Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Woodstock"

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm 
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free 

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning

Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who I am
But you know life is for learning

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden

Joni Mitchell wrote "Woodstock" based on what she heard from Graham Nash over the phone in a hotel room in Manhattan, watching Television. "The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock,"

A few weeks prior to Woodstock, Crosby,  Stills, Nash & Young, had just played their first show, at the Greek Theater in L.A., and Joni Mitchell was the opening act. At that time they’d heard rumors that Woodstock's anticipated numbers were "multiplying and multiplying." Nash said, "First we hear 20,000 people will be there. Then, my God, we hear 100,000. Joni wanted to go, and I said ‘If you go, I can’t guarantee that I can get you out of there and back to do the Cavett show,’ which was an important show at the time." The super group reached the festival venue by helicopter and a stolen truck hot-wired by Neil Young.

Meanwhile, Mitchell and her manager, label mogul David Geffen, and Elliot Roberts, who had every intention of going, arrived at La Guardia airport in New York City and that’s where Geffen saw a New York Times  headline saying “400,000 People Sitting In Mud,” with the front-page article describing that the roads leading to the actual concert site were so clogged with cars that concertgoers were abandoning them and walking. Mitchell called it a “National disaster area.”

Geffen in particular was concerned that Mitchell might not be able to extricate herself from the mud and get back to New York City, where she was scheduled to appear on Dick Cavett’s nationally-televised talk show, along with Jefferson Airplane and CSN&Y. It was deemed too important for her career to have the chance to speak to Cavett before the live TV audience, and so the decision was made: Geffen turned to manager Elliot Roberts and said, "You go, I’m staying here."

Although Joni  missed her opportunity to experience it first-hand, she knew the importance of Woodstock even as it was happening. She wasn’t going to be up there on the stage; instead, she would experience it as a fan, though she would have to be content with updates on TV. Missing Woodstock motivated Mitchell to try to express what the concert meant at the time to her generation. The song flowed from her fingers, pen to paper, thrumming with a kind of purpose.

Lyrically, the song begins with a chance encounter with a "child of God," walking along the road — a metaphorical muddy road to be sure — but she later claims that she was going through a kind of "born-again Christian trip" at the time –“not that I went to church,” she said. "I'd given up Christianity at a very early age in Sunday school. But suddenly, as performers, we were in the position of having so many people look to us for leadership, and for some unknown reason I took it seriously and decided I needed a guide and leaned on God. So I was a little 'God mad’' at the time, for lack of a better term, and I had been saying to myself, 'Where are the modern miracles?' Woodstock, for some reason, impressed me as being a modern miracle, like a modern-day fishes-and-loaves story. For a herd of people that large to cooperate so well, it was pretty remarkable and there was tremendous optimism. So I wrote the song 'Woodstock' out of these feelings, and the first three times I performed it in public, I burst into tears, because it brought back the intensity of the experience and was so moving."