THE READING ROOM: Books on Woodstock Artists to Bring You Back to the Garden
Many of us spent the weekend getting back to the garden of upstate New York, reliving those three days — which turned into four days, since Jimi Hendrix closed out the concert early Monday morning with his bombastic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — of peace, love, and rock and roll by listening to various radio stations broadcasting the music sets and the stage announcements, or by listening again to the music collected on the 38-CD set Woodstock: Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive. Some of us listened again to our weathered three-record set we bought back in 1970 (whose skips on certain tracks are now part of the music), Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack, which is kind of a “greatest hits” of the weekend.
Listening to the music again and hearing the cheers for certain performances, you can still feel the palpable spirit of the gathering. Fifty years later, I often wonder what happened to the spirit of community that thousands of strangers created in a spirit of peace and love. Could such a gathering ever happen again? (Based on the failure of the organizers to put together a festival to celebrate Woodstock’s 50th anniversary, the answer is clear.) What was special about those three days, and the weeks and months leading up to the gathering, that lay the groundwork for what turned out to be a peaceful festival? I’m not asking new questions, of course, and many of us who lived through that weekend — either on the ground or at a distance — ask such questions when we look around us at the hatred and divisiveness rife in our world today. It’s easy to slip into a nostalgia that falsely colors our experience. My family and I were at odds in those days —about race, about the Vietnam War, about music, about my long hair — and I had only a few friends who embraced the same ideals I did; it wasn’t an easy time.
Beneath all the questions, though, it was the music that brought people to Max Yasgur’s farm (a place celebrated in song by one artist who wasn’t there — Joni Mitchell in “Woodstock” — but also by a band that played there, Mountain, in “For Yasgur’s Farm,” though the song was untitled at the time). When they saw the ads listing artists in Rolling Stone or in underground newspapers, many folks simply said: “We have to go; look at all these people who are going to be there.” For those of us who want to stay in the garden just a little bit longer, we can cue up the songs from the new Woodstock collections, and we can sit down and read a few books about or by the performers that created the music that keeps wafting through our minds and hearts. I’ve listed some selections at the end of this post.
Not every artist who appeared at Woodstock has written a memoir, of course, and there are no books written about some of the acts. There is still no book on Ten Years After or Tim Hardin (though there are collections of Hardin’s poetry), nor are there any books on Sha Na Na. Some of the books on the list, such as Richie Havens’ memoir, are older, and may be hard to find. On the other hand, there are almost too many books to count on the Grateful Dead. Holly George-Warren’s compulsively readable biography of Janis Joplin appears on the list, though it doesn’t come out until October; it’s likely to be the best music book of the fall. Here’s a list of books to keep the aura of Woodstock glowing for many weeks to come.
John Fogerty, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music (Little, Brown)
Carlos Santana, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light (Little, Brown)
Pete Townshend, Who I Am: A Memoir (Harper)
Roger Daltrey, Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story (Holt)
Jimi Hendrix, Starting at Zero: His Own Story (Bloomsbury USA)
Charles R. Cross, Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix (Hachette)
Peter Doggett, CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Atria)
David Browne, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup (Da Capo)
Barney Hoskyns, Across the Great Divide: The Band and America (Hal Leonard)
Levon Helm, This Wheel’s on Fire (Chicago Review Press)
Robbie Robertson, Testimony (Three Rivers Press)
Richie Havens, They Can’t Hide Us Anymore (Spike)
Ravi Shankar, My Music, My Life (Mandala Publishing)
Hank Reineke, Arlo Guthrie: The Warner/Reprise Years (Scarecrow Press)
Joan Baez, And a Voice to Sing With: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster)
Dennis McNally, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead (Three Rivers)
David Browne, So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead (Da Capo)
Hank Bordowitz, Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival (Chicago Review Press)
Jeff Kaliss, I Want to Take You Higher: The Life and Times of Sly & the Family Stone (Backbeat)
Jeff Tamarkin, Got a Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (Atria)
Jorma Kaukonen, Been So Long: My Life and Music (St. Martin’s)
Grace Slick, Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir (Grand Central)
Mary Lou Sullivan, Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter (Backbeat)
Holly George-Warren, Janis: Her Life and Music (Simon & Schuster)