After Woodstock: did they ever find Peace?

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The Independent Online
They say that if you remember Woodstock you weren't really there. But for many of the half million who sat in that muddy field 25 years ago, something special survives. As the multi-million dollar sponsored Woodstock 2, redubbed 'Greedstock', gets under way, Woodstock '69 is alive in the memories of those who made the pilgrimage to the ultimate Sixties rock festival.

Four of them tell Leslie Woodhead how those three days changed their lives

ACTUALLY, IT WAS A SCENE FROM HELL

WALTER JOHNSON

I remember growing up in the Bronx and having long hair and being treated almost like a minority, and people wanting to beat me up and stuff. But I think Woodstock signalled the start that it was OK to look like this.

I was working near the festival site as a hotel lifeguard, and we heard about Woodstock. So we quit work and told our boss: 'Sorry, we'll be back in four days.'

I don't remember too much of the first night other than being in a complete panic when they said that's the end of the show, now sleep next to your brother. We had no food, no shelter, no sleeping bags, and it was kind of scary.

I took some LSD at Woodstock and had my first bad trip. I wound up in the medical tent and they gave me a shot of something, and I immediately ran out to find my friends and do more drugs. I think that was Saturday, and the rains came and then all hell broke loose.

It was wild, I mean there was a lot of stuff going on. There was a couple of fights, people were walking around tripping, incoherent, myself included. I remember looking and saying: 'Oh my God, what is all of this?' Everything that shouldn't have been done was being done. I had my face scratched by this girl I was trying to help who was obviously flipping out on acid. I was caked in mud, my hair was string, and we were hungry. It was awful.

It became like a scene out of a Fellini movie, like a scene out of hell.

Before Woodstock, the biggest thing I feared was the state police. At Woodstock, they were parking attendants. People were going up to them and saying: 'got a match', and the police were lighting their joints for them. I couldn't get that scene out of my head. I think Woodstock sent a message to all the kids behind us that it was OK to do what we did. It was just a fantasy world. You can't get away with that kind of behaviour and we did, and we flaunted it in front of the whole world.

Woodstock changed my life for ever. I always thought of myself as a hippy, but after that, the commitment to that lifestyle was solidified 10 times over. I got heavily into drugs, into the movement, into demonstrations, and Woodstock propelled me into this other lifestyle.

It has taken me years to get over it. It took me a long time to get a job and become a useful member of society. I joined the 'Twelve-step Programme' and became clean and sober, and it was the hardest thing I had to do. Whereas before I would try to turn on the world and if you didn't get high with me you were not cool, today it's the opposite. I try to speak at rehab centres and tell people how Woodstock changed a lot of people's lives in the negative sense.

I know I may not look it - a lot of people say: 'Why don't you cut your hair?' - but I'm a productive member of society today. I work as a telephone engineer, which is kinda funny. I always thought I'd be a teacher or something and maybe in ways I am. Everything I was searching for in the Sixties, I've found today: love, peace and happiness, living a day at a time. I keep it simple - and I still wear my hair long.

ONCE IT WAS ROCK, NOW IT'S INVESTMENTS

PAUL REBACK

Woodstock was promoted heavily for months, and being an aspiring musician, I knew I'd be going there with two friends. Then in May, my father passed away, and it seemed to be drifting away. I was only 15, but my Mom lived up to her obligation and said: 'Go do it.' So this issue of me going away for a couple of days was definitely a rite of passage. And I knew when I came back that things would never be quite the same again.

Woodstock was an oasis. It's almost as though the faces kind of moulded into each other. But I saw a lot of people that looked kind of used up at ages when you're not supposed to be used up, and I didn't want to wind up that way.

We were fortunate in that we had brought a huge tent. Then we got seats about 50 feet from the stage, so using the tent was not a possibility and we ended up using it to sit on.

It was a fabulous event for me to be attending, but I felt this was something that could not last - not because I was sarcastic about Three Days of Peace and Love and Music, I just felt this was a turning point at the same time as it was the peak of the spirit of the Sixties.

After Woodstock, I made a major commitment to be in the music business, as a drummer. For me, the early Seventies were years of trying to get the record deal. That process can be very discouraging; and one day, as we were looking through a paper for a lead singer, I saw an ad for a major life insurance company, to earn dollars 200 a week as a salesman. I answered it - I was hired by Metropolitan Life, and it gave me a road to go down apart from the music business, because I remember being at Woodstock, hoping I wouldn't wind up used up, and knowing I wouldn't want to play the drums at weddings and bar mitzvahs for the rest of my life.

So I decide that I'm going down the straight and narrow to a career in insurance. It's literally D-Day minus a day or two, and the phone rings. It's a young lady I had met not long before, and I was attracted to her, so I was happy she had phoned. The conversation goes something like this: 'Paul, I've heard some of your tapes, like the way you sound, played it for a good friend of mine who's a guitar player and he'd like to meet you because he's looking for a new drummer for his band.' I put up all kinds of fight because I was just not prepared to deviate from what I had agreed to do. She finally said: 'Paul, you don't understand. This is not just a guitar player, we're talking about Johnny Winter.'

Johnny Winter to me is probably one of the greatest players in the rock'n'roll business. But I said no. Ask me why, I don't know - maybe I was just afraid of going back to what I had thought I had left. And I moved on.

Can I find anything of those Woodstock values in my life today? Well I'm involved in Finances and Investments, and if you can try to advise clients the way you'd like to be advised, I think that's a kind of a philosophy of helping one's fellow man that the people at the Woodstock Festival would be proud of.

BEING DIFFERENT WAS THE THING FOR MY PARENTS

DJUNA NICHOLS

My parents were at Woodstock, working with the Hog Farm Commune, giving out free food and building medical tents. I was just under two, so I can't remember much about being there.

It wasn't a perfect lifestyle for me; I was one of the first kids in the Hog Farm, so there was a lot of experimenting. Nobody was really used to it, and there was still a lot of trying to be different. My parents wanted to be different, and I'm proud of them for that. But it wasn't the ideal way, I don't think, for a kid to grow up. There wasn't a lot of stability emotionally. I was just allowed to run free with no shoes, and I stepped on nails all the time. I was constantly hurting myself, and that was part of the freedom that I think my parents believed was good for me.

After Woodstock, I went travelling with my father for more than two years - overseas, India, Afghanistan - on the Hog Farm Magic Bus. I was over there for a long time without my mother at a very early age. So that was difficult for me, I think.

As a young pre-teen, I was very rebellious. I was embarrassed about my parents and their lifestyle; it didn't fit in with the rest of the kids at school. I just wanted to make a statement of my own.

I got into doing drugs, wanting to prove how bad I was, or something. I also started drinking.

I think with growing up around that stuff, it was a bit more natural to me to do that. It seemed to be what everybody was doing. So I just took off into that, and I was addicted to drugs and alcohol for 10 years.

I have a child of my own now, a seven-year-old boy, and he was going on four when I gave up drugs and alcohol. I had to eliminate them completely from my life so that I could be a good mother - because I was falling short as far as that went, definitely.

I tend to be overly protective of him, and I'm trying not to be. I just think that children need to know about boundaries and limits, and I think people are more aware of that today than they were when I was growing up. I don't opt to live in a commune. I like having my own home and my own little family - more of the traditional setting.

My mother is still living the life that she chose from the Sixties - she basically chose to drop out of society. I'm proud of my Ma, and proud of the lifestyle she chose.

If I could sum it all up, the lack of boundaries would be the negative side, and the experience of throwing caution to the winds and allowing yourself to do things that normally would not be accepted would be the positive.

I think that I'm one of the lucky children of my age as I actually came out of it fairly unscathed. But I have met some people who really seem to have had a hard time - so I'm glad that it worked out for me.

THE SPIRIT SURVIVES, SUBLIMINALLY

FRANK FIORAMONTI

I had graduated from Columbia Law School in 1968, which was a year of turmoil at the school with all the Vietnam War protests. I wasn't in the front line of advocating change, but my eyes were opened. The choice was to join the army or to join Vista, the Volunteers in Service to America - the domestic Peace Corps. For me it was an easy choice to make, so I was working as a Vista lawyer on things like poverty law and social justice.

I went to Woodstock with three friends. One of them, Charlie, brought three or four bags of food - this ended up being our ticket for getting out of the rain, to trade for some marijuana, and just generally attract a crowd. He even had a grill and we cooked hamburgers.

We traded the last bit of food for the last bit of shelter and spent the night huddled under the tent with 10 or 15 others. And when Saturday morning came and it was still raining, my girlfriend and I decided that we'd had enough. And I guess my most vivid memory is that on the road out, the sun came through, and we looked at each other and we knew we could never find our way back to all these friends we'd made.

I don't think Woodstock was the epiphany in my life that it might have been for some people. It was a lot of fun, and certainly I'm glad I was there. I was surprised to find out after I met my wife some years later that she'd been there, too.

After Woodstock, I went to work for the New York City Council as a legislative aide. I was interested in changing the marijuana laws. I had been smoking marijuana, and some of my friends had, and we were all lawyers. In New York finally in 1977, we lowered the penalty so that smoking marijuana was considered a sort of spitting on the sidewalk type of offence. It was a chance, in our own little way, to make a difference.

I guess the Woodstock spirit survives in things like the environmental movement and food and hunger hotlines. But of course it sort of blends in. It's like riding the elevator and hearing a Beatles song on Muzak. A Beatles song then meant something. Now it's just part of the culture. Maybe those values aren't as distinct as they were in the Sixties, but they've elevated the level a bit.

My job now is in the state government. I represent the public interest in consumer protection and civil rights. So maybe those Woodstock values do carry through, although probably subliminally.

Leslie Woodhead's film 'Children of Woodstock' will be shown on ITV on Sunday, 21 August at 11.10pm

(Photographs omitted)

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