Woodstock Ledgends
Woodstock Legends

Every year, when we visit Steve in his upstate bunker, Matt and I make a pilgrimage to Woodstock. It’s a short drive.  Sometimes we take the bridge across the surreal Ashokan Reservoir and drive on winding roads that, for sure, were traveled by Bob, Van, and the guys from The Band.Matt cues up “Ol ‘Woodstock” on his iPod and presses ‘play’ when we cross the town line. I suspect we are one of many of thousands of couples who do the same. It’s our history.

I missed the real thing: the big, mucky, free-loving concert of 1969–maybe I was too young, or my parents too strict. Matt had been in San Francisco during that time, for the Summer of Love, so he missed it, too. I think Steve made it to the concert, as did many friends, who participated with reckless abandon, stripping off their clothes and smoking reefer until they passed out in the mud. Everyone regrets having had tossed their tickets.Imagine how much they could sell them for today on eBay! Which brings me to my next point: money.

Tinker Street, the commercial street in Woodstock, duplicates tourist alleys in Moussourie and Rishikesh,Machu Picchu, and Rome, as well as Walnut Street in Pittsburgh, the northern and southern ends of Massachusetts Ave here in Cambridge, Main Street in Vineyard Haven, and for sure many other streets set up to sell stuff to tourists, tourists of a particular flavor: tourists looking to fill up with whatever spiritual elements might be leftover–or still vibrating– from a transformational/geographic history.

Hey, let’s buy a sense of place. Here you have a framed photo of Dylan doing a headstand, t-shirts with dove & guitar logo,s sandals a la 1969, a towel with Jimi’s face on it.

Culture, and certainly not just American culture, has stuck price tags on everything and for some mysterious reason everyone sells not only stuff made in China but also stuff from Tibet. ( Not sure if the stuff from Tibet actually comes from China, or is made in India: something to find out.) For example, all sites mentioned about sell books about the Dalai Lama, Tibetan prayer flags, silver jewelry, beads, incense, silk scarves, tie-dyed cotton skirts, embroidered shirts, sweaters, gongs, and statues of Buddha.

Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama

Through the years, beginning in1973, the date of my first Woodstock pilgrimage, I step out of the car onto Tinker Street feeling memory and expectation collide. I wonder who I might run into this time.  Once I saw James Coburn, of all people, in the grocery store; another time I sat next to Rick Danko in a bar. My editor at St Martin’s has a house in Woodstock; an ex-boyfriend’s ex-wife lives here. At one point, in the 80’s, Woodstock was full of lovely-looking, rich divorcees of a certain age whose ex-es worked in the city.  They owned the shops, sat in the cafes, and bought their whole wheat loaves at “Not Bread Alone.”

This year, the warm Saturday in November that Matt and I made our pilgrimage,  the divorcee crowd was not as obvious as the twenty-something children of the divorcees.  At least that’s who I thought they were. Casually–but most expensively branded–kids who look much the same as the NY/NJ crowd who attend Boston University and who walk up and down Comm Ave. They don’t buy stuff from Tibet.  Wait, maybe I’m wrong: my twenty something, BU attending daughter does have a buddha in her room and incense.( Both bought at Target.) She would never be caught dead in a tie-dyed anything.

What else did we see in Woodstock?  An old hippie with long grey hair and a decorated bicycle hd stationed himself in an island mid-Tinker Street.  He held a hand printed sign: “Take a Picture with Me for Free.” I had seen the same fellow doing the same thing for the past three years. A few feet from the old hippie, was a row of ladies (maybe the latest incrnation of the divorcees) protesting. A dozen or more middle-aged couples, like Matt and me, promenaded Tinker Street with a sense of temporal joy on their faces. A handful of locals who appeared to be unemployed, or at least underemployed.

  1. End-to-end Tinker Street sum up:the bottom of Tinker, the Mirabai book store owner was readying a workshop room for a 2-hour talk: 2012–How to Prepare for The End of the World as We Know It. I bought a 2009 Lunar Chart and a book of Rumi’s poetry and was tempted to attend the workshop, just to see who showed up.  I’m glad I didn’t join in. After peeking through the window to check out the crowd that had gathered, I knew I would not have fit in with the serious personalities behind the self-righteous faces.
  2. at the top: a crazy, buy everything made in China shop that displayed every possible item relating to the real or imagined Woodstock experience.  Here tourists can wrap their arms around a cardboard cut out of Janis & Jimi sit next to the Blues Brothers, or stand in front of a towel with the Beatles image woven into it. The shop covers all bases. Inside you can buy a t-shirt with everyone on front, including the Dalai Lama. Bob Marley’s  there, too
  3. In between: more of the same as well as the hippie and protestors, shoes, clothes, jewelry and art and photo galleries that showcased rather amateur art.

Let’s say this retail-spiritual-rock ‘n roll-find yourself mentality had its roots in Woodstock  Since the event in 1969, it has spidered out to store fronts all over the world. In the process the phenomena has embraced Tibetan Buddhism, infected Target, and probably  wormed its way into Wal-Mart. I want to know who is distributing all this stuff? Where’s the warehouse? Who is making the money?  Does the Dalai Lama end up with any of the money?