Sunday, January 10, 2010

Days of Peace and Music

[The Summer of '69 stories start here.]

"They really were swimming naked."

Terri was looking at the Village Voice number with coverage of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The papers had mentioned something about the swimming and the mud, but it took the Voice to give us a wide shot of a pond with small figures in it, in blurry black ink on newsprint. We wouldn't have done that. Right?

Terri and I were working away in a used book shop while all this went on, but we had been following the incredulous news reports about hundreds of thousands of young people like us camped out in a farm field in some remote place upstate. Even if it had gone as planned, with far fewer people and organized crowd control, the festival had sounded to me like an experience I would not want to endure, regardless of the excellent lineup of bands they had. There you go.

What person of my age group would admit today that they didn't feel like going to a thing like Woodstock? Maybe I'm the one. Now, I'm sorry I missed it, but then, I didn't even try to go. Imagine if Terri had said we should go and she'd drive us there, and Sue had been kind enough to allow us a few days away on a hot August weekend. We'd have been up there sliding in the mud and getting high on the atmosphere, and doing whatever else we would have done. We'd have come back with stories to tell our kids, if our memories held out. (Oh! Maybe we did go and I forgot!)

Sometime before this I had made a suggestion about the radio. I found it was hard to listen to WABC longer than a few hours straight, the way they repeated the same songs. I had made a hit with Terri by bringing in the Voice so I thought maybe she'd go for this too.

"Could we listen to something else sometimes?" There, I took a stand.

"Yeah. What do you listen to?" See, she gave me an opening. This was going great.

"Try 102.7 FM, WNEW." I was only asking her to try it. That's not too demanding, right? How could she object?

was at its peak in 1969 under the able direction of Scott Muni. The playlists were based on albums, not singles, and on musical style and whatever appealed to the deejays. It was folk and rock, the same mix chosen by the promoters of Woodstock, New Yorkers who may very well have been WNEW-FM listeners themselves.

So we were both familiar with the Woodstock artists. The deejays were somehow getting set lists of what was being performed, and played the records of those songs. No mean feat in 1969, with no cell phones and hardly any traffic moving in and out of the area. Or am I wrong? Maybe they just knew which artists were playing and giving us a best guess of what they would play, based on their usual set lists. That could be it.

Some of them, I never knew from owning the record myself, just from hearing them on the radio. Like Country Joe's "Fixin' to Die Rag". I can still run through the tune in my head, and here's the chorus, from memory. There's one short bit I can't remember. I know it's online and I could look it up. Go ahead. The point is, I can remember this much of it forty years later solely from radio play. He played this at Woodstock.

Well it's one two three,
what are we fightin' four?
[something] I don't give a damn.
The next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five six seven,
open up the Pearly Gates.
There ain't no time to wonder why.
Whoopee! We're all going to die!

That was the mood of us draft-bait boys. I had just been to the Draft Board in June when I turned 18, and got my 1H deferment by showing that I was going to college. I had a little paper Draft Card that I was supposed to carry with me at all times just in case someone from the government stopped me and wanted to take me away. It's not so theoretical when you've got that little paper in your wallet. That made it real. They weren't kidding about this. There were a group of old people in a little wood-panelled room in Spring Valley who'd be perfectly willing to send me off to the jungles. In four years I was going to be 1A.

Want to do something about adventurism in Afghanistan and Iraq? Bring back the draft. It changes people's priorities. Most people would start asking what the goal is and how what we're doing gets us there. I hated the draft, but it has that going for it. And don't exempt college kids this time. That'll take care of things.

I wish I weighed 141 now. But I'm taller. Oh, that schoolboy signature.

Wow, that got off track. Just some 1969 coming back to me.

Scott Muni was a big British invasion fan, and had a show himself on Sundays that counted down the British chart. It was more similar to the American chart then than it is now, but there were still some interesting differences.

Some of you know I was a sixties Bee Gees fan. Should they have been at Woodstock? Maybe not. Anyway at the time they barely existed, with Robin Gibb in this corner and Barry and Maurice Gibb as a duo in that one. Neither had a tour band together so it wasn't even an issue. But both camps had English number 2 records that July and August. They were kept out of number 1 by the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman". I was sure that their singles were not even released in America, but they were ; they just didn't chart. I liked the intro to Robin's "Saved by the Bell", a piano note followed a huge orchestral flourish, before it settles down to its weird arrangement of guitar and beat box accompanied by orchestra. It was probably the first pop hit with an electronic beat. Oh OK, "Honky Tonk Woman" had a killer opening too, cowbell and drums into staccato guitars. I am not complaining about it doing well.

Off track again. Sorry.

One of the big things that summer on WNEW-FM was the Crosby, Stills and Nash album. I think they played every song on it including the seven-minute "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". Terri and I turned up the sound a little if we were near the radio.

I've just now been inspired to get their stuff on CD for the first time, prompted by a gift card from Christmas. Helen saw what I took out of the box that came in the mail, and told me how familiar the CSN album looked, because her younger sister played it all the time. Well, so did I.

Somehow I'd missed all three of them up to this point: Crosby in the Byrds, Stills in Buffalo Springfield, Nash in the Hollies (not even him, with all my Brit Pop leanings). CSN hit people like me full force. Great songs, harmony singing, acoustic guitar. It sounded very fresh.

Interesting about the acoustic guitar: listening to the songs now for the first time in quite a while, I realize how much electric guitar Stills played on there. It might be an example of how the first song in a set influences your perception of the rest. Sometime I might try to write about programming albums, almost a dying art in the age of downloads. I've never seen anything written about it except stray comments here and there. Arif Mardin once told me how he did it, and that's a hell of a name drop, isn't it? But once again, I digress.

I think I'm avoiding something.

Guinnevere had green eyes
like yours, mi'lady, like yours,
when she'd walk down through the garden
in the morning after it rained.

Helplessly hoping, her harlequin hovers nearby
awaiting a word.
Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit he runs,
wishing he could fly.

If you smile at me I will understand,
'cause that is something
everybody everywhere does in the same language.

CSN were at Woodstock, with new member Neil Young. That was confusing. We'd had only about two months to get used to them and they were already morphing into a new group. See, I liked things to stay the same. The Beatles had been around forever, right? That's what I wanted. Boy, I was going to be in for some news six months later.

Back to the pond.

"Well, they didn't bring bathing suits. And they must've gotten all sweaty, being out in the sun all day." I tried to be logical, ignoring the scary part of it. It was pretty hot outside where we were.

"I know..." She dragged it out. She was looking at the picture and seemed to be considering that situation.

"How hot and awful would you have to get, to do that?" I felt like I was really pushing the limits here, but hey, she started it. I wouldn't be able to answer the same question. I didn't even like to wear shorts at that time.

"I don't know. People could see me." She looked down at the floor. I think she was still considering, or maybe she was getting embarrassed. I let it drop.

I guess we should have gone. Then we'd have learned what our limits were.

Next time: Summer Ends.


  1. Nice. I'm finding I look forward to Sunday nights and a new post. That's not creepy for you is it?


  2. I never really liked WABC, cuz of the tight playlist. I was a fan of the WMCA "Good Guys" until I "graduated" to FM WNEW in 1968 IIRC. I too loved the mix they played and the low-key voices of Scott Muni, Pete Fornatelle (sp?) Jonathan Schwartz, the late Rosko (MHRIP), and I fell asleep listening to the Nitebyrd, the late Alison Steele (MSRIP). I felt I knew them personally and they were speaking to me. Nowadays we have "AOR" FM, but there will never, ever, be another late 60s WNEW!

    Thanks for the memories. :)

  3. Omababe: Rosko! Yes. His playlist, and those monologues you'd get toward the end, and mainly just the sound of that voice made for radio. Want to hear him again?

    P: You mean someone's READING this??

  4. >P: You mean someone's READING this??

    Oh yes, we're reading this. :)

    Thanks for the pointer to the Rosko stuff.

    Yes, I tune in every week. I've found your Summer Soap Opera to be quite entertaining, actually. :)

    I'm familiar with your work on the subways and such. I'm an amateur photographer who does shoot in the underground occasionally. Various shots of mine are sprinkled about the page.

    You keep posting and we'll keep reading. :)