. . .We cling to the past, sometimes in pride, more often in guilt and confusion, but cling all the same. And increasingly as we age we turn to memory to our particular past as to a world in reserve for rest and reassurance. Novelists know this especially well. What they seek through their work is a reclamation of the past which will proclaim the reality of human selfhood to its deepest foundations.
Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor
I miss the Sixties. I miss them because they are still within me, so missing them is akin to loss. It was the only time in my life, at ages 28 and 29, that I spent two indelible summers in Woodstock. So powerful was the impact that deep into the seventies, with a wife and child, I would take off on Saturday and go up alone on the New York Thruway to Woodstock to spend the day. It was like visiting a cemetery, all the lost and lonely people. I’d go into a bakery and buy a rich and luscious brown pumpernickel bread chocked full of raisins and ask for a shmear, a container of coffee, dark, with sugar (I didn’t know better; who did?) and would park my carcass on a stone bench at the town bus stop and watch the human flora and fauna pass me by. Before I drove back I’d buy a little something for my daughter. I see all this as an attempt to recapture the past, the rich past I had experienced in this upstate country town with no real defining real estate characteristics except for the people who inhabited it. [I could not let go.]
During the Sumer of Love, Iris came off the bus, and she appeared frazzled. The bus stop was in the middle of the town and I was sitting here with my friend Hal, observing all the people about and those coming off the bus. Iris was dressed in white and she was in her forties , and she was very well built, zoftig, is the better word; it turned out later that I learned from her on a pseudo-date that she was an editor. I believe it was Hal who went over to her and in engaging Iris discovered that she was, in essence, looking to see “where all the action was.” In short, she felt she was missing something, like many of her age felt they were. Honestly, they were missing something! Hal introduced me to her with the idea I suppose that we might get together. I had silly qualms about the age difference, perhaps 14 years or so, and he tried to disabuse me of that rigid thinking process by sharing with me that women of that age did not have to worry about getting pregnant and that I didn’t have to worry either. In other words, for him, she was prime meat. Hal was a predator. I’d set up a date with her at her home in Greenwich Village and was introduced to her somewhat hulking son who appeared to be in his twenties. I was neither aggressive nor assertive with her nor did we go to bed. It became one of those Sixty casual experiences that became part of my past. It was a lost opportunity because of my immaturities.]
By pure chance I had stepped into where the action was, a cliché of the time. It was a year before the Woodstock festival. Among many others coming off the bus, I intuited an anxiety as if they were left out of something larger than themselves. And here I was, lucky and serendipitous self, sitting across the bus depot watching the stragglers from the urban jungle in search of a personal clearing. And with a slight smugness and a cat’s bewhiskered grin, I felt contented. I, too, had experienced that particular anxiety.
In Woodstock time was an evolving movement for me, more of a metamorphosis than an incremental stage. Everything I am writing now, will continue to write until I end bespeaks durational time, the dwelling within the moment, like Bedouins setting out with goats, wives, children, carpets and rolled up tents, and camels to reach another oasis in time, without rush, without chronology.
This kind of time was shown me in several places and in several ways. The best example was at the Elephant. It could be the Gray, Pink or the Blue Elephant, I don’t recall, but it was a restaurant a little way out of town and generally the place to go for a hamburger. Years later after 1969 when the turmoil had abated it was turned into a jeans and T-shirt store and after that it went through other incarnations. Almost 50 years have gone by and it probably is completely gone. It did not grab my heart, but I remember it much like we know where the local movie theater was in the Fifties.
As usual I was alone and the married woman I having an affair with was spending the summer of 1968 downstate on the Island in an uncomfortable truce with her unaware husband. We would pick it up in the fall. So I was mournful, hurting, and lonely. I asked the waitress if I could have a hamburger and coffee and began to look about me at all the young faces, the scent of youth in heat and lust, with desire and craving experiences. I waited for about 25 minutes, waiting in the sense of urban man carrying city time within his body. I became impatient. I called over the waitress, I think back now, and I may very well have had annoyance in my tone and said, “Where’s the burger?”
I recall her slightly looming over me and with a languorous indifference, she said: “Cookin’.”
I didn’t realize at the time because I was into all fuss and feathers about my meal that she had shared an essential axiom about Woodstock time. If I were to adjust to all this, I would have to experience what is durational as opposed to chronological time. It was a significant learning, one which I have with me now as we are all expedited and rushed into the future not realizing Faulkner’s comment that the past is the present.]
Whenever I think of “Cookin” I feel the earth mother wisdom in that, the beauty of delay, for delay has much that is beauteous to it. It is embedded in the fullness of time.
With learning about not to use time nor to saddle it, but to walk beside it, I was experiencing an inward feeling, newly created, so that for a few minutes during the day I felt that I was going to sweetly burst – or molt . These were private moments alone in which I felt I was swelling from within in a very pleasing way which really defies description. It was more profound than a sappy happiness.
It was a time in which, I believe, I was evolving unknown to myself, more of a slow-awakening of a metamorphosis than an incremental stage by stage experience. I felt at the time,when I had dim cognizance of who I was, that I was feeling I might sweetly fracture, a transforming elation. I felt; I could not explain it, and it was happenchance as well. After all, unknown to me, I had rented my body for much of my life. There were moments alone and those moments I felt I was swelling in an extraordinary way that defies description. It is so dim now after decades. Once I experienced a Joycean epiphany of a kind out in a field with a young man and his 18 year old girlfriend, Mary, who I was beginning to be attracted to, not knowing until sometime later that she had prepared himself to leave him and turn her attention toward me. She was 18, nubile, and I was 28. He was playing his guitar and she was draped over a stone outcropping and at the apex of this triangle I sat feeling at one with everything. I felt peaceful. Congruent might be the better word.
The bucolic and pastoral setting stirred within me an ineffable moment and no more than that, of feeling at one with my disparate selves. I had been living a schizoid experience for the last five years or so. It is the condition of being in America, divided and divided once more. And once more to make sure.
Woodstock can’t be reclaimed from memory. Memory can only afford a map of the place, a chain of associations, personal and bittersweet and tender. Woodstock is a feeling in me. I recall in the crazed state I was in an expression of freedom, however minute, that had never been mine. I reveled in the drinking in of what was all about me, for I was much the observer and knew to keep my mouth shut when events were new or anxiety-provoking. I recall well the costumery of the time: the beaded and intricate handmade necklaces men wore and their extended sideburns and on very rare occasions a Nehru jacket; hair was very long and celebrated in that great musical which summed up the Zeitgeist of the period; women let hair grow on their legs and underarms, often cleansed with soap and water rather than deodorant – pick your choice; middle-aged married women in Woodstock were infected, for the laissez-faire atmosphere and attitudes of younger women gave them dispensation to have affairs and ultimately unload their spouses.
You have to imagine Woodstock, for a moment it was a temporary Shangri-La in upstate New York across the way from the historic town of Kingston. Essentially something was happening and changing and it riotously infected all those open to the “disease” — freedom and open expression always is. It was a time in which I remade myself. It was a time of remaking. I have never experienced it again in this culture.
Woodstock was the French Revolution, the first free efflorescence before it turned dark. It was a romantic period.
The songs of the Beatles saturated the culture and were the symphonic score of the time. Inherent in the lyrics and jaunty music (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) was the esprit de corps of the young and the young minded. Driving up the New York Thruway, crossing over the Tappan Zee Bridge, with my convertible top down on my 1964 Mustang – Woodstock on wheels, lucky me! – I often would hear the six minute “Hey Jude” on the radio, the Beatles “Bolero.” Djs often took a whiz during the play time, for it was the longest song in recent vintage. That song became my musical “tapeworm,” difficult to rid myself of it, like a stubborn case of athlete’s foot. We all recall Dustin Hoffman, “Ben,” in his convertible speeding through highways to get to his girl, the sophisticated and syncopated melody of “Mrs. Robinson” as accompaniment. So it was for me.
The summers of ’68 and ’69 created memorable songs that were the latent underside of my life. As they blared over the radio or played on my old phonograph, memories, reminiscences of my delayed affair as well as the depressive state of mind I was in made them connect up to the states of my mind and they have remained memorable. At the time I would tear up, wallow in my sorrow. I remember these tenderly now: Crystal Blue Persuasion, Tommy James and the Shondells; People Got to Be Free, Rascals; One – Three Dog Night; In the Years 2525, Zager and Evans; Spinning Wheel, Blood, Sweat and Tears; My Cherie Amour, Stevie Wonder; Good Morning Starshine, Oliver; Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond; Put a Little Love in Your Heart, Jackie DeShannon; These Eyes, The Guess Who; More Today Than Yesterday, The Spiral Staircase; Up Up and Away and Aquarius, The Fifth dimension; This Guy, Herb Alpert; Both Sides Now, Judy Collins, every song on Wildflowers; Lay Lady Lay, Dylan; One is the Loneliest Number, Three Dog Night; Mrs. Robinson, Simon and Gar; The Look of Love; Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’61; Sunshine of your Love, Cream; Everyday With You Girl, The Classics IV; Sugar, Sugar, The Archies.You can choose to gag on these songs with unending nostalgia, but at the time they were not nostalgia but something quite new to experience. I venture to say that the songs in these two years were the most memorable of the century much as 1939 has been considered the greatest year in cinema history.
I was marinaded in all that, polyurethaned so many times with this music that I glowed in the dark. For me, a product, and I mean product, of the repressed Fifties, the expectorate of the Eisenhower years, it was the clearest expression, in hindsight, of how events, the times, can change an individual’s life. I began to question authority, indeed, it was a bumper sticker on my car and I became subversive which had lain quiescently in me for years. I was becoming self aware while I was very unaware of myself. Curious to write, but that was true. Krishnamurti described this state as the “awakening of intelligence.” If you’ve experienced psychotherapy, very much the same process occurs. At the time I was in the soup of treatment as well, dog-paddling to stay afloat, no attainable shore in sight. And the siren song of change was all about, the music of my sphere.
I can’t express exactly what was occurring to me internally, for it is unknown even to me decades, so many decades later. It is in the telling of it that I catch now and then, here and there, like trying to shag a fly, a glimpse of what I was experiencing and what I was feeling then. Feeling is the critical word, at least for me. I needed to be felt, always have, still do, and I don’t mind because I am very aware of it. It is under mild control and it is definitely not being needy. In the shabbiest cliché of clichés, the Sixties were about feelings, at least to me, a repressed and inhibited young man in his late twenties who had not lived his life nor had experienced his body or had inhabited his own soul. Without knowing or understanding I was giving up my visceral body to Woodstock – all change begins in the body, more than the mind. When we learn to dance it is often hard because we are into steps rather than flow; when you danced in the Sixties you were successful if you surrendered your body – look at all the old films of Hippies cavorting in fields, not a step visible, everything within bodily movements. My generation was stiff (1,2 3, Cha, Cha, Cha).
Sexually frustrated, unconsciously in search of an interim relationship, to be cared for, perhaps mothered, and to care about, I stumbled about in Woodstock for two summers, often staying at my friend’s house which he had purchased with another couple, whose wife Hal had an affair with. I was caught in this imbroglio and naïve about what was swirling about me. I stayed there on week-ends or longer during the summer and became a moocher. I didn’t see what was before my eyes and why should I. I was blind since I could walk. I was a very unsettled human being, frenetic and frantic, uncomfortable with myself, I was lost, an ill-defined man child. I lived within a cloud of unknowing. To be gracious toward myself, I can say that I was finding out, or discovering other ways to be.
Images return from people I met in Woodstock. They are often more compelling than what words can describe. I recall driving the back roads of town, the ragtop down, humming on a harmonica I had purchased and not making music, but as I look back to some way soothe my body, lower the stress I produced like sweat; the sun came through the trees so fiercely that the long hood of the Mustang was dappled like an Indian paint. It is a mixed memory, part running away from myself and part reveling in the nature of it all. I’d walk by the head shops with their paraphernalia, bong pipes and the like, reeking of essences, potpourri and such. They held no appeal to me, for I still had that anti-drug attitude in me, and I also didn’t smoke, so what did appeal of the counter-culture was its art and that I absorbed whenever I could. At the moment apparently an artistic fad was to make light boxes, colored lights behind plexiglass that glowed and flashed, on and off, and sold as such. At the moment they were novelties. I once sat in on an auction with Hal at a local gallery. What was offered was an artist with his putty knife affixing layers and gobs on canvas in varying strokes and swathes across the canvas. At the end it was put up for auction and Hal purchased it. What I was enjoying and slightly marveling at was the work of an artist at play. I found that much to my liking. I was becoming open to all this without judgment or opinion.
As I walked the town with its hamburger joints and cafes, the Elephant restaurant, surely long since extinct, the mild mannered bridge that arched ever so slightly over a scurvy Catskill stream, the local haunts, the T-shirt shop operated by a gay and his woman friend, left a casual residue in me, reminiscences. I remember some unseen and unnamed band that played rock in the backrooms of a house that faced the main street and whose music wafted for some distance. Of all the denizens of town, one young man stood out. Perhaps in his late twenties, he wore an all black outfit, with a short cape no less, while holding his dog on a leash, like Bogie going for a walk. We never spoke to one another. I also remember that 10 years later on this same street I saw this man once more. Everything had changed. I had changed. But he was still in his Zorro black attire and walking his dog. He had chosen to become fossilized. I was evolving. I had moved on.
Woodstock was a country town which constantly reinvented itself. I don’t think the locals ever made their peace with it, or the recent influx of hippies and urban seekers, although it had a century or more of artists coming there .In my wanderings about town I came across an artist in his fifties or sixties at the time who had a charming home outside of town. His name was Arthur Zaidenburg and he made a living creating a series of instructional art manuals to teach drawing to young people. His “Anyone Can Draw” is a classic art-instruction book. I also discovered in a leisurely summer talk with he and his wife that he also painted murals on the cruise ship, Rotterdam, murals for the St. Moritz in Manhattan, and 100 motels in Miami Beach. What was happening to me was that I was engaging interesting people for the first time in my life, people outside the limited scope of my experience. And I remember most of all was a lovely floor to ceiling stone fireplace that another artist friend of his had constructed. Apparently it was a trade or swap between both artists; I don’t know what the artist received. It was this artistic, sharing attitude, that a kinship existed between artists that I took in and cherished. “An artist is never poor,’ Izak Dinesen’s line from “Babbette’s Feast, comes to mind.
The concept that this artist employed was new to me; to surround yourself with all kinds of artifacts that reflect your interests, your loves, what tickles your fancy so that you home is your nest. I do that all the time in my present world.
Since I spent time exploring the countryside I came into contact with Edgar Pangborn, author of the cult fantasy classic, “Davy.” When I met him he was in recovery from a heart attack and he had moved all his filing cabinets downstairs into the living room because he could not navigate the staircase. My talks with him, as I look back, were superficial because I was superficial. His niece, Mary, and I almost had a fling but I fucked that up as well. Pangborn died in the mid seventies and Zaidenburg lived to 88, leaving Woodstock after 30 years for an artist community in Taos, New Mexico
Summer ’68 and summer ’69 were a tumultuous time for me. In the state of mind I was experiencing what little inner-directedness I had and that was minimal. I was still mostly an external, outer-directed human being, a living decal imitating a mature man. It is distressing – and horrifying – to realize how much I was a child. What had happened to my rearing to produce such a child? I had little or no rearing. I can be safely horrified now; at the time I had not enough insight to be self-horrified. So much hard-earned learning lay ahead. I had tasted of misery but nothing compared to the future death of a daughter by suicide; the death of a wife in a car accident – but that was decades later. Whatever bile I secreted, it was infused with discontent and a vast feeling of being unknown to my very self. Oh, the years we “live” unwittingly, unknowingly of our own very selves. Discontent and depression poured from me.
I lived on Ash Avenue in dull Flushing. The aged super could not attend to the building properly. I had separated from my wife and she returned home to her mother’s house with our daughter. It was here that I had a surprise visit from Hal. Within a short amount of time, his motive became clear. “I am wondering if I could use your apartment one afternoon.” Dense as I was, conflicted, I didn’t realize he wanted to fuck his latest conquest. Of course, I knew his wife, Estelle, and his two sons for I had often stayed at their country house. In short he was asking me to pimp out my home. The quiet between us was stifling, for I really didn’t know how to respond. I knew I surely didn’t like the idea of someone fuckin’ on my bed. I also knew that during WWII Hal had given his wife syphilis after one of his flings.
Hal finally sensed my internal conflict and said a few words about my being uncomfortable with his request. I thought later on that it was not something to ask a friend. And we left it at that. Indeed, in the years ahead I began to sense more and more of conditions being laid down to stay his friend. As long as I knew him he cheated on Estelle, much the enabler, and she would eventually become suspicious and confront him. He could not change. As I look back I see the dependency in our relationship which was skewed: father me; teach me; show me the way; instruct me in the ways of the world. I never had a father, I had a sham body pretending to be my father, and Hal served as a substitute, until I learned better and began to self-parent myself.
At the time I was frozen. I couldn’t say what I was feeling so I would fall back into silence which is always ineffective. The other person had to decipher my code, if so inclined, and make assumptions. To access me you had to be a mind reader and who wants that as part of a friendship or relationship. As I look back at Hal’s chutzpah and imposition upon me, I feel creeped out, and his assessment of me, negative at that, encouraged him to make such a request.
As I merged into the late Sixties, this inability to know what I was feeling and then to articulate it to my satisfaction, had “improved. I can say unequivocally that I did not come to awareness as a human being until the age of 32.
All these years, all the decades of underutilized, unfulfilled and wasted time, I was profligate with my undetected, purposeless life. Even now I ask myself if I am not wasting time. As you know the use(s) of time are essential to living with intention. The unlived and unexamined life is frightening to me. I remember very well being empty. It is something I think about most of the time. In 1968 and 1969 I had no idea that I was a putz.
I had been “reared” in the Fifties, that most uptight, inhibited and repressive decade. When I met up with the late Sixties it was all so new, this openness, the willingness to try new ways, to experiment with relationships. I had choices to make. I associate to Achilles as a child as his mother immersed him in waters but omitted his heel for which he paid dearly years later. I realize now that I had a second chance in a new immersion. Essentially, as I look back, it was a sloughing off of recalcitrant and old selves. I was slowly molting, I was changing ever so incrementally. I was not letting go of my need to observe, but I was endeavoring so very hard to act on my world, to take risks, to venture, to query and ultimately to garner all these experiences into a kind of repository which I could draw sustenance.