The meadows of a storied town prove hallowed ground, tho stone-cursed soil
Soon found fair alternative rebound from farmers’ tool-a-blunting toil.
First the paint brush, then dove-decked guitar commandeered by rowdy crew;
‘Til the greatest surprise of all appeared with those seeding these fields with Woo…
Part I established that “‘godless artists’ invading Woodstock in 1902, stretched the town’s tolerances.” However, in rejecting “the God of their Fathers,” these newcomers now sought to replace Church with Gallery until, failing to fill this void, they awoke to radicalism. The result being that by the 1920s and 1930s Woodstock brimmed with Communists, Socialists, and Anarchists of every stripe; the entirety united by an atheism best expressed in Labor martyr Joe Hill’s classic line: “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die…It’s a lie.” Soon most of the highly literate Folk scene filtering into town in the 1950’s, embraced such rejection of religion (though Pete Seeger’s No. 1 hit for the Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn” enlisting Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, represented an obvious exception). Until, that is, folk singing crusaders for the Civil Rights movement of the early sixties, discovered the Black Church embedded at the root of this cause and so…at least that religion was exempted from their disdain.
It’s hereabouts we recall: the chief prophets of the revolution to come consisted of two entities empowered far beyond the influence of any previous “youth idol.” 1) The Beatles. And 2) that waif who “put Woodstock on the map” while crashing upstairs from the Cafe Espresso. But Dylan’s signature cynicism ran contrary to The Beatles’ eventual seduction-by-guru, as “seekers” and “de-bunkers” faced off round a billion whirling turntables.
Lastly, I am asked to complete this introduction by defining the term fueling our exploration — an intimidating task — but here goes: Woo-woo is the mud from which grows the lotus whose flowering represents an otherwise inexplicable spiritual yearning differentiating the “mystic” hippie, from those hecklers of convention known as “The Beats,” as well as that fearless revolutionary evolving out of such Beatitude “around” the hippie, which became the “Yippie” (before the “Yuppie” doubled back down on the Machine-Most-Korporate, to formally usher in the Dark Age presently shining so brightly upon us.)
[Editor’s note: These stories are portraits of an era. We cannot swear to absolute veracity. Much of the following narrative has been adapted from extended stories shared between Peter Blum and Tad Wise. Language couched in the author’s voice, therefore, has made extensive use of these remembrances, without credit, except for grateful acknowledgement here.]
Two months ago, an hour after receiving permission to write this piece, I was halfway up the gang plank of the good ship TranscenDental, when I encountered a lively-eyed, thickly mustachioed fellow, I first mistook for one of The True Light Beavers — that wonderful Woodstock commune of my youth founded by the Marty, Tobe, and Alan Carey.)
“Marty or Tobe?” I inquired, putting out my hand.
“Neither,” replied the replica taking hold. “Peter…Blum.”
Now it took a mere three minutes to reveal the significance of this meeting. For Blum, it turned out, had been the “Guru Reviewer” for several incarnations of various Woodstock newspapers and magazines in the seventies, culminating with his final years here at this paper. In other words, he was exactly the man I most needed to meet. And, as I was soon to discover, like so many other modern Woodstock histories, Peter’s begins with music.
In the summer of ‘69 Blum was a dedicated New Yorker, arriving in Woodstock with a girlfriend eager to visit her friend Jan Zeitz, (who would become Jan Bernhardt.) Jan Z and Cyril Caster, a notable beatnik, were living near the grounds of the original Sound-Outs in Pam Copeland’s field. The Sound-Outs being, many believe, a spore surviving the town’s legendary Maverick Festivals, that germ of joyous anarchy fated to re-explode in “The Woodstock Festival,” some forty years later and sixty miles away.
Gene Dinwiddie and the rest of Paul Butterfield’s blues band were living across the street at Peter Pan Farm [today the Woodstock Day School]. Here our Manhattanites slept in a chicken coop during the day, while attending live performances at night. The exemplary Spider Barbour was then playing with Chrysalis; Ellen McIlwaine fronted the unforgettable Fear Itself, aided by early (and still) Woodstock guitar-wizard, Chris Zaloom.
One night a guy got up on stage in a cowboy hat who Peter recognized as a high school pal from the Bronx: Gary Kupfer. Gary, it turns out, had participated in the nudist commune “Family” atop Ohayo Mountain, and was well-connected with the village below.
“I was walking along Tinker Street,” Blum recalls, “right in front of what’s now the Photography Center and was then the Cafe Espresso. And this has only happened a few times in my life. I mean, maybe I’ve glorified it over the years, but my memory is very distinct of hearing…this voice. It was like a Rudy Vallee, megaphoned voice that said: This Is Where You’re Sposed To Live!…I was like…Really?”
Shortly thereafter, Peter climbed the stairs over our original health food store [today Pegasus] finding at its top The Aurora Gallery, a showcase for the photographs and artwork of a young Elliot Landy. In the foyer-like meditation room stood a very tall, gangly young man with some of shyest and bluest eyes anyone has ever seen. Our confident, fast-talking, Bronx-born Jew of average height, now introduced himself to this towering innocent, as an odd yet powerfully enduring friendship was born.
Les Crook lived up at Father Francis’ church atop Meads’. He’d walk up and down the mountain each day, to and from what, in partnership with Peter, became his job at The Aurora Gallery. Until, due to Elliot Landy’s growing fascination with metaphysical texts, the gallery was transformed into Woodstock’s first occult bookstore.
The owner of the health food store below was a retired stock market whiz named Lowell Blum. Lowell had become a devotee of Swami Muktananda, (and plastered this guru’s picture anywhere glue would stick) while also coveting ownership of the Aurora gallery. So it was that in the space of a few years, Lowell made increasingly larger offers to purchase the Aurora from Elliott who, married and with a couple of children, was spending ever less time in Woodstock. Nevertheless Landy, who Peter specifies, “was and is a very idealistic person,” responded to these offers by throwing the I Ching, until that oracle eventually confirmed the owner “should not sell.” By now, Elliot had re-named the gallery “The Ajna Bookstore.” [“Anja” being “The Third Eye” in Hindu].
Contact with the outside world from the bookstore amounted to the pay phone Les and Peter answered by invoking the victorious Hindu syllable “Jai!” followed with the more business-like “Third Eye.” Then came the day Elliott called from Manhattan to inform his apprentices of his decision to sell them the “Third Eye” for a dollar. And so that’s how our spiritual warriors came to own Woodstock’s first occult bookstore. Furthermore, it wasn’t long before Les Crook had renamed himself “Les Visible.”
For Peter and Les had become true believers. Exactly what they believed might morph and shift, but that they believed was truth, inviolate. Picture them, for instance, doing naked jumping jacks in the meditation room first thing in the morning, while shouting what Blum fondly recalls as: “the Kabbalistic cheerleader chant ‘Yod He Vau He’ — or the “unspeakable/unpronounceable” name of God in Hebrew.”
Peter’s path next embraced the “Woodstock Health Angels” with whom he caravanned to the first Rainbow Gathering in the summer of 1972. When he returned in the fall, The Ajna was gone. Filling the void, an ever-patient Lowell Blum finally opened his own “Mid-Heaven” metaphysical bookstore [“Castaways” today] where Blum, naturally, found his place behind the counter. Though Peter had by now met his future wife, Merrily, his spiritual adventures with Les continued.
Recalls Peter, “Les Visible and I went for Darshan with Sri Chinmoy at Christ’s Lutheran Church, where it felt like he was sweeping the room with eyes closed — those veiled twin green tractor beams pulling people in…I panicked and ran.”
Peter (and more often Les) also attended the teachings of such notables as: 1) Swami Satchidinanda, the “handsomest” of Indian gurus, who opened the Woodstock Festival, identifying music ‘’as the celestial sound that controls the whole universe.” 2) Guru Bawa, The Sufi mystic who was said to have emerged from the jungles of Sri Lanka in the 1940’s and would appear in the dreams of those fated to be healed by him. 3) Dr. Kaushik, who had been an MD in his native India for 23 years, before a desire to “save humanity from itself,” transformed him into a spiritual teacher. 4) Yogi Bhajan, the founder of Kundalini yoga, with whom Peter took a class. 5) Pir Vilayat Khan, son of the founder of the Sufi order “of the West”, and a particular favorite of Blum’s. 6) The Korean Zen Master Seung Sa Nim who, known for his charismatic discourse, was the 78th patriarch of the Jogye [!] Order, and an early pioneer of Zen in America. Peter and Merrily also received 7) Swami Muktananda’s blessing, as depicted in Peter’s April 15, 1976 article in Woodstock Times: “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine” which begins: “Baba Muktananda is, for those who have somehow escaped the barrage of publicity, an Indian holy man.”