The Memory of Greed
It is easier to forget, harder to remember. Too many have forgotten, not enough have remembered. Gone by the wayside—migrated to the other side. They have shed the sixties and left those times behind, preferring to cover them up. They do not look back, or if they do, they don’t like what they see. Or perhaps they are embarrassed by what they took part in. Maybe they grew up into something else? That’s all right, too. But for this reason, Woodstock, as it was back then, could never happen in today’s world. Not enough people care about what happened fifty some odd years ago on the dairy farm in upstate New York, even if they had been there. Time has moved on, as it is wont to do.
A miasma of ennui has set in. The culture is stale, uninformed, lazy, driven by greed. That’s what we remember – how to make money. We’re ready to believe the lies we are fed like Pablum. If it’s exciting or gory it must be good, it must be true. The more wild the story, the more believable it has become. Are our lives that bereft of meaning and richness? Ruled by money? Are we so consumed by our own stinks we can’t see beyond our noses? Too many cannot discern truth from fiction. It’s getting worse. Woodstock and the ideals it represented lost in the money-laundering manifestation of our time. When memory is greed. Woodstock was far from perfect. Many ugly things happened: water shortages, garbage, overdoses, a death. Still, the good outweighed the bad. Too many have forgotten the ideals, and not brought what it stood for forward. How does one find that which one has lost, then re-live it?
Change originates out of the past and is thrust forward into a new form invented for the present, opening up the future. Listen, I don’t advocate wallowing in the past. The past is not always the place to be. It is subjective. What is the truth of the past? So many can touch it, shape it, until it becomes muddled; we no longer understand what it is we lived. Too many cooks spoil the stew. Better to move forward. But you have to try to move backwards, too. There are lessons back there to be gleaned. You don’t want to repeat the ugly. You want to bring the good into the past and future. Easier said than done. We can at least try. Break that mold. Still, I don’t see it happening for our world. Like the lyrics of the King Crimson song, “Epitaph”:
Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I feel tomorrow I’ll be crying…
Written in 1967, the song rings as true today as it was back then. The machines of war are even more powerful. Let’s not forget the values of love and peace, brotherhood and harmony we fostered at Woodstock.
The festival ended at around eleven that morning. I felt a deep sense of loss, as though a weight was settling in on my shoulders, going straight for my heart, permeating my entire being. I didn’t think I could lift the gloom and escape its clutches. The bare ground, muddy and scarred with garbage, added to that feeling of doom. Like losing the first love of your life. Even a good hit of Red couldn’t drag me out of my funk.
People scattered into the invisibility and safety of their cars and vans, leaving for home. The roads leading out of the farm were clogged, the traffic a caterpillar crawling away into the distance, slowly, as though it would never reach its goal of home. We didn’t want to get out into the mess, so we stayed at the Plumber’s Helper with a few other friends, waiting out the traffic. Someone came by, a long-haired hippy named Joe, and asked us if we’d like to help clean up trash. Of course. It would make the time go by quicker and we were glad to help. And I needed the exercise, I felt I’d been pent up for four days. It was the least I could do to give something back.
So out we went—down over the lip of the hill toward what was left of the stage, straight into the sea of garbage and mud, carrying huge plastic bags. They’d given us gloves and I even found a new pair of shoes that fit me, work boots that I have to this day, fifty years on, sitting in my closet. The trash scene was overwhelming to behold. Once you are married to the daunting idea of doing the whole task in its entirety, it becomes too huge an endeavor, enough to wilt your mind. Made me want to go back to the Plumber’s Helper, sit down and forget about it, get stoned—let someone else do it. But like anything else, if you take the proverbial baby steps and concentrate on the task in front of you, don’t look so far out ahead, then it becomes easier. Zen and the art of garbage. The path is the way. Even in garbage. Especially in garbage. The once-beautiful natural amphitheater now resembled a huge metro landfill.
Crows were landing on old rotted food and cawing. Flying around our heads, Whirlybirds of the sky. I thought of Hitchcock’s The Birds and shuddered. Those dark marauders en masse could have easily chased us away from their feast. I kept going, though, head down, picking up garbage and placing it in the bag. Hours went by in the hot sun, and the day dwindled to a cool burst of rain. We stayed the night. The place was eerily quiet. I almost expected to hear a band light up the night, along with cheering and clapping. Now crickets chirruped as owls and other nocturnal denizens of the night, bumping the darkness, scavenged for trash. We went to sleep early. No party tonight. We were quiet, introspective, exhausted.
On the Road
We left the next morning. The roads were clear and we sped west on back roads, reading maps, got on the Thruway after getting lost a few times in backwater towns. At the Pennsylvania border near Erie, the Thruway turned to I-80. We were on our way. I-80 all the way to Denver. Free and clear. We could have driven it in our sleep.
Sleep is forgetting, sleep is the dream. Dreams are another way to remember. Waking or otherwise. Woodstock was real, but also a dream. The ideals we lived in those four days: peace and love, brotherhood and harmony—melded together by music and pot and otherworldly drugs—some of these ideals would fade over time, especially as a mass movement that came together at Woodstock in 1969. Some of us still carry those ideals that Woodstock represented, in our hearts and in our lives, lest we forget the pot and music that brought us together and changed us forever. Let us not forget.