band. After I saw this rousing clip, Ten Years After—and virtuoso lead guitarist Alvin Lee—became a permanent part of my musical landscape.

Alvin Lee was not the only bonafide guitar hero at Woodstock. Carlos Santana, then just 22 years old, led his band through an epic version of "Soul Sacrifice." From the sheer size of the crowd to the percussion orgy break (2:11) to the most bad-ass rock drum solo this side of "Moby Dick" (3:07) to the molten guitar solo that followed and the random shots of audience members caught in musical ecstasy, it doesn't get any better than this.

                                                 More music posts at "Truth and Beauty":

Saturday, August 2, 2014

40 years

Forty years ago, I was photographed on my first day of school. 

Shielding my eyes from the bright morning sun, I looked into the camera without the slightest idea of what the future held in store.

Recently I returned to the scene of that photo for a "half time" check-in:  if gene patterns held, half of that future had been lived and half remained. 
Again I covered my eyes, but now I looked up into a sky that held optimism and promise. 

Three years ago this fall, I took an inspiring writing workshop which redirected my energies from the non-fiction writing I'd done for many years to a then-moribund novel. 

85,000 words and countless re-writes later, I'm in the final stretch of edits, working on a book proposal, and diving into my next venture:  an MFA-Creative Writing program. 

Where will this path lead? 

I honestly don't know. 

Will I become a creative writing teacher? 


A grant writer? 


An editor in a publishing house? 


Will there be opportunities that I can't foresee? 


What I do know is that I'm excited about the journey.