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.