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WOODSTOCK The Oral History <i> by Joel Makower (Doubleday: $21.95; 351 pp.) </i>

More optimistic views of Woodstock than Barry Farrell’s appear in Joel Makower’s oral history. Makower collected scores of interviews during 1988, almost 20 years after the legendary music and arts festival where half a million people gathered. Makower was thorough in his research, including among the interviewees festival producers, performers, electricians, shopkeepers, lawyers, journalists, security officers and many more. This is oral history in a fairly pure form, as Makower never interjects editorial comments. He chooses instead to organize the edited interviews as a conversation, grouping comments, as he himself describes it, “as if all of them had been metaphysically transported to one gigantic living room.” In the book’s margins, society delivers its commentary on the hippie goings-on in the form of newspaper headlines from all over the country.

Recollections chronicle the hardships--the drenching rain that left people shivering in the mud, wrapped in slimy sleeping bags, the struggle to keep the stage operational as fierce winds tore at the structure--and the inventiveness of the organizers--the last-minute addition of helicopter service when crowds choked the roads for miles around. The quality of the recollections varies, but an astonishing number are impassioned even at 20 years’ remove.

The book concludes with a who’s-who of the main characters involved in the production and legend-making of the festival. These very brief entries are eloquent on the subject of the world since Woodstock: Tom Law, identified as “a friend of the Hog Farm” commune, who led yoga exercises from the stage, “is now a custom kitchen contractor in New York City.”


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