‘We were a clan of groovy humans’

By Sly Hendrix
Globe Staff / August 9, 2009

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I still recall the smells - the earthy mud and the musky patchouli and the tart oranges we carried like ye olde pioneers in a leather sack, so nourishing after days of toking up. And the pee, the smell of pee mixing with the rain and the mud, so human and so organic and so real. We got back to the garden, and the garden got fertilized.

I was at Woodstock - or at least I think I was - in August of 1969, 40 years ago, when my generation discovered the true meaning of peace, for the very first time, ever. We plugged into the great kozmic outlet, we invented music and love, and then we blew bubbles, little globes of liquid rainbow that popped like so much air in the chamber of a bong. We tucked flowers behind our ears and burned homemade candles to combat darkness. Remember those sandalwood candles that melted in multicolored piles? They were the drippy kind.

My friend Bear and I hitched from San Francisco that summer of ’69, our backpacks stuffed with Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and McKuen. Those were the days, my friend. We got a ride from Denver with a righteous chick who wore a beaded headband and called a teepee her home. Her name was Alice, and she went by Rocking in Vans, but we dubbed her Goldilocks since she had the finest bag of Acapulco Gold the world has ever tasted. Kids today, they don’t know good weed or good music or good vibes. After her 1960 VW bug died for the last time in Des Moines, the three of us got picked up by freaks in a painted school bus who brought us within a few miles of the festival site. The New York State Thruway was closed, man.

By the time we got to Woodstock, we were a clan of groovy humans in fatigues, flags, fringe, Frye boots, flowers, face paint, and tiny, nonprescription granny glasses with rose-colored tinting. And Goldilocks, she was my old lady. It’s hard to describe that kind of family today, in the age of cellphones and laptops and MP3s. Try rolling a joint on an MP3. Would our kids even hear a drum circle, or feel the wall-rattling “om’’ of a group meditation, or grok the great seismic karmic coincidence, with their iPods on? Back in the ’60s, we gazed at the stars for the meaning of life; now, they sit on the couch and play Jedi Assassin. We knew how to Be Here Now then.

I didn’t see God at Woodstock. But I did see Jerry, and Janis, and Jimi, and Jorma, and Joe Cocker, and John Sebastian, and Joan Baez, and Johnny Winter, and Country Joe, which was spiritual enough. Goldilocks and I split a hit of Orange Sunshine and wandered like nomads through the crowd, Zeus and Hera on an epic journey through the magic puddle of existence. We stripped down and swam in a pond with our brothers and sisters, and we emerged as if baptized. Our clothes having disappeared back on shore, we grabbed new duds - Goldilocks put on overalls with no top, I wore a tie-dyed sheet around my waist, and we stuck lightning bolts of goldenrod in our hair. At a free kitchen, we ate plain kefir, raw bean sprouts soaked in soy sauce, three-bean salad with kale and chunks of tofu, and gluten-free carob brownies. It was ambrosia.

Near the stage, washed by the storms passing over, at one with each of the half-million on those many acres of sanctified land, I caught a bright scarlet light in the corner of my eye. My reason tattered, I was freaking out, too high. Then I realized it was Jerry, waving me over and offering me a hit on a joint. “Marijuana, exhibit A,’’ he said to me, and we partook together, turning on our lovelights and letting them shine. We rapped about how sometimes we live no particular way but our own, and we agreed there was nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. Jerry saved me from self-destruction, then sent me on my way, bidding me farewell with the words “Further, man.’’

Hey, tempus fugit. The Time Machine rushes forward, and those days remain like mountain peaks on the flat landscape of my memory. There was no violence in that temporary township that weekend, just a wave of hope and unity, cresting Monday morning with Jimi’s devastating version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ Goldilocks and I made love one last time, then looked into each other’s eyes and said goodbye; I kissed her headband and never saw her again. Bear and I thumbed back to the West Coast just in time for the fall semester at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Oh, that weekend: It has seemed to last longer and hold more importance than the four decades since. We changed the world at Woodstock, and I was there. I think.

Sly Hendrix can be reached at

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