We Are Stardust, We are Golden: A Woodstock Reminiscence

No, I wasn’t there.  Not even close.  I was just a kid with no driver’s license and no car, and even if I had one, my parents would never have let me journey a hundred miles or more to that muddy field in New York State.

Still, the music festival that took place on August 15-18, 1969, in Bethel, New York, has become the stuff of legends.  An estimated 400,000 music fans endured bad weather, food shortages, and poor sanitation for the privilege of experiencing such rock stars as Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Santana, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Jimi Hendrix, whose iconic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner concluded the show.

Folk singer Joni Mitchell was supposed to appear, but when circumstances made that impossible, she regretted it, later penning the famous “Woodstock”, which became a major hit for CSNY: “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, and everywhere there was a song and a celebration.”

“”Goin’ Up the Country”, crooned performer Canned Heat, and that’s where the festival took place- on a dairy farm.  The event was remarkably peaceful, given the number of people.  There were only three recorded fatalities- all accidental.  Sadly, one has to wonder if that lack of aggression would even be possible today, given the current climate of gun violence. Despite the heat, the rain, and the mud, people got along peacefully, just enjoying the music.

Kids camped out.  There were long lines at the porta-potties.  Some attendees were skinny dipping, and yes, smoking pot and tripping on LSD.  Upon realizing that the multitudes were hungry, Wavy Gravy famously announced, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000”; then the kids were fed granola- in Dixie cups! ( Fun fact: the Ben& Jerry’s flavor was named after him.)

“Like wow, these people are really beautiful, the cops, the shopkeepers, everybody,” said an 18 year old attendee.

Later that year, Jimi Hendrix wrote a poem about his experience:

“500,000 halos outshined the mud and history.  We washed and drank God’s tears of joy.  And for once, and for everyone, the truth was still a mystery.”

The legacy of Woodstock has long outlived the actual event.  A 1970 film, which won the Oscar for best documentary, made you feel like you were there, even if you weren’t.  The success of Woodstock inspired future outside rock events, from Live Aid to Glastonbury, and the festival has come to represent the entire hippie counter-culture revolution.

A Woodstock Music and Arts Fair monument was erected on the site, which my husband, kids, and I actually did visit in 1989.  A fine concert hall, the Museum at Bethel Woods, opened in 2008, complete with film and interactive displays, and hosting top performers. Standing on the site in 2009, Carlos Santana remarked, “This is ground zero for peace and love.”

In 2016, Woodstock was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Several attempts to remember Woodstock on anniversary dates have met with dubious results, the most disastrous of which occurred on the 30th anniversary in 1999.  Marked by high costs and poor planning, the event tragically included sexual assaults, and in one case, bonfires broke out and vehicles were flipped and set ablaze.

And sadly, the hope for a 50th anniversary Woodstock celebration has met with failure. A variety of performers, including some of the original acts such as Santana and John Fogerty were slated to appear, but a combination of quarreling and money issues thwarted the event.  According to David Crosby, “You can’t ‘magic’ one of these things into happening, and that’s what they tried to do with this.”

Perhaps the failure to commemorate the 50th anniversary only highlights our inability to return to a simpler time.  Is it too late for idealism?

In Judy Collin’s words:

“We are Stardust, We are Golden….

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

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Fly Me to the Moon: The Wonder of 1969

It’s been half a century. The young teen, watching in awe as man stepped on the moon in July, 1969, is now a senior citizen.

The previous year had been a horror show. The unpopular Vietnam War raged on and on, with depictions of the mayhem being daily splashed across our TV sets.  The shocking assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April, with the ensuing nationwide race riots, followed by the sad and senseless murder of Bobby Kennedy in June, had sent the nation into a tailspin.

What was to happen the following year would go down as one of the seminal events of the twentieth century: man lands on the moon.  Fascination with the moon had existed since the dawn of time.  The Man in the Moon, that orb that affects the tides and enlightens our night sky.  Popular musicians from Sinatra (“Fly Me to the Moon”), to Andy Williams (“Moon River”) to  Cat Stevens (“Moonshadow”) echoed our intrigue.

Viewed by an estimated 600 million around the world, the moon landing was an amazing feat of courage and scientific expertise.  For a kid like me, struggling with Algebra II, the mathematical skill to pull this off was mind boggling.

Yet, it didn’t just happen.  All of us alive at the time remember the Space Race with Soviet Russia.  With the advent of the Sputnik I satellite, America realized that the Russians were ahead. President Kennedy’s 1961 speech committed the U.S. to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

In the years to follow, the space program saw successes, but also blistering tragedies, as when in 1967, three astronauts, preparing for the first manned Apollo flight, died when a blaze erupted in their command module.

That just two years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, was a monumental achievement.  Aldrin called the moon’s surface “magnificent desolation.” The pair collected lunar rock samples and planted a U.S. flag.

Incredibly, there are those who honestly feel that the moon landing was some incredible hoax, despite the fact that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has released photos of the landing site.

Since then, ten men have visited the moon, the last in 1972.  Why such a draught since then?  The cost, surely, an estimated 25.4 billion in 1973, and a decrease in public support for such an expensive endeavor.

But could it be something else?  What did Armstrong and Aldrin see on the moon?  An actual Apollo transmission: “These babies are huge, Sir! Enormous! Oh my God! You wouldn’t believe it. I’m telling you there are other spacecraft out there, lined up on the far side of the crater edge.  They’re on the Moon, watching us.”

Of course, NASA censored this transmission for fear of public panic.  And they weren’t the only astronauts to report unexplained sightings.  According to astronaut Scott Carpenter: “At no time, when astronauts were in space, were they alone.  There was constant surveillance by UFO’s.”

Mysterious and exciting? Yes.  Dangerous?  Probably.

Still, President Trump has asked Congress for an additional 1.6 billion to accelerate the lunar program called Artemis.  Indeed, NASA plans to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, making “The First Girl on the Moon”, a 1994 tune by Roxette, a reality.

And with such privately funded companies as Space X and Blue Origin, the wealthy will soon be space bound, while, for the average citizen, Virgin Galactic plans to offer flights into the upper atmosphere for a mere $250,000.

“Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”, crooned Chad and Jeremy in 1966.

Whatever is out there, we will eventually find it, or they will find us.  And it all started in 1969, with that “One small step for man.”

Eastern Shore Magic

“Sometimes I’m really good at being bad, and sometimes I’m really bad at being good.” An actual quote by my little grandson pretty much summed up our experience while watching him and his sister at the Eastern shore of Maryland, while our daughter and son-in-law vacationed.

The truth is, they were mostly good.

But, like all little ones, the secret is to keep them busy.

A trip to the library playroom followed by double dip waffle cones at Justine’s, or pepperoni pizza at Ava’s, dripping with sauce and cheese, can be just the ticket.

A playground with a tire swing and a grandpa willing to push, or swimming at a neighborhood pool complete with sprinklers and a water slide, brings joy.

Or the main attraction, a scenic cruise on the Miles River, with a friendly captain who let them take turns to “steer the boat”, made their day.

The kiddos attending a summer day camp afforded time for the adults to journey to nearby locales.  Our home base was the lovely and historic retreat of St. Michael’s, “the town that fooled the British.”  During the War of 1812, the Brits attacked St. Michael’s, hoping to destroy their shipyards.  Legend has it that residents, forewarned of the attack, tricked the enemy by hoisting lanterns to the masts of ships, causing the cannons to overshoot the town.

Today, St. Michael’s is a popular tourist destination, a pleasure whether touring the lovely shops for sea glass earrings, or enjoying the perfect crab cake.

Other excursions included lunch at the stately and historic Tidewater Inn in Easton, a ferry boat ride to quiet and charming Oxford, where we had the best fried oysters ever, and a drive to the wild and bucolic expanses of Tilghman Island.

At the end of a long day at camp, the kids run into my arms, delivering art projects and breathlessly discussing swim lessons and field trips to the movies.

Then, the evening winds down with meal time, bath time, story time!  The busy chores of caring for children can seem worth the strain when you see Grandpa reading to your grandkids.  “Just one more story, Grandpa!”

And when they are safely tucked in bed with a goodnight kiss, it’s almost magic.

Technology- or A Not So Light-Hearted Look at the iPhone

Admittedly, I’m an odd one to talk about technology.  We have an ancient TV, I survived for years with a flip phone, and I haven’t gone “paperless”, although the credit card companies and the utilities are begging me to do so.

So, what’s up?  How could one of the most un-techy persons in the universe be converted?

One word: iPhone.  I have to confess that I am addicted.  In the morning, after making my first cup of coffee on the Keurig, where do I head?  To unplug my iPhone and begin my tour through emails, texts, Facebook, the Weather Channel, YouTube, and the News channel.  Since few call on the phone anymore, emails and texting are the main way to keep in touch with friends and family.  Despite Facebook’s recent troubles with security, it’s fun to see pics of your granddaughter’s concert.  On the Weather Channel, I can check the forecast, hour by hour.  Can I fit in a walk before it starts pouring again?

On YouTube, I can discover the best work out for toned arms, tips on wardrobe organization, or listen to a selection by Andrea Bocelli.  In the news, I can be informed of the latest tornado outbreak, or comments by presidential candidates.

The iPhone camera permits me to take great photos and post them on line.  A cute picture of my grandson, a glorious field of tulips, a dramatic sunset, or a still winter landscape?  I’m posting it, often with a pithy comment or famous quote.  Sometimes, I’ll take pictures of old family photos and post them.  This is often good for a laugh- or a brief tear.

Then, there’s the wonder of Google search.  Want a recipe for strawberry pretzel salad? What to wear to a summer wedding?  Ideas for a book club choice?  A word of knowledge at your fingertips.

iPhones are hard to beat, and the numbers attest to their popularity.  From its initial release in June of 2007, there are currently 85.8 million iPhone users in the U.S., and the numbers are rising.

But with any new phenomenon, there’s a downside.  A recent study found that 66% of iPhone users are actually afraid to lose or be separated from their cell phones.  Users who try to cut off use of technology can actually suffer withdrawal symptoms, such as feelings of anxiety and isolation.

For teens, iPhone overuse can be a serious issue.  Apparently, there is a correlation between excessive screen time and sleep deprivation, depression, and social challenges. Those who daily spent five hours or more on their phones were 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.

Excessive iPhone use even risks physical health: checking that phone by the hour can cause neck and shoulder pain.

Then, there’s the lack of real-time communication.  We’ve all witnessed couples, sitting in a restaurant, not conversing, their heads down, their eyes glued to their devices!

Obviously, we have just begun to scratch the surface of technology’s long-term effects on the population.

All that being said, am I likely to cut down on my iPhone use?

Maybe.  There is a certain peace about plugging my phone in for the night, or taking a quiet nature walk, phone free.

Technology marches on, and before too long, even the iPhone will be replaced with the next tech gadget.

But for now, it’s time to check the responses to my latest Facebook posting!

Ode to the Game

Once upon a time, in the fantastic, fictional world of Westeros, lived the honorable Lord Eddard Stark; his beautiful wife, Catelyn; and their five children: warrior son, Rob; lovely daughter, Sansa; nimble son, Bran; tomboy daughter, Arya; and little tyke, Rickon.

Add to the mix is the bastard son, Jon Snow, being raised in the family castle of Winterfell, but never quite fitting in.

Arriving on the scene is King Robert Baratheon; his ruthless aristocratic blonde wife, Cersei; her twin brother, Jaime ( with whom she has an incestuous relationship), and their brilliant but lecherous dwarf brother, Tyrion.

On the other side of the world, the silver haired Daenerys Targaryen is made to marry the Dothraki war lord, Khal Drago, in order to win back the Iron Throne for her family.

To the north, a miles high ice wall is manned by the Night Watch in a desperate effort to hold back the murderous Wildlings, who live life on their own terms.  Beyond them, the undead, led by the Night King, pose the ultimate threat to survival.

In this world of fire-breathing dragons, direwolves, red witches, and White Walkers, for seven seasons we have been immersed in this Game of Thrones.

Now in its eighth and final season, with the White Walkers having been defeated in an epic battle, enemies are posed in the final game of good versus evil.

HBO’s extravaganza is one of the largest productions in television history, filming in such varied locales as Croatia, Spain, Morocco, and Northern Ireland, and employing 553 listed cast members, not counting extras.  Stunt performers accomplish the unbelievable when dragons set 73 on fire, while actors sit for six to eight hours while the prosthetic department creates the foreboding Night King or a gruesome victim of Greyscale.

Game of Thrones has become a cultural phenomenon, regularly drawing in over 10 million viewers and seen across 170 countries.

Yet, put off by bloody battles, nudity, sex scenes, and torture, many deplore the show and refuse to watch it.  I’ve had people ask me, “What do you see in it?!”

As a former teacher of medieval literature, I’ve always had a weakness for lords and ladies, knights and castles, battles and weaponry.  But, as in any drama worth its salt, it’s the story.  The characters.  The lust for power exhibited by Cersei and Daenerys, the love between kind Samwell and sweet Gilly, the heartbreaking love/hate relationship between Jon and Ygritte.

Die hard Game of Thrones fans have their favorite characters: who couldn’t be fascinated by Arya, who witnessed her father’s beheading, went on to become a formidable assassin, said “Not today!” to death, and vanquished the Night King with one thrust of her Valyrian steel sword?  Or be intrigued by Jaime Lannister’s transformation from treacherous braggart to principled knight?  And what a journey Theon Greyjoy had- from traitor to the Starks, to capture by the maniacal Ramsay, to savior to both Sansa and Bran?

There are villains galore- the sadistic Joffrey who tortures his fiancé, Sansa; Ramsay Bolton, who, when feeling particularly grisly, calls out his hounds to attack his enemies. (We all know how that turned out!)   Then there’s Cersei Lannister who incinerates much of her kingdom with wildfire.

There are the good guys like Sir Davos Seaworth, and even some humor when Wildling Tormund Giantsbane lusts after an embarrassed Brianne of Tarth.

But how about mentioning some of the minor characters, like chubby Hot Pie, who made delicious direwolf pastries for Arya, or Myra Reed, who risked her skin, defending Bran from the White Walkers, with little thanks from him.  Poor Myrcella barely got to know who her real father was before her untimely death by poison, while fan favorite Oberyn Martell lost his head to the Mountain.

With just a few episodes left in the saga, we are left to wonder- who will survive?  In a series with a penchant for killing off its main characters, it’s anybody’s guess.

In end, who will win the Iron Throne?

Cersei Lannister claimed, “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.  There is no middle ground.”

In Ramsay Bolton’s famous words, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Or there’s Ygritte’s classic, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

Now Appearing in Concert

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

Shakespeare

 

The stadium is darkened. Then come the screams, the din, of 15,000 fans.  Then: lights, magic.

Fleetwood Mac is on the stage.  Stevie Nicks, her black lace shawl swinging, tambourine twirling, her long blonde locks streaming.  The audience is on its feet as she and her band mates belt out such melancholy hits as “Go Your Own Way,” and “The Chain”: “And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again, I can still hear you saying, you would never break the chain…”, the songs famously mirroring the band’s romantic upheavals.

Fleetwood Mac is a celebration of forty plus years of rock history, and brings us back to our youth.  One of my favorites is “Landslide”: “Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?  Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

In a touching tribute, Stevie Nicks honored her good friend and fellow musician, Tom Petty, who tragically died of an accidental drug overdose in 2017.  We were fortunate to see Petty in concert just months before his death.  I teared up as Nick performed one of Tom Petty’s best: “Learning to Fly”: “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings, coming down is the hardest thing.”

According to a new Nielson report, 32 million people attended a rock concert last year alone, and I’ve seen quite a few over recent years: Billy Joel, Santana, Steely Dan, Neil Diamond, and my all-time favorite, Paul McCartney.

Why the popularity of rock concerts?  In an age where music can be easily obtained on the internet, what is the magic about attending music concerts and festivals?  Is it the experience of live music that attracts, or merely the availability of musical events, in venues both large and small?

Artists struggling to pull in the same revenue as traditional album sales have turned to touring to both promote and sell their music, and the public has responded.

For me, it’s the memories that live music evokes.  Listening to Fleetwood Mac sing about broken love affairs brings back many a sad recollection of love gone wrong.

Sir Paul crooning such an early Beatles hit as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” brings me right back to my childhood bedroom, the walls plastered with posters of the “cute Beatle.”

And Billy Joel’s “Lullabye”, a sweet melody to his young daughter, brings to mind our prayer for our children and grandchildren: “Someday we’ll all be gone, but lullabies go on and on, they never die, that’s how you and I will be.”

According to Plato, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

There’s reason enough for me to plan my next concert!

February Night at the Movies

Ah, winter.  The quiet beauty, the downy flakes, the still benediction of stark white against the black trees.

Then comes February-the downside of winter.  Skidding wheels, car wrecks, power outages, unrelenting snow and ice, ice baby. In some areas of the country, it’s been the snowiest February on record.  School closings, delayed departures, cancellations.  I’m done with winter, are you?

Back in the day, my mother loved to watch “Saturday Night at the Movies.”  Cozied up on the sofa, we’d watch those old flicks, comfy and warm.

Recently, at my house, and in honor of the recent Academy Awards, it’s been February Nights at the Movies.  Those films we never got around to seeing in the theatre are behold! available on cable.

Our first film outing was Bohemian Rhapsody, a biography and celebration of the British rock band, Queen, and its lead singer, Freddy Mercury.  It follows the singer’s life from when he joined the band in 1970 to their 1985 Live Aid performance at the former Wembley Stadium in London.  A rags to riches tale, Mercury was a British Indian Parsi studying art in college when he was hired as a replacement in a band, Smile.  The group quickly experienced success and Mercury changed the band’s name to Queen. But as the lyrics to “We are the Champions” go, “But it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise, I consider it a challenge before the whole human race, and I ain’t gonna lose…”, Mercury faced the trials of a broken marriage, coming out as gay, drug and alcohol addictions, and finally being diagnosed with AIDS, from which he died in 1991.

Along with a great story, the film features Academy Award performances by Rami Malek, and renditions of iconic Queen hits that we couldn’t help but sing along to:

“Somebody to Love”, “Killer Queen”, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, “Love of my Life”, “We Will Rock You”, and the famous “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “Is this the real life?  Is this just fantasy?  Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality.  Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see…”

Speaking of looking up to the sky, we truly enjoyed “First Man”, the dramatic story of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.  Starring Ryan Gosling, it’s the riveting account of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

With the exception of a few nerve-wracking scenes of Armstrong in training sequences, the film focuses on Armstrong, the man: a serious, quiet individual who realizes the severe dangers of attempting the most dangerous endeavor in human history.

Stressed by his lack of emotion, and suffering from the toll of losing their two year old daughter, Karen, to cancer, Armstrong’s marriage to wife, Janet, is troubled.

Tragedy is waiting in the wings.  His two sons realize that Dad might not be coming home from his mission.  Indeed, fresh is the memory of astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee, who died in a 1967 cockpit fire during preflight training for an Apollo mission.

Still, like any hero, American or not, Armstrong overcomes the odds to become the first to step on the lunar surface.  In one of the film’s most touching moments, during one of his moon walks, he drops a tiny bracelet, a momento of his lost young daughter, into one of the moon’s craters,

Amazingly, it’s been nearly fifty years since the moon landing.  Anyone who was alive in 1969 remembers the vast excitement and pride of that monumental event, but it was fascinating to realize the human suffering and struggle behind the accomplishment.

This February, the Super Snow Moon has been in the news.  Named for the snow on the ground, this full moon is the nearest, largest, and brightest full moon of the year.  Looking up at the night sky, and especially after viewing “First Man”, one has to wonder about our nearest celestial neighbor- what mysteries still await for us to discover?