I was looking for a song. Something that would express what I’m feeling, so I could communicate what I’m feeling without saying what I’m feeling. You know, because that would be opening myself up too much. Can’t have that.
And somehow, I came to this.
It’s funny how the internet can operate like a dream cloud.
Side note: can we just stop and quickly shout out to how Alanis rocks that flute?! I took flute lessons from age 9 and eventually worked my way through Ice Castles but damn. Never played the flute so right that grown women would cry.
There are songs, music that brings you back to a time. This one, tonight, brought me back to Woodstock ’94. Consider. I graduated from a top college a year ago. I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. That much is true.
And my friend Leanne and I decided to go to Woodstock. I remember. I was still living with my parents. I mean, I was living with them again. I had a futon in my old bedroom. That was more grown-up than the bed that had been bequeathed to my little sister. I remember the futon because after Woodstock was over and we came home, I passed out on it and when I awoke, everything was muddy, and stank. The stench of many thousands of unwashed youth who had survived off Woodstock Money, Pepsi, and the kindnesses of each other.
We bought our tickets in advance at a Best Buy or a Strawberries or whatever big chain music store still existed in southern CT at the time. In line for our tickets we met two dudes whose names I don’t remember. And somehow we hooked up with them when we made it to the show. Here’s a picture.
(Internet magic: go! Email me if that’s you!)
It was…August 1994. I had the youthful immodesty and the balls to whip off that tank top and parade around in my sports bra. And white shorts. At a soon-to-be mud-filled festival. Also, it was hot, humid, and about to blow.
We parked in a giant field the night before the shows began. We pitched a tent. We still had big hair. Or at least Leanne did. After our tent was up and our beers were open, we roamed the field and talked to other early birds. An RV was parked nearby and clouds of smoke poured from the tiny windows and poufed like smoke signals when someone came out of the door. We said hi and made friends and we were invited in.
We were just 23, smooth-faced young girls ready for a party. Of course we were invited in.
That was the night I first smoked marijuana. I figured I might as well. It wasn’t the original Woodstock but what if it turned out to be just as epic? And so I did.
That weekend was the first time I experienced anything like this: a mob of music fans, young, pointless, and free, at least for a time. I was between everything: boyfriends, real jobs, callings. I was free from decades of school that were supposed to tell me where to go and what to do. School that if conquered would dictate the direction of my life. And so I was directionless. Had I not conquered?
Leanne and I set our tent up near the two guys from our town under the trees in the forest at the edge of the clearing which was where all the action was. We were safe for the moment from the rain, which was predicted, but we didn’t believe it. It was possible to get a few hours of good sleep, to eat a normal camping meal, to change into clean clothes, to brush our teeth.
And so, music. The sound and feel and smell of it pounded into me as I got closer and closer through the mobs of people at Woodstock ’94. It was loud and it was hot and it was wet. And the skin of people was so close to me. One day I parked myself directly opposite center stage with nothing in my backpack but a bottle of Southern Comfort and a sleeve of Saltines. All day that is what I ate and drank. I watched Peter Gabriel and Melissa Etheridge and Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Live and Sheryl Crow and the Violent Femmes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alanis. Alanis Morisette. It was an insane blur of music and bodies and faces and there is no rhyme or reason to my memory.
Remember, this was before any of the enormous multiple-day music festivals that we are used to now. This was before Lollapalooza or Lilith Fair or Coachella or even Burning Man. Even if those things existed, I didn’t know about them. This was before the Internetz, even!? Imagine how much more our minds would have been blown if we could, like, email each other the next day. Just imagine.
That day I stood in that one place and I let the music flow through me. I didn’t know which was before or after or what came next, only that the music I loved so much was happening right there before my eyes and ears. I made some friends who led me back to their tent – mine was so far away and the land had been pounded by the hundred thousand people and their feet into an unrecognizable soup of mud and grass and garbage. I followed them – Alan and his friend – and the friend turned behind him and said “Don’t step in that hole” but all I heard was “Step in that hole,” and so I did.
And my left leg went down into that leg-shaped hole and luckily my 23-year-old drunk body wearing only cutoff shorts and a sports bra didn’t mind so much, because I sank down into the mud until my pelvis stopped my fall. My right leg stuck out to the side at a 90 degree angle and I looked up to watch all the amazed faces looking down at me, seemingly without hesitation reaching down to help me up. I remember how my leg was caked with mud from hip to toe, but my shoe, the black leather sandal that would abandon me to a much easier struggle a day later – that shoe stayed on my foot and allowed me to wade in safety to the “tent,” which was really just a tarp strung across a few square feet of dry ground. I lay under the tarp, spent, with my muddy leg sticking out, all night. It was okay. Peter Gabriel sang “Biko” to me, and I slept.
I don’t remember worrying about the rain. I remember that it cooled me when I was hot. But Leanne had gone back to the tent and left the rain fly open while she napped, and then left it behind. And so the rain, when it rained, soaked everything inside: our sleeping bags, our dry clothes. Everything. When people started jumping into the mud pits on Sunday? Who cared? We were all muddy.
On Sunday morning I tried to wash my leg but the makeshift public sinks weren’t working. I used my Woodstock money – some of which I still have – to buy bottled water and trickle it down the caked-on grime. Later I discovered the skin on my legs was perhaps the softest it had been my whole life.
Our existence at Woodstock ’94 devolved into basic sensory perception. There was the music – Nine Inch Nails and Perry Farrell and Joe Cocker and The Cranberries and Green Day (who I’ve never liked since) and that guy who came on the loudspeaker to report missing children and to tell us to hydrate and have a snack. Nobody got in a fight. People passed joints around. People passed booze around. People called me “man.” Everyone was friendly. We considered a clean Port-a-Potty a miracle.
It took days to recover. I threw away my other shoe. I threw away my sister’s backpack, which I had borrowed but was too caked with stinky Woodstock mud to ever recover. I developed the pictures and I wrote letters to Alan – my Woodstock boyfriend, I called him. He lived in Detroit and we were so into the experience that we couldn’t let go. I saw him two more times and then he faded, like so much of my life then, into the background.
Many years later I learned that the past I was trying to put behind me was present there at Woodstock even as I was throwing myself at the music and the booze and the pot and the men so I didn’t have to pay attention. Funny how that works. Alanis hadn’t yet written this song. I hadn’t yet met Robin, my dear friend who would never, ever be good enough for herself. I sat in a car on Sunset Boulevard with her one night after we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and she had insisted I try the hot chocolate made with mole’. I knew she was imploding. She didn’t kill herself until five years later but at the time I thought that by playing her this song on my car CD player, I was helping.
At the time I thought Woodstock ’94 was an escape. I didn’t realize then that it was a definition.