Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Twelve Thoughts On Woodstock

ONE

My father said he was there, but none of us believed him. Dad also told us that he was at the final game of the 1969 World Series; we did believe that. His Woodstock story consisted did consist entirely of “We walked around, and it was disgusting, so we went back to the bungalow colony.” That did sound like him.

TWO

A golf course. Woodstock was birthed on the second green, fleshed out by the turn, and the papers were signed at the 19th Hole. A couple rich kids, and then a guy who worked at a head shop. Not one clue between the three.

THREE

Woodstock caused Altamont just as the First World War One caused the Second World War Two. The presence of the former necessitated the existence of the latter. In a lot of ways, Sha Na Na’s set can be likened to the Treaty of Versailles.

FOUR

Here’s some film of the Dead in Bethel.

Woodstock was not in Woodstock. There was no location suitable for the crowds in Woodstock, so the concert was to be held in Wallkill, which is around 40 miles from Woodstock, but the good people of Wallkill chased the hippies out, and so the festival was held in a town called Bethel, which is around 40 miles from Wallkill. All of these towns are in the Catskill Mountains.

Air conditioning beat back the summer, but cities used to simply surrender. Paris still does. Your only chance in the heat was to flee the concrete oven with her radiating tenements and sizzling stoops. Get out of town! The folks in Philly took the train to Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore. Bostonians trekked out to the Cape. But New Yorkers had vacation options. Class-based of course. The rich folks went to the Hamptons. Still do. The Jews went to the Catskills, where it was cool and there was a lake every twenty feet. (Minnesota gets all the attention when it comes to lake-having, but I feel like New York State gets slept on. Unbelievable number of lakes Upstate.)

There were Communist summer camps for the kids; and bungalow colonies for the broke, or outdoorsy, or artistic; and boarding houses (most of them thoroughly Communist, as well). The hotels were king; they were the absolute and unquestioned center of Jewish life in New York for two or three generations. My parents courted at the most expensive hotel my dad could afford at the time, which was the Nevele. There was Kutsher’s, and the Concord, and Brown’s, and a dozen other resorts, each self-contained of its own food, lodging, and fun. This was necessary, as most of the guests had taken trains up, and were forced to stay on your property.

Grossinger’s was the biggest, and–like all the others–was full service. Dining room sat 3,000. Bill Graham waited tables there as a kid. Two mammoth swimming pools, indoor and out. Tennis and golf and all that shit, obviously. Summertime ice rink, which was impressive in the 1950’s, and a huge staff featuring employees whose sole job it was to entertain you. Bingo caller. Each hotel had a star Bingo caller. There was also a job called a tummeler, which is Yiddish for “pain-in-the-ass, but funny.” The hotel would pay someone just to hang around the pool cracking jokes and starting games of Simon Says.

(Simon Says was incredibly important at resorts in the Catskills. I can’t explain it. Put a bunch of Jews in nature, and intensely competitive games of Simon Says will break out. Jews fucking love Simon Says.)

And the showroom. The greats played the Borscht Belt. Duke Ellington, and all of the Rat Pack, and Ella Fitzgerald. Broadway producers sent their swing corps up the Hudson to put on condensed versions of the latest musicals. Comedians, too. Jews like Simon Says and stand-up comedy. Everyone you can think of started in the Catskills, and then came back when they got big.

It was Vegas, but kosher.

I wonder who was headlining the showroom of Grossinger’s on the weekend of Woodstock. Maybe it was Desi Arnez and his Orchestra.

Neither the Dead nor any other rockyroll types were permitted entrance to Grossinger’s, and instead stayed in the Holiday Inn right next door. The hippies couldnot be barred, though. The concert started an influx of crunchy-types into the area; this, combined with the onset of affordable air travel and ubiquitous air conditioning, led to the demise of the grand hotels. Some of ’em hung around through the 80’s and 90’s, but the rot had set in and the resorts were just big ol’ passing-for-white elephants.

35 buildings at Grossinger’s at its height, and the last one remaining got knocked down last year. Maybe some rich asshole will put a house on the land, maybe condos, maybe a casino. Nothing but maybe.

FIVE

Joan Baez should be launched into the sun. I’m sure she’s a personally lovely woman. She actively supports many wonderful causes. She is kind to animals, children, and old people. Shoot her into the sun.

SIX

Look at this bullshit:

See the bathrooms? No? That’s because there weren’t any. It is an absolute miracle that Woodstock didn’t see a dysentery outbreak. Or cholera. The idiot promoters should have been jailed, or keelhauled. Michael Lang should have been brought to the nearest deep-sea harbor, somewhere one might find a ship with a large enough keel to make being hauled under it a punishment, and then keelhauled. It is unconscionable to create this situation without adequate preparation. All that kept Woodstock from being a humanitarian disaster was luck.

SEVEN 

And not hiring the Hells Angels to be the security. Luck, and an excellent staffing decision kept Woodstock from being a disaster. Michael Lang and the other two guys made many, many poor choices, but deputizing a criminal organization comprised of hyper-violent psychopaths was not one of them. Good call, guys.

EIGHT

I always get Sweetwater, which was a real band, confused with Stillwater, which was not.

FEEEEE-VUH DAWG!

I should watch Almost Famous again.

NINE

Zep wasn’t there, man. (They did go to Vegas to catch Elvis’ show at the International on the 12th of August, though.) Beatles, obviously. Dylan didn’t show. Byrds weren’t there, and neither was Zappa. (He would have hated it.) The Doors were too busy being terrible in Los Angeles. KISS had not been formed yet. Buddy Holly was dead. None of Hitler’s clones knew how to play guitar.

TEN

There were no standards. Look at this bullshit:

That’s not a stage, that’s a platform. Woodstock was the jankiest shit I’ve ever seen.

ELEVEN

Yeah, yeah, Country Joe and his stupid chant, and Wavy Gravy and his stupid nose, and The Who and their stupid opera. and Jimi and his stupid musical metaphors. God I’m bored of Woodstock.

TWELVE

Hey, Garcia. Whatcha doing?

“Taking in the sights, man.”

Right on.

5 Comments

  1. Wallkill === Sears Point

  2. were there bathrooms for the performers?

  3. Luther Von Baconson

    August 18, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    Jer just checking in on The People’s Sunburns “uh you wanna go to the Noxema tent. John Sebastian is helping out. You should see his glasses. Filthy.”

  4. Luther Von Baconson

    August 19, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    First thing I remember knowin’
    Was the thing I remembered knowin’
    And the thing I thought
    Was the thing I already knew

  5. re: The Catskills

    The first half of the 2nd season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is set in a resort in the late 50s that mirrors your description of Grossinger’s. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it…it’s quite humorous.

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