Woodstock State of Mind

August 31, 2009 at 3:30 am , by

woodstock1I went to see Taking Woodstock this weekend, and I have a “back in time” crush. Not on Elliot, the kid (played by Demetri Martin) whose true story inspired the Ang Lee film—although he’s pretty cute. No, my crush is on Michael Lang, the curly-haired Zen hero in a leather vest who really made those three muddy-but-peaceful days of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll come together. And he troubleshoots throughout—come what may—with that same calm, sexy grin. Sigh. As I flash back to my smart, geeky bookworm, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In-watching kid self of 1969, I know I would have been totally, totally, oh-my-god so in love with Michael Lang.

lang1I’ve been in a fervor of nostalgia for the summer of ’69 since I read Lang’s fascinating behind-the-scenes book The Road to Woodstock (I recommended it in the August LHJ). He really did wear that vest throughout. He really did ride a horse through the mud like a white knight. And the young actor who plays him in Taking Woodstock (Jonathan Groff) looks exactly like him, according to the pictures in the book. In fact, Lang still looks pretty good today (that’s him, at left).

Taking Woodstock would feel a little narrow and claustrophobic, I’m afraid, if I hadn’t also just watched the director’s cut of the Academy Award-winning 1970 documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music. The trio of book, documentary and new film provide a nice overview for the Woodstock aficionado, which I obviously am. A couple of things that struck me:

• While I don’t admire the drug use, I respect the idealism and passion of the attendees, who really wanted to make a difference. The tough times of this recession have brought many people back to basics, and in some ways, maybe that’s a good thing.

• A lot of the music holds up. It was only the second time Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had ever played before a live audience, and their harmonies on “Suite Judy Blue Eyes “ were passionate and poignant. I always bemoaned that the Beatles weren’t there and thought Joe Cocker was a spaz, but man, that version of “A Little Help From My Friends” was genius. Santana’s signature guitar sound soared. Sly Stone really got the crowd going. And that searing, blistering national anthem by Jimi Hendrix still brings chills. Too bad almost everyone was gone by the time he played it.

• Most teens I know today could not exist for three days in a rainy, muddy field with little food, water or plumbing and no cell phones, computers or iPods–let alone find the beauty in this situation.

• In 1969, it seems, almost no one was overweight. I can’t help thinking our sedentary teens who spend hours a day in front of screens and devices might benefit from some up-close human contact, dancing and singing and “groovin’” together in a crowded, muddy field.

Lang had to leave right after the event to face the Wall Street money guys, who’d basically lost their shirts on what ultimately became a free concert. In his book he recalls taking off in a helicopter over the vast sea of mud: “As we turn east, I spot something near the front of the stage: an immense peace sign. It’s made up of garbage—shoes, blankets, cans, bottles, papers, T-shirts, sleeping bags and watermelon rinds. The kids who have stayed to help with the cleanup have created this symbol of what we all hope will be our legacy.”

Now that’s far out.

5 Responses to “Woodstock State of Mind”

  1. Great observations, particularly about the bodies; obviously no one was swilling high-fructose corn syrup back then. I’m still in denial that it was 40 years ago and I can remember it.


  2. Great post! It almost made me wish I’d been at Woodstock. Almost. The embarrassing truth is, I’m much more into 1959 than 1969. Also I would hate being muddy.


  3. Heard good things about the movie, I so want to see it now after reading this review!


  4. It really was an amazing time ‘way back then’. And, as you say, the music still holds up. I reach for many of those CDs time and time again and will probably make my way to see the movie.


  5. I was Michael Lang’s assistant in 69 at Woodstock and I can truly say all the characters in real life were so much more charismatic and powerful than those portrayed in the Ang Lee movie. Also when people took their clothes off, it was to get clean, in the lake or take wet clothes off, to stay warmer or dryer. Once in a while it was to make love, but the real life scene seemed so much more natural and innocent than the movie which portrayed it all for effect.
    Mamie Gummer did a good job without ever meeting me.
    Michael in real life was a master manifestor in 69. He told me
    “There is no such thing as scarcity,”
    The best part of the “Taking Woodstock” movie was the crowd coming in more and more and more That was pretty true to life.