August 13, 2009
Story by Ken Krayeske, Photos by Michael Taylor • 1:30 AM EST
Naked man, why are you standing on your head? It must be Woodstock '94...
EExactly 15 years ago, I went down to Woodstock II, which should have been titled: "Corporate Music Fest." Woodstock II was a television ready anniversary event in a culture that loves to celebrate the passing of time.
So in honor of that, I dip back into my journal from August 1994, and dedicate this column to thoughts on memory, music, money and Woodstock II in Saugerties, NY.
A few months after I graduated from college, I got fired from one of many temp jobs, this one from a bank credit servicing center. My boss, the wife of a bass player in a local rock-n-roll jam band, told me I wasn't "vanilla" enough. What am I rocky road? Mint chocolate chip?
An executive I met in another temp job needed someone to cut a stack of kiln dried scrap wood into 18" pieces for his wood stove. So this recently divorced guy with a sweet mansion in the country paid me $8 an hour cash to cut two metal banded cords of sawmill shavings - 3/4", 1" and 2" thick sticks of hardwoods - maple, ash, cedar and oak - with a dull chainsaw.
I sawed until my arms wanted to go on strike. But I earned enough to go to Woodstock. A ticket for the three day festival cost $144. I went with a friend from college and his buddy from Australia.
From the journal: "Even at the first rest stop out of New York City at 3:30 in the morning, I felt tense. By 5:30 a.m. we were sitting in a massive line, waiting to get on a bus from the parking lot to the festival site. We showed our tickets, and they checked our bags for guns or drugs. They missed the ounce of weed I was carrying. Oh well. People started throwing things in the sky - bananas, frisbees, beer cans, footballs, tennis balls, socks. Other people wanted to tip over the mobile security trailer. "
After the security checkpoint, we boarded a school bus to go to the concert site, which put us in a location where we were at the mercy of the forces running the show. I spent $104 on food and souvenirs. At least $40 of my expenses was turned into scrip money - Woodstock coined its own cash. Unfortunately, I couldn't use the scrip for the $200 I spent on weed that August weekend.
Woodstock scrip money.
From my notebook: "Expensive food and its own money based on American currency, all for the benefit of corporate paymasters. A thriving black market of alcohol ($6 a can, $50 cases of beer)."
I know my expenses because I tracked the cost for three days of peace, love and music in my journal. My notebook explained: "The hippies cash in. I tire of being the hippies' slave children: to their fears and unresolved doubts, to their nostalgia trips, to their money making schemes, pyramids and bad television, to the apathy and their lack of faith, to their unresolved sexualities. A bequeathment of gifts I could do without."
Shortly thereafter, in 1995, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and punk rock legend Mike Watt came out with the song "The kids of today should defend themselves against the 70s/it's not reality/just someone else's sentimentality/it won't work for you."
Corporate entertainment giant Warner Brothers figured out that the original Woodstock in 1969 was marketable as a movie, and the movie made a bundle, thus stadium rock was born.
So if the first Woodstock marked a rite of passage for a peaceful community that, in essence, dictate what the market would sell, Woodstock II demonstrated that the market was in control.
At Woodstock I, police and national guardsmen helped provide free food, breakfast in bed for 400,000, as wavy gravy said. At Woodstock II, the corporate community demanded its wages for your sustenance.
More from my journal in 1994: "The difference between the two is self-mutilation. All the problems of a 300,000 person third world nation, rank sewage, mud addled, impassable roads, and flooded housing. Man made environmental disasters like lakes and mudslides. Land resettlement problems (where do people go after their tents were washed away?).
Mud people waiting to slide down a hill after the rains at Woodstock '94.
"Imagine that the north stage was a baseball diamond. Tents are in the outfield, and beyond the homerun fence. People in the outfield and infield, port a potties in the bullpens. People camped in the outfield led to overcrowding and tension."
I didn't go to Woodstock III at an abandoned air force base. I had seen Phish concerts at similar air force bases, and it wasn't as much fun as a giant field. The crowds at Woodstock III rioted, burned down kiosks and raped women because bottles of water cost $5. Prices were too high for the captive consumer audience. Until it rained at Woodstock II, it felt like people were ready to burn the place down.
When it started pouring down during the Henry Rollins Band set in the middle of Saturday afternoon, the mud took over.
"During Rollins band, 20 feet from mosh pit in front of the first soundboard, watching people walk out of the pit in pain from the head banging during the hard rain," I wrote to myself. "Noticing the beer and pretzels party aspect of the wet rain with the kissing couple who might have stopped because I looked at them, they would've *&^%ed during the first Woodstock."
If the first Woodstock - a pseudo event to some, a manufactured happening - even with its cultural signifiers of naked awareness, freedom and honesty, the second Woodstock was hidden, muddy fear, splashing conformity and outright assholism.
My journal notes that someone stole a man's wheelchair to have something to sit on in a tent. Another person I know actually peed in a cup and threw it on people dancing.
Rather than fight the mud and water, some people coated themselves in the brown goo, and formed a tribe. More from the journal: "'This one's for Mom. Mooommmm. MOOOMMMMMMM!'
"And he stood on his head. His naked body toppled over backwards into the mud with a thump. People clapped, cheered and watched.
"Mud people, mud people, mud people. The hordes ran by, congo-line style, chanting mud people mud people mud people. One genuflected with an outstretched arm in front of me, offering me the fruit of mudism. But I declined. I was just getting over catholicism. I wasn't sure I wanted to convert to dirt."
Trent Reznor, the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails (who in 1994 toured with the Fakirist, self-mutilation freaks of the Jim Rose Circus - who ate light bulbs, swallowed razor blades and laid on beds of nails), Reznor coated himself in mud at Woodstock, hit his head with the microphone and sang "Happiness is Slavery."
At the time, I reflected: "Songs of dismemberment, and death, *&^ing like animals and dogs will hunt. Mud people hide their facial features, the anonymity and freedom of being away from who you are, bonding with the planet, mud masks. Maybe they got better skin out of it."
Man sleeping, with a flag, in the mud.
Sure, the music was fantastic, and there were more people than you could grasp. But something about it to this day rings hollow. In the days before the cellphone, meeting up with people was impossible. I tried to meet my sister Kathy twice, but the line for the payphone was outrageous. When I did call home to make a meeting spot, my parents told me they watched Woodstock on MTV, looking for us.
In 1969, my parents got stuck in traffic on the Taconic during the first Woodstock, on their way to a football clinic in the Poconos. My sister Kathy would've been four. I wrote: "Kathy had the time of her life at this Woodstock. Vinny ate mud on TV. Mom was shocked."
In heavy MTV rotation at the time was Soundgarden's heavy metal song "Black Hole Sun," a supplication to wash away the rain. My mom didn't get it.
From my journal: "I tried to relate the atom bomb fear has turned into something beyond nihilism, where the pain of everyday borders on the self-mutilation. Porno for Pyros Rock-n-Roll circus - two lesbians, a trapeze artist and a white-faced clown with a straight razor, slicing up his left and his right wrist, to his shoulder, the six-pack on his belly, ear to ear across his adam's apple and across his forehead. You could've faked something like that, but I don't think he did.
"Four major newspapers mentioned the trapeze artists and the lesbians, but not the blade wielding psycho drawing his own blood (on stage)." Perry Farrell, the lead singer of Porno for Pyros, provided the soundtrack: "I came home last night there was fire and smoke on the tv/cops and the army/people running out in the street looting."
Recycling a message? That's the author in the yellow rain jacket at the top of the peace sign. Did I mention that it was muddy? And that I wore sandals all weekend?