Thursday, July 23, 2009

Woodstock: Part two of our interview with Joel Makower

With our Woodstock book now available, it's a great time to read the rest of our interview with author Joel Makower. Here's part one in case you missed it. So spin some tracks from that gloriously remastered and reissued Woodstock box set (we know you bought it) and enjoy the stories Joel has to tell. And, no, we didn't doctor that photo of Joel. We think someone else did, but we still love it.

Q. Who provided you with the most memorable interviews? Was it because they were open and honest with their recollections and feelings, or because they were reticent to expound on their memories of that time?

A. There were so many people who were forthcoming, warts and all, about the inner workings of the staff, the backstage intrigue, and the politics of the town folk. I was particularly struck by two people: Wesley Pomeroy, the head of security, and Miriam Yasgur, the widow of Max. Each played a profound role at the event, and each was extraordinarily generous in telling their tales. Pomeroy's in particular was fascinating: how this lifelong cop, 50 years old at the time, a former Justice Department official, tapped into his Buddhist beliefs about crowd control and law enforcement to create some of the most enlightened thinking I've ever heard about how to treat people in ways that are both effective and respectful. He was truly inspiring.

Miriam Yasgur, for her part, was one of the more reluctant participants -- she had moved to Florida, remarried, changed her name, and was quite content with her life without having to regurgitate that particular period. But she agreed, and she opened up in an extremely generous way. We kept in touch for a while afterward and I was honored to have had her share her story with me.

Q. When we were younger, we sometimes questioned Woodstock's impact and began to feel that part of it's "importance" must have been greatly media-driven (cynical Gen Xers, we are). Now we probably view the music and attitudes of that era—and the reactions against them—as helping to birth the musical and cultural scenes we grew up in. So....forty years on, where do you think the concert fits in the public consciousness today? Do you find that it's only grown in stature in most people's minds, or has it lost some luster?

A. Love the Gen X cynicism. To me, Woodstock captured a moment in time in an intense and extraordinary way: the politics of the day as well as the music; the wit and wisdom as well as the wackiness. It probably wasn't the Best Concert of All Time—there have been many other extraordinary moments in live musical production. But it captured a can-do spirit, a moment of coming together amid a society that was hopelessly torn apart over a war being fought in Vietnam. It was the natural culmination of the half-decade leading up to it—the Free Speech Movement, the hippies, psychedelics, the anti-war politics, the explosion of rock music, and the millions of free spirits coming of age—including voting age.

And it was the precursor of all that was to follow: the growth and power of the antiwar movement, the music industry, Watergate, the environmental movement—and, eventually, the free-spirited entrepreneurs who would build the PC and the Internet. You can pretty much connect the dots.

Forty years later, Woodstock, the event, remains a hazy memory for most people. Many of the memories people remember have come from the movie, not the music. Most of what Woodstock was has faded from view, a vague but meaningful moment that those born decades later heard about but didn't truly understand. My intent with the book was to bring the full history to the fore, helping tell the story of the event and all that surrounded it at the time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind

Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong uttered those words when he became the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. Today you can read plenty of articles about that historic moment and also about moving past it and focusing our scientific research on saving planet Earth first.

For a deeper look at the politics behind NASA and the space missions, take check out Defining NASA: The Historical Debate over the Agency's Mission. Author W. D. Kay posits that, while most observers point to the 1969 Apollo moon landing as the single greatest accomplishment of NASA, prominent scientists, engineers, and public officials have been questioning the purpose of the U.S. space program, even at the height of its national popularity.

Defining NASA is a valuable and interesting contribution to NASA history that deserves serious consideration by the agency’s current policymakers.” — Isis

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Napsterizing the Book Industry

There's an interesting article on Slate about the book industry pushing Amazon to raise prices on e-books and how this could lead to the "Napsterization" of the book industry. We all remember Napster. Jack Shafer explains:

Right now, the electronic-book market finds itself roughly in the same place the market for MP3s was in 1999, the year after the release of the first portable MP3 player. First adopters of e-books, who are filling their devices with content and proselytizing to their friends, have it better than the early MP3 users. The iTunes store, which was established in early 2003, was among the first online sites where music fans could easily buy music files, a la carte, from a huge selection. The other commercial sites, wrote the New York Times, were "complex, expensive and limiting" and "failing because they were created to serve the interests of the record companies, not their customers." Basically, before iTunes arrived, if you wanted portable tracks, you had to rip your own, borrow collections from friends, or grab "free" tunes from the "pirates" at Napster or other file-sharing sites.
Shafer goes on to say that although relatively few people expect e-book content to be free,

...that could change in a matter of months if the book industry insists on 1) jacking up the price of e-books and 2) withholding potential best-sellers from the e-book market. Cool devices that make electronic reading painless are just around the corner, and the e-book market is about to explode. If publishers insist on pushing prices too high and curbing availability, consumers could rebel—as they did with the sharing of MP3s—and normalize the trafficking of infringing e-books.
Interesting points all, and a very worthwhile piece to check out. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Main Street to Mainframes in Chronogram

Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie appears in Chronogram's July Short Takes section. Look for coauthor Harvey Flad at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck on July 18 at 7:30 pm and The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany on July 23 at 7:00 pm.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Head Butler reviews We Used to Own the Bronx

"Eve Pell makes me want to lace up my running shoes—real and metaphorical—and get going."

That's a snippet from another terrific review of Eve Pell's memoir We Used to Own the Bronx. Read the review over at Head Butler.

And yes, for those who didn't know, after befriending the Black Panthers and making documentary films on the dark side of American politics, Eve also became a world-class runner. This fascinating memoir has a little bit of everything.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Woodstock has arrived

This morning's delivery from the printer included the long-awaited copies of Woodstock: The Oral History, 40th Anniversary Edition. Copies will be shipping from the warehouse this week and you should start to see it alongside the other Woodstock books in displays in bookstores near you soon. You can always order a copy here as well.

So today's a perfect day to run the first part of our interview with Joel Makower, the man behind the book. In today's installment, Joel talks about what motivated him to work on this book and the challenges involved in making it happen. Look for part two to be posted very soon.

Q. Hi Joel. Thanks for sitting down with us to talk about the book. Let's start with an obvious question: did you attend Woodstock?

A. I was not at Woodstock. I was 17 years old during the summer of 1969, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and playing (keyboards) in a so-so rock band called The Oedipus Complex. However, my sister, who lived in the Haight Ashbury, went. She didn't read papers or watch TV, but she heard on the street that there was a free concert being given on Bob Dylan's farm in Upstate New York—and that was sufficient information to entice her to go out to Interstate 80 and stick out her thumb. Her journey is one thread of the tapestry of my book.

Q. Speaking of the book, how difficult was it for you to find people who'd talk about the concert? I see that some musicians and residents of Sullivan County were resistant to discussing it all—and for very different reasons. Anyone in particular you would have loved to interview for the book that turned down your request?

A. The biggest challenge was to find a relative cross-section of individuals who could help tell the whole story of how Woodstock happened—and almost didn't: producers, performers, doctors, cops, neighbors, shopkeepers, kids in the audience, Wavy Gravy, Abbie Hoffman, Mrs. Max Yasgur, the guys who made the movie, and so on. There were so many threads to weave together, and figuring out what they all were—and which ones I wanted to include—was the biggest challenge. The community of individuals who produced the concert was fairly accessible and willing to share their stories. Getting to musicians was another story. Many of their gatekeepers wouldn't let me through, and some—Jerry Garcia, Arlo Guthrie, and Country Joe McDonald come to mind—simply didn't want to participate, each for their own reasons. (I later met Joe -- he and I were on Oprah together during my book tour for the original edition, and he apologized and said he regretted not taking the time to talk to me.) In contrast, other musicians—Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, David Crosby, Paul Kantner—were happy to talk.

And then there were the townspeople from the area surrounding the concert, who still felt the scars of Woodstock 19 years later, when I did my interviews. Some people were forthcoming but many others still seemed in denial—they simply wish the whole thing had never happened, and didn't want to participate in anything that might further its memory.

Q. What were you doing leading up to your work on the book?

A. I've long had an interest in the various threads that made up my generation. In 1985 I wrote a book, BOOM! Talking About Our Generation, that chronicled the music, media, politics, and culture from 1955 to 1975—from the emergence of Elvis to the end of Watergate. That was a seminal period.

And Woodstock was a seminal moment, not just for the music, but for what happened, and what didn't, at the event. Woodstock easily could have been a disaster. The promoters were thrown off their original site just five weeks before the event and had to scramble to find another site—Max Yasgur's farm—and build a virtual city . . . which never got completed. There were no gates; anyone could get in. The place was packed with kids who were ill-prepared to spend three days in the country. There was inadequate food and medicine, and plenty of drugs.

Oh, and it rained. A lot. Sometimes violently. Any number of horrible things could have befallen, literally, on the hundreds of thousands of souls out in Max Yasgur's muddy alfalfa field. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller called out the National Guard. The news media proclaimed it a disaster.

But it wasn't. And the story of why represents a window into who we were in 1969—the politics and sensibilities of the time. And that, as much as anything, is the story that fascinated me, the one I wanted to tell.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Author interviewed on the Civil War

D. Reid Ross, author of Lincoln's Veteran Volunteers Win the War, was interviewed in the PostStar on Sunday. Here's a snippet about Reid's ancestral connections to Washington County, NY (part of the region the PostStar covers):

When writer D. Reid Ross began researching his Washington County genealogy, he intended to learn more about his ancestral history. The family facts he uncovered, however, reflected a much bigger story.

Ross soon found himself engulfed in a long-forgotten chapter of Civil War history.

"I ran into my grandfather's background. He was the only one I knew from family stories of the Civil War. I knew he had one brother who had been killed, but I didn't know he had three brothers. I also didn't know his regiment," said Ross.

Through his research, Ross learned that his grandfather was a member of the 123rd New York regiment and was an infantryman in Sherman's march on Atlanta. He was captured 30 miles from the city and sent to Andersonville and four other prisons.

"I started digging into the whole record of Veteran Volunteers. Most of them were committed to anti-slavery. They were honest-to-God Lincoln emancipators," Ross said.

Read the entire interview here, and check out one of our recent posts for more info on the book and the incredible amount of research that went into it. Visit our website for more on the book and to order a copy today.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Women on the Web interview Vera Blinken

The Women on the Web (wOw) columnist Liz Peek recently interviewed Vera Blinken about her fascinating new book, Vera and the Ambassador, which recounts Vera's escape from communist Hungary as a child and her triumphant return 40 years later as the wife of U.S. Ambassador Donald Blinken. Read the full Q&A and enjoy the accompanying photo essay, loaded with great photos from the book.