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Woodstock Nation: Where Were You (Or Your Parents) During the Summer of "69?

Posted: 06/24/09 06:47 PM ET

The signposts of my life are not graduations, weddings and deaths, but memories born of music -- a life-changing concert, a crush on a rock star, a song in heavy rotation on AM radio all summer.

By 1969 I had already accumulated a few of these musical milestones: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan; 'Paul is Dead'; "Ruby Tuesday". I loved John Lennon and Davey Jones (the cute, English Monkee) in equal measure, and had fallen head over heels for a crooner in white tie on a family trip to Bermuda.

The summer of '69 began inauspiciously. Gawky and insecure and living in that uncomfortable space between childhood and adolescence, my summer started as usual with bikes and pool parties and running in the woods. At night, all the neighborhood kids played "Scatter!," an extreme version of hide and seek that was not for the timid. Menacing bats would come out and dive bomb home-base at the Fava's house, which made us girls scream. I'm sure the boys were afraid too, but of course they couldn't show it. As it got dark our mothers would call us in, one mother always embarrassing her kids with a plaintive "time to take your bath". Fortunately, it was never mine.

I was intrigued that summer by the Reynolds family. One of the big Catholic families in my small town with a football team's worth of kids, they lived a few streets away in a ramshackle hippy house. Randy Reynolds, in my eyes a "big girl" at fifteen, let me tag along with her; her usual friends from school must've lived across town. She was the coolest person I knew, and she had a twenty-year old brother, Warren, who looked like Dennis Wilson (the cool, dangerous Beach Boy) on whom I had a mad, mad crush. He knew this and was a kind young man so paid me special attention because he saw it pleased me.

All the older Reynolds kids, including Randy, went to Woodstock. I felt left out even though I wasn't quite sure what Woodstock was until I saw it on the nightly news. The coverage was of the immense crowds, long traffic queues, and mud. And I longed to be there. I knew I was missing something monumental -- life-changing for those who were there. They would forever be a part of a tribe. I would not, officially, but I would be in spirit.

The enormity of the event really hit home when my parents took my brother and me to see the movie Woodstock -- 3 Days of Peace and Music the following summer at the drive-in. I mostly remember the "risque" moments -- Hendrix's bent national anthem, Country Joe getting the crowd to scream "FUCK!", and seeing bare breasts on screen for the first time. Of course, the music was barely audible through those little public address speakers we hung on our car window. I think I fell asleep before it was over, coming down hard from candy overload from the concession stand.

In '69 I would listen all day to WABC New York (Harry Harrison and Cousin Brucie) to hear The Beatles' #1 hit "Get Back", usurped later that summer by the Stones'
"Honkey Tonk Women". After a long reign earlier in the year by the White Album, the summer album chart was taken over by Blood, Sweat and Tears, who were in turn pushed aside by the Original Cast Recording of Hair. Blind Faith's one and only album made it to the top of the charts as we were packing up to go back to school.

That entire year was particularly eventful in music. I followed in disbelief the disintegration of the Beatles while wearing out my record player stylus with Abbey Road, the band's exquisite, unofficial swan song. But I remember nothing about Altamont, the death of Brian Jones, or the release of important albums by The Who (Tommy), Dylan (Nashville Skyline), and freshman efforts from Led Zeppelin and David Bowie.

But I would not experience those delights until a few years later. My young girl pursuits took precedence. When I could drag myself away from the radio, I was off in the woods -- running on Indian trails, swinging on vines, discovering the secret remains of a Revolutionary War house we told no one about. I can go back there now with my aural scrapbook, my iPod. To nights filled with crickets, fireflies and (rock) stars.

 

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