The light is always brightest after pain is released. You see things clearer in the glow; feelings are more intense and lasting, heightened. Something you didn’t care a whit about suddenly moves you to tears. A snail making its way through traffic, reaching the other side without being crushed. You’d need to stand there two weeks to watch it, though. Or weed that didn’t do anything for you yesterday, but blows your head off today—along with your mind. For the longest time, I felt pain and frustration thinking about Woodstock, because it seemed I had no chance of going. If I didn’t get there, I’d regret it the rest of my life. I had no money, no car, no friends who were going. Hitchhiking seemed beyond the pale. Woodstock was so far away, through a rough and tumble world.
The sixties, in a lot of ways, were rough and tumble, especially looking back at the decade through the lens of today’s political climate. There wasn’t much light shining in our world back then, not with the way things were. The sword of Damocles was forever hanging over our heads. When I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I yearned to be a traveler on one of those wooden ships on the water, very free and easy…easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be…I wanted to sail from the Grey Havens to the magical kingdom in the sea, where the elves lived beyond Middle Earth; wanted to sail with Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond on one of those wooden ships. Free and easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be…I wanted to set sail to Woodstock, where I could put my beliefs to practice. Sail with the wind at my back. If Gandalf and the rest wanted to join me, then that would be fine, too. I needed to escape Mordor and the Orcs.
In the winter and spring of 1969, drug agents were cracking down on pot. We tried to be careful where and when we smoked, and we chose our friends carefully. I heard of friends of friends getting busted. Court dates and lawyers. Narcs were everywhere. So were their sidekicks, the Orcs, the ones that found you out and hunted you down. You went to a party, and if you saw anyone suspicious, you had to back off, had to go smoke somewhere else. Narcs, yeah, and the Orcs, they were everywhere. At least, we thought so. A narc could be anyone—your neighbor, or a friend of a friend. Even a close friend. We suspected everyone and no one. You couldn’t be too careful. Paranoia seemed to be the leading emotion of the times. Lead with fear and you beget fear. You lived with it and it lived with you—like a cockroach crawling over your body on its way to the garbage. Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Here in Mordor.
The winter and spring of 1969 gave birth to Tet 1969, one year after the original Tet Offensive in Vietnam. In September of that year Ho Chi Minh died of heart failure, and the deaths in that dark war exceeded those of Korea. I had the date of August 15th, 1969, circled in my mind. I didn’t have a calendar on the wall, or a red marker. Most of the time I was off the wall, and had no space for what was coming or going inside me. All I needed was music, drink and pot. In no particular order. All of it soothed my weary soul.
The music of the time shot into our consciousness and stayed long afterwards, the pot heightening and widening the bandwidth, making the experiences weirder, yet more accessible. I could understand life a little more deeply and clearly when I smoked pot, in a way that changed my consciousness, changed me as person, made me less aggressive and more accepting of others. I don’t know what drug could have taken its place in our counterculture and been as beneficial. Its effect on the love and peace movement cannot be denied. Gentle enough not to cause adverse reactions, at least in me, pot opened me up and held the pain of the world at bay. My mind became a new frontier to explore. 1969 was a very good year and a very bad year. The yin and the yang. That’s life. We were free and easy when we could be—if we wanted to be. Woodstock would be a high point, the point of light at the end of the tunnel that only grows larger as you move toward it, not away from it, where for four days in August of 1969 on Max Yasgur’s farm, my pain would be released. If I could get away from Mordor on a wooden ship.