In the St. Elmo's fire of 400,000 matches, held up like flags by hippies, Yippies and floder children, Woodstock Nation saw both its establishment and its final consummation.
There was no Woodstock II, either the next summer or a decade later; there was only Altamont. There was more war; racism and sexism, too, survived the three-day onslaught, Woodstock is not forgotten, but it is gone. The original children of Woodstock are flung far, wide and invisible across the face of an increasingly conservative America. Jerry Brown is no Jerry Rubin. And 10 years later, we look back almost in awe to that mystical weekend of "peace and music in the country."
Several new books have taken advantage of the festival's 10th anniversary to try to explain it. Some are constructed as magical memory tours for the faithful, and others as "histories" for those who came after. (Where is that one true child of Woodstock, now 10 years old, born on the festival grounds?)
Each of these volumes bears the stamp of its author's background like a registered trademark, which in some cases is not an advantage.
"Barefoot in Babylon,' by longtime music industry observer Robert Spitz, is probably the best of these histories, wide-angled and based upon interviews with a number of the festival's planners and participants.
Spitz's descriptions of the days of the concert are concise and evocative as is his journalism in general. His personal knowledge of the industry adds depth to his comments about the personalities and practicalities involved. a
Spitz's detailing of the financial wheeling, dealing and dazzling that went on beforehand, running well over half the book, may surprise some readers and take some of the edge off the "spontaneity" of the legend.
"Woodstock Festival Remembered" is a magazine-sized paperback mixing photographs of the festival site and performers with two essays. One, by Michael Lang, one of the four original partners in Woodstock Ventures, has a peculiarly fish-eyed approach, Lang is at the center of everything, and therefore some of the serious problems that arose in the administrative offices during the festival while Lang was backstage tripping and "grooving" are downplayed.
Jean Young, who still lives in Woodstock, has written a more even-handed essay in which the subjectivity enhances, rather than obscures, the subject. Young's style, however, is sometimes just short of breathless.
Although it is not specifically a Woodstock book, "A Generation in Motion" says the most, the most intriguingly, about the rise and fall of the Nation. Pichaske, a professor and the editor of Spoon River Quarterly, has taken a critical approach to the music of the '60s. Although his opening remarks are still and absurdly shallow -- especially when he accuses the '50s generation of simplistic attitudes -- the real body of the book is extraordinarily moving.
In the section on protest music, for example, Pichaske has assembled the lyrics of some of the finest writers of the '60s -- Bob Dylan. Phil Ochs, Grace Slick and Paul Kanter, Paul Simon, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Steve Stills Buffy Ste. Marie, Country Joe McDonald, Lennon and McCartney -- and juxtaposed them with the words and writings of Martin Luther King, Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey, James Baldwin. The quotes, Pichaske's explications, parenthetical remarks and updates crash together in an essay that has more of the fire and motion of the '60s than either of the Woodstock Histories. "A Generation in Motion" is a skillful evocation of a period in which rock music was the primary art form of a social revolution.
Don Snyder's photographic "Aquarian Odyssey," is superbly reproduced, sometimes fascinating and occasionally hackneyed.
Snyder, currently on the faculty of New York's School of Visual Arts, his mixed sheer color extravagenzas, like photos of head shops filled with black-light posters, with distinctive portraits of Timothy Leary as the flowered knight on a white horse and the late Charles Mingus in Hawaiian shirt and bandoleros: the "psychedelic bandito."
Among the highlights of this collection: a tawny dreamlight photo of a mother and daughter in an auto junk yard; a Hassidic-dark, sandaled stranger on a rain-wet Connecticut road; four barefoot children under the mushrooming shadows of two adult-sized umbrellas; a gold-painted woman and two silver-sprayed men, nude and gleaming in the Berkshires; and a "human mandala," eight nudes, face down in the clover, arms intertwined in a Bushby Berkeley pattern.