Vol. 3, Issue #13 July 18th - July 31st, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Stinkin' Up the Great Outdoors

“Late afternoon in the open air, A human sea made out of mud and hair, Ain’t nothing like a festival crowd, There’s too many people so we play too loud, Now we’re… stinkin’ up the great outdoors, but the kids don’t mind!” - Spinal Tap, 1992

I’ve never really been a fan of rock festivals. A one day event is fine, but when you are stuck out in the middle of nowhere in the heat with limited toilet and water sources for the better part of a week, it’s just too much for me; I’m a first generation MTV couch potato. I can’t imagine how much I would have hated Woodstock; you couldn’t even leave!

Of course the great forgotten music festival was probably one of the most successful; The Monterey Pop Festival, which was held June 16th-18th, 1967, a couple of weeks after the release of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The two events were seen as the beginning of “The Summer of Love.”

Monterey was interesting on many levels; it introduced Ravi Shankar, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Big Brother and The Holding Company (featuring a young Janis Joplin,) and Otis Redding, backed by Booker T, & The MG’s (featuring Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper, later of “The Blues Brothers” fame) to a wide American audience. The fact that it was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker (who had filmed the classic Bob Dylan documentary “Don’t Look Back” and would go on to film John Lennon’s “Sweet Toronto” and David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars”) certainly helped the cause, as the documentary was in the hands of one of rock’s greatest visionaries.

There are amazing moments caught in the film, like Hendrix grooving to Shankar’s classical Indian music, Mama Cass Eliot mouthing “Wow!” as she watched Janis Joplin for the first time, and of course, Hendrix’s classic version of “Wild Thing” where he set his guitar on fire and smashed it - while chewing gum the entire time.

Woodstock, which took place August 15th - 18th 1969, is seen by many as a cultural high point, but after a lot of study, it still seems like a disaster to me. The promoters had deluded themselves into the back-to-nature concept so heavily that the main act they wanted was The Band, which is like going to an ice cream parlor and ordering vanilla. John Lennon offered to bring The Plastic Ono Band, but the promoters declined so they could put on such sanctimonious crap as Joan Baez, or sheer nonsense like Shan Na Na. Of course because the traffic jam was so bad, nothing could get through, including food and sanitation trucks, thus everyone had to eat a creative hash by the third day while avoiding the overflowing toilets. No one bothered to build a ticket booth, hundreds of people had been camping there for days by the time the concert was supposed to start, and the activist, Wavy Gravy, tore down what was left of the fence. It was a commercial failure. Then there was the rain. Lots of it, which turned the whole festival into a mudfest.

The film was made by experimental film maker Michael Wadleigh, who did brilliant job at making multi-frames inside the more conventional widescreen. It was also used in “The Omega Man,” where Charleton Heston apparently watched it everyday. The heroes from Woodstock included Jimi Hendrix, who got on early Monday morning after most of the people had given up and left, where he did his apocalyptic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the hypnotic jam that followed it. Carlos Santana and Joe Cocker went to Woodstock as nobodies and left as superstars.

My personal hero in the film has always been the anonymous sanitation man, who cleans out the port-o-johnnies on the last day, once the traffic starts to flow again. In his short interview he explains that he has one son there at the concert and another in Vietnam, and he makes no judgment over either of them - which was a rare quality in a man at that particular time and place in history. He’s the truest American in the whole place. Every time I see the film I wonder what happened to him and his family.

For all of the hippy-dippy hype of Woodstock, the end of the dream was the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, December 9th, 1969, where the Rolling Stones decided to put the Hell’s Angels in charge of security and paid them in beer and LSD. Bad acid flooded the concert, and as Altamont was a speedway, there were plenty of old tires around to make bonfires, which filled the air with black, noxious fumes. Jerry Garcia later described the scene as being a nice little day in hell. After the Angels knocked out Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplace during their set, they ended with a grand fanale of beating a guy to death and not allowing medical attention to get to him. While the guy did have a gun, the Angels decided to be judge and jury over his fate. Keith Richards’ Nazi Jacket was left behind in the chaos.

The event was filmed by the Maysles Brothers, who had earlier filmed “What’s Happening! The Beatles in America” (later retitled “The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit”). The documentary, “Gimme Shelter,” captured all of the madness; the naked fat woman freaking out on acid, the Angels driving through the crowd on their convoy of motorcycles, the guy freaking out on acid on stage next to Mick Jagger, and the tears in the audiences’ eyes as they shake their heads at The Stones in a vain attempt to convey the tragedy taking place just a few feet away.

Rock festivals have continued, usually without the hoopla that accompanied these three major events in the 1960s, and they have become much more “civil” (I.e.- expenseive.) It’s almost a rite of passage, to be stuck someplace you hate listening to the music you love.

While we’re on the subject, let me point out, once again, that Spinal Tap is not a real band, but what does that make The Monkees?

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