So you weren't at Woodstock either?
News flash: Most people weren't. You'd never know it from the media coverage this weekend's 25th-anniversary concert's getting, though. Nor from the nostalgia trip marketed all this summer by petty capitalists merchandising rock-and-roll relics in the name of love and peace. Nor from the re-release of a wobbly documentary that for a quarter century has shaped the most vivid bar-stool reminiscences for Woodstock pretenders who never exactly set bare foot near Max Yasgur's farm.
Nothing to be ashamed of. Hipper people than you didn't go. And some bigger doofuses did. All those "Don't Come" warnings on the radio and the TV images of the Catskills' worst traffic jam ever steered a lot of us elsewhere. Most people had better things to do, and the mudslides and skinny-dipping and bad acoustics only sounded better in retrospect.
Half a million went? Big deal. You start counting heads and that's not even a dent in the generation, even if those three days undeniably shaped social history and helped to define a generation of Americans.
But so did other events in the summer of '69. You had to pick which ones you participated in carefully back then. What with the sexual revolution, the Manson Family murders, Chappaquiddick, Richard Nixon's presidency, the Moratorium, the first draft lottery, pool-cue-swinging Hell's Angels at the Altamont Music Festival, 39,893 dead and 1,400 missing in Vietnam, better to err on the side of discretion. And all things being equal, some people would rather have been in Philadelphia.
It's not whether you were there Aug. 15-17, 25 years ago, that matters. What people were doing besides going to Woodstock just might be more telling of the times than the stories -- all now part of a generation's mythology -- of those who went. Here's where some people were instead of Woodstock -- and they don't mind saying so:
Oliver Stone knows something about reinventing cultural icons and buzz events of the recent past. But going to Woodstock was never a consideration. "It was a hot summer. I didn't have a car. And it sounded like a big mess," says the director of "JFK," "The Doors" and the soon-to-be-released "Natural Born Killers," about the crazed media response to a fictional murder spree.
Instead of grooving in Bethel, Stone was holed up in a New York City tenement. "I was struggling away in the East Village, living in the back of a store, writing scripts," he says from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he was traveling last week.
Besides, Stone, who was working then on a rough draft of the screenplay for "Platoon," his Oscar-winning film, recalls his mentality had been more Altamont than Woodstock. "I was making a bumpy transition," he says. "I was just back from Vietnam and had difficulty adjusting. I wasn't really in tune with the Woodstock ethos."
Portrayed in Tom Wolfe's '68 bestseller, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," as head head of the hippie-prototypic acid-testing Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey had become a legend in his own time by the summer of '69. The author of the anti-Establishment novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" thereafter was rumored to be present at virtually every happening, be-in, concert and protest.
But, rumors aside, Kesey wasn't at Woodstock. "We were here at the farm," confirms his wife, Faye Kesey, of the hay-sown acreage near Eugene, Ore. The farm that summer had become the crash pad for about 60 Pranksters, friends and groupies. So when two busloads of them left for the promising rock festival in Upstate New York, the Keseys and their three children stayed put. They posted a sign at the end of the driveway that read "NO!" (meaning don't even ask to hang out). And they got started at getting themselves back to the garden.
"Ken was planning to go," says Faye, speaking for her husband, whose new stage performance, "Twister," has lately kept him on the road. "But there were so many people crowding on the bus. Ken said this is too much."
The first U.S. president with an appreciation for rock 'n' roll, Bill Clinton at 22 might have fit in with the sweaty hallucinating masses at Woodstock. A White House spokesman laughs cautiously at the suggestion: "Heh, heh, no-o-o-o. The president did not go. He was living at home in Hot Springs that summer. He was preparing for what would be his last year at Oxford University" as a Rhodes scholar.
But everything wasn't quite so laid-back for young Bill that August. A week before Woodstock, on Aug. 7, he received a 1-D draft deferment to attend law school at the University of Arkansas, which he wrangled through political connections. He returned to Oxford instead. That fall he made himself available to the draft -- his high number in the draft lottery (311) making it unlikely he'd be called.
One almost would expect perennial rock entrepreneur Dick Clark to have found his way onto a stage boasting so many of the top acts. But the grand master of "American Bandstand" had always been more Jerry Lee Lewis than Jefferson Airplane. Currently in production on two NBC blooper specials, Clark "has no recollection of what he was doing or where he was" at the time, says his publicist.
"Drunk in a bar," replies Winston Groom, when asked where he was. His quick harrumph suggests the answer is in the realm of possibilities, but the author of the novel "Forrest Gump," on which this summer's hit movie is based, is too practiced at the art of inlaying personality into historical context not to try harder. "Actually, I was working for the Washington Star," says Groom, who was a reporter there for seven years. "I was covering the federal courts."
As for Forrest Gump, his low-IQ Southern character with a propensity for gate-crashing history? "That weekend," says Groom, who lives in Point Clear, Ala., "Forrest is in Vietnam with his pal Bubba, planning his shrimp business."
The January before, Broadway Joe Namath got to Super Bowl III. But the closest the goateed and sideburned Joe Willie got to the traffic and rock jams at Bethel was New Haven, where the Jets played an overly ballyhooed preseason game against the crosstown rival Giants.
Author of "Another Roadside Attraction" and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," eclectic psychedelic Tom Robbins says he was in Washington state working on his first novel. "Hey, I was stealing produce out of the fields to survive," says Robbins, whose new novel, "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas," is due out this month. "Eating illegal cabbages and hoping for the best! I was there in spirit but simply too broke to make it across the country."
Vice President Al Gore graduated from Harvard that spring and enlisted in the U.S. Army. "He was in basic training at Fort Rucker in Alabama," says his press secretary.
"I'm sure I was standing here looking at my garden then just as I'm looking at it today," says Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary, who passed on the big concert to stay home at her circa 1740 house in Redding, Conn. Someone asked her to go to Woodstock and she said "God, no!"
Just wasn't her thing. "What I have discovered, lo, these many years later is that there were many '60s," says Travers, who's working on a PP&M album called "Life Journey" for next spring. "There was the '60s filled with people committed to civil rights, to ending the war in Vietnam, to marching in a very organized fashion. And then there was the '60s filled with people who thought it will never change, so let's blow up the bank. There was the '60s of let's drop acid and forget the whole thing. Depends on which '60s you were in."
"I spent the summer with steelworkers," says Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who opted to labor the August before his junior year at Yale at the pipe mill at Sparrows Point -- an experience, he quips, that began his "process of moving to the political center."
Skip Prince isn't sure when he first heard of Woodstock. News of the peace-and-harmony fest barely penetrated the killing jungles and napalm skies near Chu-Lai, where the 20-year-old grunt was serving in the 361st Signal Corps in Vietnam.
"Most of what we heard about anything came from Stars and Stripes, so we heard very little," Prince says of the military newspaper. "The government wasn't going to hype Woodstock. If it wasn't for our reel-to-reel tapes of the Doors, we'd have had no touch with reality."
All things considered, adds Prince, now the proprietor of the Woodstock Inn on the Millstream, in Woodstock, N.Y., he would just as soon have been at Woodstock.
Fresh out of Howard University Law School, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly months earlier began practicing general law at a District firm with her father. Woodstock wasn't on her career billet.
"I was in Washington, D.C., working for the National Journal that summer like a reporter," says humor columnist Dave Barry, then a 22-year-old conscientious objector. "I say 'like a reporter' because I wore a jacket and tie and typed a lot, but I can't remember ever producing anything they actually printed.
"On the radio they were saying don't come, so that was an easy decision for me," he recalls. "Then I got a call from a friend of mine who went, and when he told me about it he didn't mention anything about love or the coming together of generations or the wonderful vibes in the air. He mentioned naked women were walking around everywhere. And here I am -- my big thrill in the course of a day was walking into Senator Everett Dirksen. I've regretted it ever since."
The Republican governor of Massachusetts happens to be a Deadhead. But William Weld missed the Grateful Dead's Woodstock sets because he "was working as a summer associate for a Boston law firm, Hill and Barlow," he says. "My supervisor was Michael Stanley Dukakis."
The month before marked the opening of the phenomenally successful movie "Easy Rider." The story of motorcycle-riding dope-smoking hippie rebels, which Peter Fonda starred in, co-scripted and produced, had profound impact on the so-called Woodstock Generation and has been re-released this summer.
But Henry Fonda's only son couldn't get to Woodstock, despite being tight with the Hog Farm folks who ran the festival's flower-power security force. He was midway through a nationwide tour opening his film. "My gig was doing 'Easy Rider,' " says Fonda, who has written an autobiography titled "Don't Tell Dad," and just completed director David Lynch's film "Nadja," scheduled for fall.
O.J. Simpson, professional football's No. 1 draft choice that year, made his professional debut for the Buffalo Bills that weekend in a preseason loss to the Detroit Lions in Detroit.
Sid Bernstein had dreamed and planned for eight years to resurrect Woodstock this weekend on the same site as the original in Bethel, N.Y. Last week, bummed out by lousy ticket sales, Sid's financial backers backed out. Dream canceled.
"All my friends had gone up to Woodstock," recalls the man who introduced the Beatles to America, then brought the Rolling Stones here soon afterward -- but never made it to Woodstock. "I was in Central Park with my younger children playing. My wife was pregnant with number four and I didn't want to leave home."
Jane Alexander, leading lady of stage, TV and films, now the leading lady at the National Endowment for the Arts, was friends with a Woodstock "producer," but her acclaimed performance on Broadway in "The Great White Hope" kept her in the Big Apple.
Sen. Edward Kennedy was otherwise preoccupied. The incident at Chappaquiddick, in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, occurred a month earlier. An inquest was scheduled for September. News reports and assertions by columnist Jack Anderson fueled speculation of untold wrongdoing -- to which the senator issued regular denials.
"It never occurred to me to go -- partly because I was working and straight out of Squaresville," confesses Dick Cavett, the wry talk show host who in '69 had been promoted as ABC's late-night answer to Johnny Carson. "I don't even know anybody who went to Woodstock. No wait, a guy who was a nudist on my beach in those days ... he went and only remembered one day of it."
Come to think of it, says Cavett, he did in effect get to Woodstock. In special effects. "There I was in the water with the acid heads and the other freaks," he says, recalling film footage of himself dropped into a Woodstock background in "Time Was," a 1979 HBO docu-fiction. "I have visual proof!"
Renegade psychologist Timothy Leary, guru of hallucinogen research, planned to attend but had a conflict. "I was the keynote speaker at a LSD conference at the University of California, San Francisco," says Leary. "Woodstock was well covered with fun lovers anyway. I went out and had a good time afterward."
Never mind his rock-the-boat reputation. Minnesota's Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, were living at her parents' house in Arlington with their kids (ages 3 weeks and 4 years), preparing to move to Minnesota, where he was to start his career as a political science professor.
Scratch astronaut Neil Armstrong from the Woodstock list too. The first man to set foot on the moon (July 21) had been under quarantine with fellow Apollo 11 astronauts until the Tuesday before, to make sure they hadn't carried alien germs back to Earth. Released that week, the trio attracted their own hordes of humanity during ticker-tape parades in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston.
Iron Butterfly was scheduled to play its 17-minute "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" at Woodstock on the second day. But the band got word the day before in New York City that its equipment crew couldn't get through to Bethel. Roads closed. The Who told them they could borrow their amps; Sly Stone promised his keyboards. Woodstock officials said they'd send a helicopter to fetch them. Two days, it didn't show. "We had done all we could do to get there," recalls Lee Dorman, Iron Butterfly's bass player, who currently is regrouping original band members for another tour. "We flew back to L.A. And it's too bad, because it turned out to be the end of an era. It was an historic event."