Mike Jahn

 

A few years back ... well, 29 years back ... the New York Times printed my last bylined article, allowing me to make the accurate if somewhat misleading claim that my career at the paper spanned three decades (first 1968, last 1982). It was about how I hatched 13 snapping turtle eggs in a galvanized iron bucket in my New York apartment. It was my intention to reintroduce snapping turtles to the brook from which the boy me helped extinguish them years earlier, thereby fucking up the food chain. Go to my blog post “OMG, There’s Life Down There!” to get a sense of how it turned out.

 

The Voices of the Turtles are Heard -- at Home

by Michael Jahn

The New York Times Op Ed Page

September 11, 1982

 

For the last few days, 15 snapping turtles have been hatching in a bucket in the living room of my Manhattan apartment. This may require some explanation.

I grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island. Our house was adjacent to a small brook in which could be found what is called, in current lingo, a balanced "ecosystem," which included a number of ducks and snapping turtles. The turtles ate enough ducks to prevent the fowls from fouling up the water with their excrement, as ducks are inclined to do if left unchecked.

Then about 30 years ago, a local zealot with a shotgun, with the connivance of neighborhood youngsters (including, I must admit, myself), systematically wiped out the population of snapping turtles. He liked to feed the ducks on the banks of the stream.

Though they pale in comparison with their cousins, the alligator snapping turtles that inhabit Southern waters, the creatures that once swam behind my childhood home were formidable enough. Given the chance, they grew to be the size of bushel baskets, had ridged shells with sawtoothed edges that made them resemble dinosaurs and were rumored to be capable of biting through a broom handle.

Without snapping-turtle predation, the ducks overpopulated and polluted the stream. There has not been significant housing construction along the stream during the past three decades. so leaching of pollutants from cesspools probably was not much of a factor. We are, in 1982, stuck with a largely stagnant stream choked by plants, pollutant-fed algae and a whole lot of hungry ducks. It has become virtually impossible to approach the brook without being surrounded by dozens of ducks, all begging for bits of stale bread dispensed by a new generation of children who have no idea of the crime committed before they (and, in some cases. their parents) were born.

On the other side of town is another stream, a rather larger one, in the fork of which sits on old estate managed by my aunt and an elderly cousin. 

That stream has a balanced ecosystem, including a thriving population of snapping turtles. It is a closed estate, and zealots with shotguns are frowned upon. 

Every year, on the first rainy dawn following Memorial Day, the female

snapping turtles come out to lay their eggs. The turtles are great, hulking, gray-black creatures, some two or three feet across. not counting appendages. The sight or them lumbering out of the salt marsh, itself shrouded in ground fog, is enough to make the latest Hollywood horror epic seem less frightening than “Annie.” They move slowly across the grounds until they find a soft, sandy spot. There, they dig a hole and deposit in it several dozen eggs. The eggs are round, about an inch in diameter, and their mothers carefully bury them before lumbering back to the water to resume keeping the wildfowl population (and, with it, the ecosystem) in balance.

Last Memorial Day weekend, one especially big old turtle, her biological clock perhaps thrown oft by senility, came out rather late, after the crows were awake. She laid her eggs and left. The crows were about to dig up the nest and eat the eggs when my elderly cousin, who arises even before the crows, chased off the birds, dug up the nest and left it in the bucket that now sits midway between the radiator and my stereo components.

Snapping-turtle eggs typically hatch on a rainy dawn following Labor Day. This summer, 1 faithfully tended the bucket according to the schedule of the rainfall outside the windows. My intention is to reintroduce a dozen or so snapping turtles into the stream from which they were so long ago eliminated, in the hope that one day things will be as they were. I have consulted with several specialists in fresh-water ecology and the general consensus is that I will probably be doing some good, but at least I will be doing no harm.

Upon hearing this tale, a friend commented, “Ha, so you're playing God!" Perhaps so, but I'm also paying the price. The critters, who have for millions of years hatched on schedule, began to hatch early. I imagine the warmer and less-variable temperatures between my radiator and stereo components had something to with it. I was planning to leave for a week's vacation. during which was scheduled the final seaside party of the season. I couldn't just leave the bucket behind, could I? Not with the hungry little things hatching at the rate of one or two a day (11 so far). The bucket had to be brought with me, so I could nursemaid the newborn while listening to the roar of the surf.

A conversation I imagined: “What will you have with your pina colada, sir?"

“Unh ... duck a l’orange for my snapping turtles?"

In my case at least, that is the price of being able to play God.

 

UserpicThe New York Times Writes About Me
Posted by Mike Jahn
03.01.11

December 8, 2010, 8:00 AM

Unguarded Moments: John Lennon in the Studio

By ALLAN KOZINN

In February, 1972, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Elephant’s Memory -- a downtown band with good connections in the antiwar movement -- set up at the Record Plant to begin recording the overtly political “Some Time in New York City” album. The sessions lasted just over a month: Lennon’s idea, at that time, was that recordings should be a form of journalism -- that once he had an idea, he should pop into the studio, record it quickly and with few production flourishes, and get it out.

It was also a fraught time for the Lennons. The FBI had been following them for months, and had informed the Nixon administration that they had been participating in antiwar demonstrations, were spending time with radicals like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and were planning (however vaguely) a tour with an antiwar message. About a week before the sessions began, the government began proceedings to try to have Lennon deported, on the pretext of a 1968 drug conviction in England.

Just before the sessions began, Mike Jahn — then a pop music reviewer for The New York Times (and the first to hold that position), now a novelist and blogger — wrangled an invitation to attend one of the early sessions. (He believes the date was Feb. 22.)

“One of the Elephant’s Memory guys — the drummer, I think — called and said that Lennon was doing his first recording work in this country and did I want to drop in,” Mr. Jahn said in an email. “I had reviewed one of their shows and we shared antiwar politics . I was more political than most of the counterculture reporters of the time, and probably knew a lot of the same people. I presume from what he said that the sessions had already begun. Although there was a lot of getting-acquainted going on in that studio. It just may be that this was the first day. No tracks were laid down while I was there (an hour or two).”

At the studio, Mr. Jahn interviewed Lennon for a short column that did not appear in the paper but was syndicated by Times Special Features. He also shot a roll of film. One picture ran with his column; another was published in the rock magazine Creem. The rest have never been seen, until now. They show Lennon talking with members of Elephant’s Memory, and several shots catch him rehearsing, with the group’s bassist, Gary Van Seyoc, just behind him.

After Mr. Jahn’s column was published, Lennon thought better about having granted the interview and allowing the photographs. He was in the United States, after all, on a visitor’s visa, and was not legally allowed to work — as the photos clearly show him doing. “Lennon freaked out and accused me of playing into the hands of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Jahn said. His own theory, though is that Lennon was upset with him because “after talking to him and taking pictures I went back to the control room and flirted shamelessly with Yoko. I was smitten with her. What do you expect, she was a New York artist. My crowd. She was also very cute and absolutely magnetic. I had the same reaction to her that John did.”

Mr. Jahn is currently working on a memoir. We offer the photos as a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s murder outside the Dakota, on Dec. 8, 1980.

 

 

 


UserpicMy Dad, Bert's Flivver and Dutch Schultz
Posted by Mike Jahn
07.07.10

As I’ve said to the point of exhaustion earlier in this narrative, I learned the ink-flinger’s trade by imitating my respectable and honored newspaperman father. Well, I was going through his papers over the weekend and found the story below. He wrote it for the Long Island Press, in the 1970s the nation’s fourth largest afternoon daily.  As the last act of his career he was editorial page editor. 



The Press was the  third daily newspaper for which he worked that went belly up. The Brooklyn Eagle flatlined in 1956 (there’s a new, smaller version publishing now). The Suffolk Sun kicked the bucket in 1970. After the Long Island Press bought the ranch in 1976, legend has it that my father dropped in on Newsday to meet someone for lunch and the entire city desk rose as one and yelled “get out!”

As for his Dutch Schultz story, I heard it many times while growing up. But I didn’t see the actual print version when it was published in 1974. Those years I  was busy slaughtering trees so as to print “The Six Million Dollar Man” books, which unaccountably were deemed worthy of slaughtering trees for. It recounts an event that occurred during the 1930s, a decade that was to him what the 1960s were to me. It was “storied.” Here’s one.

 

Dutch Schultz Remembered

by Joseph C. Jahn

During the Prohibition era, my town on Long Island was a port of call for rum runners, foreign and domestic. We also had a doctor without portfolio who patched up wounded gangsters.

So it is no wonder that one evening I went to Mike’s Soda Shoppe on Main Street and unexpectedly found myself sitting on a stool next to Dutch Schultz, the gangster, who, history should record, was sipping a chocolate malted.

So was his burly bodyguard, one stool removed, who had a bulge in his right hip pocket that was not caused by a hankie.

Although this was very early in my journalistic career, and my beat was sports, I was sufficiently aware of front page news to know that Dutch was on the lam because a rival thug, Legs Diamond, wished to rub him out.

Also, the Feds, who couldn’t shoot straight on a bet, were looking for Dutch, not because he didn’t keep up with protection payments — a city problem — but because he didn’t pay his Federal income tax.

Therefore, a stool next to Dutch Schultz at that point in time was no place for a clean-cut, well-bred, God-fearing and nervous country boy. So I concluded that I needed a haircut.

From the barbershop I phoned Bert Carey, local reporter and photographer for our mutual employer, the Brooklyn Eagle. Bert joined me almost before I hung up. There followed a stakeout of Mike’s Soda Shoppe, then a cautious tailing of Dutch and his companion to a hideout in an unoccupied mansion in darkest Oakdale

They were in a sleek, high-speed bulletproof Lincoln, we in Bert’s well-ventilated old flivver. Fifteen minutes later they were seated in a darkened room on a sofa facing burning logs in a fireplace, and we were peering through a partly opened window. Bert’s flivver was down the road, it’s motor running, which was a good thing.

“When I nudge you, rap on the window, and then run like hell,” Bert whispered, aiming his camera’s lens toward the shadowy figures. He nudged, I rapped, a flashbulb went off, and I took off for the car, one step ahead of Bert. Moments later we were westbound on Montauk Highway, throttle to the floor. Moments after that we heard the deep-throated roar of a high-powered motor far behind us, but gaining.

Well, I said to myself, this is a fine fix. And it would have been if Bert hadn’t known back roads that led to Bloody Mary’s speakeasy. He drove the flivver in her barn, and we burst into Mary’s kitchen.

“I’ll have a hamburger and a shot of rye,” an unflustered Bert said to a flustered Mary. He had several of both. So did I. Hours later we resumed our journey, taking back roads to Brooklyn, where Bert’s film was processed while he wrote the story.

So it came to pass that the next day the Eagle reported exclusively that Dutch Schultz had been found and had a photo to prove it. Admittedly, the photo was fuzzy, but who wouldn’t have taken a fuzzy picture under those circumstances?

I do not recall that Bert won any prize for that scoop. He certainly didn’t get a raise; just having a job was a triumph in those days. But Dutch Schultz didn’t win anything either. He had paid a good buck to a God-fearing local realtor to rent an old mansion he had to abandon. More important, within a month Dutch was completely deceased, having been rubbed out in a beer joint in New Jersey.

My reward for riding shotgun with Bert? Mike put a gold star on the stool I occupied so briefly that fateful evening. But that too was rubbed out. In fact, it didn’t last as long as Dutch.

 

 

[this story is copyrighted]

 


So there I was working on a bottle of vodka with Paladin, who was wearing a purple muu muu and who was trying to get Liberty Valence on the phone so we all could go shark fishing in Hawaii.

I wrote a syndicated column that the New York Times distributed to every major market except Washington, D.C., which apparently didn’t like me, which was fine with me. Richard Boone was in New York for one reason or another, and a bright-eyed young publicist called me to come meet him in his room at the New York Hilton.

Boone famously played Paladin, the educated, sophisticated and cultured Old West mercenary who hired out to settle disputes, often with a sidearm, in the 1950s series “Have Gun -- Will Travel.” You’ll know the theme:

“’Have Gun -- Will Travel’ reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land.
It’s fast gun for hire he’s the calling wind
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.”

The lyric ignores the fact that Paladin’s home base was a posh San Francisco hotel, where he had a Chinese lackey named Hey Boy and who was sometimes seen as being a dandy. Not that many gunfighters lectured villains on their “rough way of talking” and left calling cards with the chess knight on them and the legend “Have Gun -- Will travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco.”

I don’t remember why Boone’s young PR man invited me to meet him. I only remember the man looking terrified when he opened the door to let me in.

He sat me on the couch. After a few minutes of rustling around in the other room, Boone appeared. He was wearing a floor-length purple muu muu and looked like he had just spent three days in a San Francisco hotel, this one in the Tenderloin.

He said hello and faced me, squinting through a haze, the famous lines on his face looking like trenches. He asked, “Are you a drinking man?”

Those days I was and said so. He trudged back into the other room, and after bit of rustling around, he appeared carrying a bottle of vodka. He slammed it down atop one of those shoulder-height dressers that hotels must buy by the trainload. He stared at the bottle for a minute, then turned back to me and raised an index finger and flashed the “help me out here” look.

I said, “Glasses?”

He said, “Glasses,” and went back into the other room.

After more rustling around he reappeared carrying two glasses. He slammed them down atop the dresser next to the bottle and turned me again. Again came the index finger and the look.

“Ice?” I said.

“Ice,” he replied and went back into the other room. More rustling around. Then he reappeared. He said, “No fucking ice” and poured two glasses of room-temperature vodka.  He downed his, a half glass of it, in one blast. I did the same. I could do that in those days.

Over the lips and past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes.

The PR man went into stage three cardiac arrest.

Anyway, most of the afternoon and most of the bottle later Paladin and I were the best of friends and we were talking about fishing, which I hadn’t done since moving to New York but remembered well enough from having grown up by the sea.

Boone lived on Oahu, explaining both the muu muu and the fishing. He had bonded so closely to his island Pandora that he was offered the role of McGarrett in “Hawaii 5-0.” He turned it down and Jack Lord got the part.

I don’t know why Boone turned it down. Maybe because he would really suck in a pompadour.

Back to fishing. One of his fishing friends was Lee Marvin, who among many roles played the villain in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” with James Stewart and John Wayne. Not too shabby. Marvin was so fond of fishing that he was offered the role of Quint in “Jaws.” He turned it down, and Robert Ryan got the part.

We know why Marvin turned it down. He said "What would I tell my fishing friends who'd see me come off a hero against a dummy shark?"

Well, there’s Paladin on the phone trying to reach his fishing buddy Liberty Valence to introduce him to his new friend Mike Jahn so we all could get on his boat, docked in Oahu, and go shark fishing.

I saw myself adrift in shark-filled waters with the two biggest drunks in Hollywood. I don’t remember the rest of the Richard Boone episode except that I went home to write it up for my column. I didn’t wind up eaten by a shark and neither did Lee Marvin. What happened to Paladin I don’t recall.

I hope he found ice.

 

 

 


Editorial
UserpicThis story about Leonard Cohen has sex in it.
Posted by Mike Jahn
22.09.09
 

I remember Leonard Cohen well from the Chelsea Hotel. This story has sex in it.

Not between me and him. Between him and a woman friend of mine who I’ll call S. To be honest, though, there was no sex in that there was no happy ending in the traditional sense. She was hardly a blushing flower and in fact had the terrible habit of picking up guys in the subway. She picked up him in the Spanish restaurant that I believe still sits downstairs. They went up to his room, but she wasn’t equipped to deal with the prodigious size of Cohen’s member. She couldn’t complete the act.

No wonder his songs are so bitter.

If the act was completed by the usual other means, she didn’t say. All I know is that the blow job described in his song “Chelsea Hotel #2” was delivered by Janis Joplin.


In the early 1990s he did an interview in which this Q & A occurred:

“Who are your best male friend and your best female friend?”

“My 12-inch dick.”

According to S, that was no exaggeration.

Now, how does that take us to me? In the early 1970s, probably 1972, I interviewed  him at the Chelsea Hotel, which is famous as the place where rock stars stayed while playing New York as well as for being the hostelry where hip New York guys scurried off to while escaping wives and girlfriends. Or to murder them, as in Sid and Nancy.

And a host of literary figures too, something that is easily found on Google.

Cohen didn’t give interviews those days, but he gave one to me, probably because I wrote a good review of one of his concerts either that year or the one before in the New York Times. I met him in his room, the same room he took S. The Chelsea rented out a large proportion on a semi-permanent basis to artists.

They rented one to me for a summer, but I didn’t stay longer than that. I left after making a mistake while lighting the gas oven and blowing myself across the room and burning all the hair off the front of my body. Luckily I had pants on.

When I took the room I had the choice of either an air conditioner or a set of the famous French doors opening on the famous wrought iron balcony. Of course I took the doors. It was wretched hot in the summer of 1971 and I slept with the doors open. The guy next door, also a long-term renter, had two golden retrievers who had the run of the balcony and used to visit me with their wet noses in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, I grew up on a farm and was accustomed to wet noses.

So, Leonard Cohen. I went up to his room, which was on the opposite side of the building from me, the south side. He had one of the artists’ (artists as in painters) rooms into which amazing light poured through large windows.

The room was single and large. The only furniture was a small kitchen table with two straight-backed chairs, and a bed, which was unmade. There was smoke and dust in the room, and a vertical shaft of brilliant light bisected the room, making the smoke and dust glow like a light saber. Leonard took the two chairs and arranged them facing one another, looking across the shaft of light.

Tell me about theater.

That was how we talked. We talked about his habit of using real peoples’ names in his songs. There was a Suzanne. There was a Marianne. And we talked about a song he had just written, “Chelsea Hotel #2.” As you recall, the first verse goes

“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.

“Those were the reasons and that was New York,
we were running for the money and the flesh.
And that was called love for the workers in song
probably still is for those of them left.”

He recited the verse to me, adding emphasis at two points. When the line came about the unmade bed, he nodded in the direction of the unmade bed. And when he recited “that was called love for the workers in song, probably still is for those of them left,” he gave me a little smile and a knowing look.

There were few workers in song left in the early 1970s, few good lyricists. He sensed that I knew. New York Times rock critics are expected to know these things. The disappearance of them was one reason I gave up the rock beat a few years later to write mystery and suspense novels. What workers in song were there? Give me a good literary analysis of “YMCA.”

The complaint thought stuck with him. Much later, in the song “The Future,” he mentioned “the lousy little poets comin' round tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson."

So Leonard Cohen of the enormous talent and even bigger dick was really ticked off about how few if any others could match him, at least in the first.

We hit it off, and when we were done talking he locked up the room and, without luggage which I presume he sent ahead, he got into a cab for Kennedy Airport. He was on his way to the Aegean, where he either had a place or stayed with someone and doubtless there was a Suzanne or somebody else to write songs about. I took his picture in the back seat and he dropped me off in Midtown, where I worked.

I never saw him again. I never saw S again either. I have picture of both. But not together, which would have been priceless.

 

Today we had a sumptious lunch for two at a Pakistani restaurant ($27), bought seven scarfs and four dresses from an Indian shop ($5 and $8, respectively, and picked up a wheelie cart from a Bangla Deshi across the street ($18). Satisfied that we weren't American undercover cops, he steered us to a guy from Guinea in West Africa. He took us a couple of blocks away and to the top floor of an office building. He led us into his inventory room and sold us two Dolce & Gabana bags for $25 each. All this in two hours in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, specifically Broadway and 30th, aka Blade Runner East. Do I love New York or what?

And the Republicans say that immigrants are bad for the American economy! These were the best bargains since Wall Street sold millions of bargain mortgages.


UserpicThe Kennedy Family and Me
Posted by Mike Jahn
28.08.09

I took a picture of JFK when I was 17 and working as a photographer for the Suffolk County News. That's Suffolk County in New York and not the one in Boston, though the latter might be more appropriate.

It was the end of the 1960 campaign when he flew into McArthur Airport and addressed a small rally by climbing atop a car. You could climb atop cars in 1960. You also could be an unknown teenage photographer with no press credentials and walk up to the future President carrying a large metal box, specifically a Crown Graphic camera of the sort stereotypically associated with the press photographers of the time.

Crown Graphics and their larger brethren, Speed Graphics, were on their way out, being replaced by single lens reflexes. But not entirely replaced. My fellow photographer Carl used one to get through crowds and police lines at murders, using the thing to bully people out of the way. He did this shouting "press!" And when he got to the scene of the crime he would put down the Graphic and whip a Leica out of his shirt pocket and get the shot of the corpse.

I couldn't afford a Leica or a SLR, but I had a hand-me-down Graphic. I climbed onto the car next to JFK's, and all of seven or eight feet away from him took that shot. Soon after, I processed it in the darkroom I had built into my bedroom closet and brought the print to my dad, who was editor of the Suffolk County News. He paid me $2. That's about the equivalent of $20 today.

I could have killed Kennedy. Three years later someone else did just that, and from much further away. I didn't even shake his hand, though he thrust it in my direction later on when we both were down off our car roofs and he was walking down a reception line of sorts. "Shake his hand, shake his hand," my father yelled. But I was working. And carrying a Graphic, which wasn't easily put down in the middle of a crowd. I was afraid that someone would trip over it. My father shook JFK's hand. He was accustomed to presidential familiarity. Four years earlier he drank bourbon with Harry Truman See "Jimi, Harry, and Me"

Thus developed my special bond with the Kennedy dynasty. In 1967 and in my first year in Manhattan I became press guy for a tiny organization called Citizens for Kennedy and Fulbright. We entered Bobby's name in the 1968 New Hampshire, starting the full-tilt phase of his presidential campaign. Six months later he was dead, shot by a disaffected nobody as was his brother. 

You know, maybe if I had kicked JFK off that Ford instead of just taking his picture he would have broken a leg and had to drop out if the presidential race and would still be alive. Lee Harvey Oswald would have shot Njxon instead, saving the world a lot of aggravation. If I dad skipped politics and spent 1967 smoking weed and listening to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with my friends Bobby would still  be here. 

I am a terrorist.

I just now shed a tear over Teddy. He was special, he outlived the rest by decades. 

 

1 comment 1 comment ( 1491 views )

Features
Userpic'It was a time of euphoria and devastation'
Posted by Mike Jahn
09.08.09

I've been beating up on the legend of Woodstock pretty good lately. As much as I downplay the value of the festival itself, I’ve never doubted the accomplishments of that generation. It showed that mass action can stop a war, it launched the organic food and healthy living movement, and in its quest for global information sharing (as in The Whole Earth Catalog), set the tone for the creation of the Web.

Bruce Pollock has written 12 books on music, interviewed a couple of hundred musicians, written several hundred lyrics, turned out at least 100 columns for a newspaper in New York, produced nearly a hundred record compilations, founded and edited exactly 100 issues of a top music magazine, and published an annual reference book on songs for 17 years. He wrote the following in celebration of his book, “By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock Revolution of 1969.”

“It was a time of euphoria and devastation, freedom and assassination, revolution and retribution, moonwalks and sit-ins, love-ins and race riots, sex, drugs and guns. It was the 1960s. The Kennedy coronation in 1960 promised glamour, hope and change; the return of Richard Nixon in 1968 ended all that silliness. In state after state idyllic college campuses became terrorist cells, inner cities went up in flames, families were torn asunder, as the drumbeat of

“Popular music tried to drown out the drums of war. Graduating from high school in 1963 and ‘64 and ’65, the rock and roll of sock hops and malt shops, surfing and going steady gave way to an edgier, angrier sound, foretelling the end of innocence and the eve of destruction. For the first rock generation, the times were a-changing and we wanted the world…now! Starting late in 1966, FM radio carried this message from coast to coast, working its way up from underground, on the back of the expanding album market, with AM radio and the 45, the outmoded status quo, giving way in its wake. Through the visions and violence of 1968, the cracks in the dream turning to chasms, it held out the last remaining olive branches of hope—or was it refuge—to its burgeoning constituents, broadcasting the music of the future from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & the Family Stone, the Doors, the Dead, the Airplane, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Mother Earth, Moby Grape, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Velvet Underground, the Mothers of Invention, the MC5, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, Funkadelic and the Fugs.

“After sitting out the decade on the sidelines, Richard Nixon’s mission upon election was to restore order to the chaos, even if, as his crony in the governor’s mansion in California told a cheering throng, “It took a bloodbath.” And so, as the bloody year of 1969 unfolded, Aquarius fell on the counter culture. While the crucial musicians still issued albums like manifestos, as their draft eligible brothers tried to live the music in the streets, the government escalated its assault, here and overseas.

“Holding to the last to the music that was supposed to set them free, at one mad outdoor party after another, from Miami to Denver and from Woodstock to Altamont, at least it could be said, and nowhere better than in this blistering book, that a generation went down swinging.”

He’s wrong on that last point. That generation isn’t gone. Every time you vote in opposition to the Iraq War or munch an organic carrot while surfing the Web, you’re feeling its influence.

 


News
UserpicMy New York Times Woodstock 'Popcast' Is Up
Posted by Mike Jahn
08.08.09

Earlier this week I was one of three reporters who covered the Woodstock Festival 40 years ago to sit down and audio roundtable “popcast” that the Times Recorded. I wrote in another post that it was going up. Well, it’s up. And here it is.

 

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/weekly-popcast-woodstock-at-40/


 

Woodstock was the senior prom of the sixties. It was the time to dress up, give your gal a corsage, get wacked and escort her to the place where the music was.

Well, more or less.

I just got home from my old haunt, Culture News at the New York Times. To mark the upcoming 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the Times recorded a podcast featuring three of the team of reporters who covered it back in 1969, Mike Kaufman, Bernard Collier and me, moderated by chief rock critic Jon Pareles. The podcast will be
available on the Times site on Friday, August 14. The print coverage will be in the Sunday, August 9, paper.

I was the youngest of the three reporters on the panel, and ironically the one who didn’t think the event was majestic. I’ve said this before: the future did not open up, spilling forth wonderfulness onto the generation that will save the world. What opened up was the skies, pouring water onto acres and acres of sodden souls forced to spend three days sitting in mud.

Mike’s take on Woodstock featured the thought that drugs were the attraction, the possibility of sampling new and better ones. Bernard focused on the generally overlooked, very good point that the birth control pill had only begun to achieve widespread adoption at the time we all hitched and walked to the garden. I recalled those black and white photos of Civil War battlefields with bodies laying in the mud.

I did not spend my three days there with the folks doing the stuff that became folklore – bathing nude in that lake, having dramatic acid catastrophes, or hanging at the rock celebrity drug den. I spent the whole time with the huddled bodies in the fields, the 90% who would have left after a day had there existed the opportunity to do so.

And I also filed stories, three of them as I recall, commenting about  the bands that appeared as well as noting the fact that barely anyone was close enough to the stage to hear them. This was not what went into the mythology created by an adoring press, members of whom spent most of their time on dry land with food and drugs. Not the Times guys of course. We worked.

New York deejay and splendid music scene observer Pete Fornatale, with whom I once shared WNEW-FM in New York (I did a brief stint as a DJ; I was awful), has just published “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock” (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone). “Back to the Garden” is the best book ever written on Woodstock. From his base at New York’s WFUV-FM, Pete and his son Pete Junior assembled observation from just about all the performers and other participants, including me.

Quoth Pete Townshend, “Woodstock was horrible. Woodstock was only horrible because it went so wrong. It could have been extraordinary. I suppose with the carefully edited view that the people got through Michael Wadleigh’s film, it was a great event. But for those involved in it, it was a terrible shambles. Full of the most naïve, childlike people. We have a word for them in England. Twits.”

In an interview, Pete Fornatale offered this of Woodstock: "On the downside, the seeds for its destruction were planted even as the event unfolded: recognition by Corporate America that there was a lot of money to be made from these 'kids' ; the so-called "Woodstock Laws" that went into effect almost immediately making it almost impossible that anything remotely like it could ever happen again; and now, in a post-9/11 world, it can certainly never happen again. So there were a lot of unfulfilled promises in the 40 years since Woodstock."

But he added,  "Apart from everything else you can say about it, Woodstock made us feel the rapture of being alive. It’s time to get back to the garden."

Well, okay. But keep this in mind while suffering through the onslaught of Woodstock mythology we will get in the next few weeks -- if Woodstock was a garden, realize that gardens also have a lot of downpours and a lot of mud.