Quite a few people around here have been telling me that they have read my quotes in Barney Hoskyns’ book, Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix & Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock, which Mikhail Horowitz reviewed here quite positively in early April.
I’m not remembering exactly what I said in the book, but I do recall thinking, when I first read the book in a proof, that I had not said anything profound in the maybe half dozen times I am cited. I shoulda said…you know how that goes.
There’s different reactions to the book around here. Oh, everybody wants to read the prurient parts, who did what, and who did what to whom, and with whom, and how many times…and all that stuff, although lots of the folks around here have lived, or heard, those stories in various incarnations as the tellers developed set pieces of them.
We all used to hear the same kind of stories told, first about the Whiteheads, then about the Mavericks and their bacchanalian revels. And the stories of the painters in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, well, ahem… That part of our history, or infamy, was well established, and hard to top, by the time the musicians discovered Woodstock’s charms.
Then there’s the widespread demand for all things associated with Bob Dylan, and The Band, and Morrison, Joplin, and Dylan and Dylan and the Band and Dylan. Well deserved, for the most part, because their music changed culture as we know it, and has enriched our souls immeasurably, as great art will.
But the curious aspect of it all, for me anyway, is this attempt to define Woodstock, to understand what made it the place where all these people came together for what the book sees as a short period of time and created a magical confluence of creative energy. Hoskyns doesn’t delve into other forms that continue to make Woodstock a vastly creative space, the arts organizations, a world class Film Festival, Writers Fest, its fine International Luthiers Showcase, its library, and the fewer, but nonetheless eclectic music spaces…why do they still exist? And yes, it has survived being overrun by tourists and hippies, and defections, and tragedy and cable TV and social media…
Define a thing and you can dispense with it, right? I can’t remember who said it, but I remember that quote. So what happens with things you can’t define? Are there sentences to describe Thelonious Monk’s “Crepescule with Nellie” or Hans Hofmann’s painting, Song of the Nightingale? No, they exist because they do, in a language outside of words and we take them as we will, stunned by their beauty, and we never need to ask because there are no answers.
So to ask why Woodstock is what it is, or was what it was, is to miss the point. If you have to ask, you’ll never get it.