I Suppose That You Had To Be There

August 18, 2009

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo regarding the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and there’s been no shortage of fascinating stuff to read and view. Personally, I wasn’t even walking, yet, when the boomers threw that bash.

Until I was nine or ten, Woodstock was a bird, a Sundance Kid to Snoopy’s Butch Cassidy.

It was in the late ‘70s – maybe on the 10th anniversary – that I saw the documentary of the festival. I was only beginning to care about music, but I had little knowledge of the performers. I might have known the name Jimi Hendrix.

(and, given that admission of ignorance I am inclined to not belittle the cops in Jersey who had no idea that they had apprehended Bob Dylan, but, then again, what kind of cultural vacuum do you have to be living in to not know who Bob Dylan is?)

Anyhow, I do remember coming across Woodstock (the film) surfing through the half-dozen or so channels one Saturday night as a kid. Like Soylent Green, it was tagged with some kind of “mature audiences” disclaimer which, to state the obvious, made it must-see viewing.

(I suspect that whoever thought that those disclaimers would protect the children from potentially perilous material most likely wouldn’t be able to pick Bob Dylan out of a line-up)

So, I watched the movie and I might as well have been watching a National Geographic special on the indigenous people of New Guinea. No one really looked like anyone I knew and the music was equally inscrutable to my young ears. Through the years that followed, I learned more about the lore of Woodstock and the acts that performed that weekend.

But Woodstock never really connected to me. As for the legacy of the festival and what it all meant, there are folks far more qualified to comment on that subject.

I suppose, like most things in life, Woodstock was something for which you had to be there (and I wasn’t).

Here are a few songs by acts that were invited to perform but, for various reasons, weren’t there, either.

The Doors – Break On Through (To The Other Side)
from The Doors

The Byrds – So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
from Younger Than Yesterday

Bob Dylan – Maggie’s Farm
from Bringing It All Back Home

Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
from Ladies Of The Canyon

Keep The Faith, Frenchman, Maybe We’ll Get Another Cold War

February 18, 2009

Paloma suggested to me the other day that I call The Drunken Frenchman. The Drunken Frenchman, a craggy-faced, disheveled fellow, was someone with whom we both worked at the record store where she and I met many years ago.

The Frenchman was also an integral component of a gang of us from that store who would head directly to our neighborhood bar following our shift. With respect to my knowledge of music, Frenchy might have been the straw that stirred the drink.

Yes, get several rounds into the evening at our local cantina and The Frenchman was likely to – with no relevance to the ongoing conversation – make a declaration such as – “Colonel Sanders! A great American.”

He would also mourn the end of the Cold War, a period when “We knew who the enemy was. We didn’t like them and they didn’t like us.”

But, The Frenchman – who was a good fifteen years older than the rest of us – had accumulated a frightening amount of knowledge of rock music (pre-1980 – that line of demarcation drawn when the saturation of Kansas, Styx, Journey and their ilk on radio drove him to abandon most hope for the music to come).

This knowledge would spill out of him with reckless abandon as the bar would reach closing time, supplemented with his own personal tales. He had drummed for one of those bands that come thisclose to breaking. He and his bandmates had befriended a, then, up-and-coming R.E.M.

At some point in the evening, The Frenchman would usually raise his index finger and remind us that, “I did something once.”

He never did divulge what “something” was. We simply knew that he had done it once.

Personally, I’m grateful on many levels that the secret was never revealed. The possibility of some kind of Crying Game moment aside, the mystery – the tradition – of not knowing was more compelling.

Paloma’s suggestion to contact The Drunken Frenchman held no allure to me. He was a side character – a very unique one, no doubt – and he’s served his purpose in my life.

I have no doubt that sharing a drink with him now would leave me feeling like I had seen some anemic remake of a classic movie.

With Will Farrell cast as the lead.

But, as a toast to The Drunken Frenchman, here are some bands of whom I know he would approve.

The Byrds – So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star

The Who – I Can See For Miles

Fleetwood Mac – Oh Well, Pt. 1

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son

The Monkees – I’m A Believer