Walking Woodstock: Different strokes

Despite the title, this is not a story about sex. How could it be? It takes place in Woodstock, and everyone knows Woodstock Is not sexy. But back in 1972, when the flaneur blew into town, it sizzled. In fact — in the argot of that time — it was smokin’, brother. Passion galore. Of course, we were young then.

As foolish as he is today, the years have wised up the Flaneur — somewhat. Back then, he was a complete fool, a victim of the cockamamie idea that love and sex are one. The woman he followed to Woodstock had been here for a year before he joined her. On his second night in town she threw a party to welcome him. She had a lot of friends, mostly male. (After all, it was still the Sixties, and she was a free spirit.) The Flaneur called her other names, but here she will be Mora. Her T shirt said it all: “So many men, so little time.” She wanted more.

She was standing in the middle of her small living room greeting her guests with deep kisses They sat on the floor. When  one of them ran his hand up her bare leg and under her short skirt. Mora looked down at him, smiled, saw the Flaneur’s long face, and stepped away.


The man sitting cross-legged looked like a folded up giraffe. His name was Les Crook, one of the most extraordinary — and tallest — men ever to lope down Tinker Street. He is long gone from the Village Green — where at the time of their up-skirt meeting he had a macrobiotic restaurant, and, across Tinker, a bookstore — but for the Flaneur, Les and his friend Peter Blum embodied the creative spirit of Woodstock at its fecund best. The flaneur’s initial jealousy turned into amused admiration as, over the years, he came to know Les and Peter.

That winter was quiet. People stayed home. The Town rolled up the sidewalks, and dogs slept in the streets. The snowplows growled overtime, and often the Flaneur would have the library to himself. No electronic hum warned him that the future had arrived. He studied Woodstock history on the Woodstock shelf, and read first hand recollections of past times by art colony founders, looking for what had drawn them to the Village, and what kept them here. After a decade in Manhattan, he’d had his fill of hustle, noise, and crime; of too many people, and way too many buildings. He was hungry for mountains and trees, and for something he had not found in New York: the companionship of like-minded people, especially those who had glimpsed freedom through the cracked windows of the Sixties.

The flaneur in those days would walk a mile for  a laugh — make that two miles, for it was his fate to walk to and fro in the earth — and he would go a mile for a toothy smile. Les had a cable television program which he used to skewer political correctness and barbecue crisp black the most egregious sacred cows of that era. Lenny Bruce and the Firesign Theater of  “Don’t Crush That Rodent — Bring Me the Pliers” were similarly acquired tastes.  Les changed his name to Les Crook, and ended up in the Black Forest of Germany, where he became a country and western singer, and published an occult detective novel. Always surprising, Les Crook is doubtlessly keeping an eye on us from above. The flaneur looks forward to greeting him when his UFO lands.

Although Les was gone, the remaining personalities left pursuing their personal visions were hard to keep up with. Marco Vassi played a leading role in more than one area. He founded Metamonkey Video, which broadcast from the center of town in challenge to Ken Marsh’s monopoly on experimental video. Overnight, everyone had a video camera.

Marco’s girlfriend Evelyn Honig was connected to the English avant-garde. She brought news of John Michell, author of View Over Atlantis, espousing the idea that “Ley lines” with mystical meanings covered the British  Isles. (He also had the notion that the best high was achieved by boring a hole in your skull.)

The flaneur’s skull remained intact, as did his memories. It was  a memorable time, with gurus on every corner, drugs easily available, AIDS unheard of, and tolerance a given.

People followed their bent without hindrances. In the absence of DWI fervor, late night music flourished. Orgies were discreet, as were nudist camps and hot tubs. People gave peace a chance,  as well as adultery.

On one memorable evening there was a poetry reading at the Three Penny Cafe (where the health food store is now) and a mystery guest appeared, calling herself M’amselle. This remarkable self creation was one of Manhattan’s leading dominatrixes. Tall, beautiful, imperious, she had sung opera, and now she wanted to be a poet. She had long red hair and beautiful enunciation, but scant talent. She later edited Penthouse Forum, and after that — being of strong spiritual leanings — became Librarian of a  Manhattan seminary.

M’amselle’s appearance at the Three Penny marked a high point in Seventies Woodstock. It was somehow innocent, marked with an American sincerity still occasionally found in flyover country. What followed her was a phenomenon: Woodstockers dressed in orange, with malas around their necks, the teachings of a rascally guru — Rajneesh-on their lips, and blessed lust in their hearts.

And then came AIDS…

Walking Man sculpture by Alberto Giacometti.