We are in the midst of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock: “3 days of peace and music” in which 31 bands played before approximately 400,000 people over the course of four days. See http://www.woodstockstory.com/bandsperformerssetsplaylists1969.html (accessed 8/17/2019); see also 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (1994, Warner Bros. Pictures). This music has served as a backdrop to my writing this week, as I’ve been listening to it, and to interviews about Woodstock on WXPN-FM (88.5, University of Philadelphia). The music, and the texts of the writers who so kindly agreed to be interviewed this week, have prompted me to think about the impact that stories have on us, whatever their form. (Thank yous and a big shout-out to Melanie Lambert, author of Wonder Woman in Disguise, found here: https://www.wonderwomanindisguise.com/ and Danielle Blackwood, author of Twelve Faces of the Goddess, found here: http://www.danielleblackwood.com/).
Regrettably, I was too young to go to Woodstock …
… The first music I remember hearing is folk music, Gordon Lightfoot in particular. My parents loved music and the house was full of it. I remember listening to Billie Holiday, Etta James, Cleo Laine, and Bennie Goodman. They had both been musicians in school: Mom played alto-saxophone; and Dad, trumpet. Mom’s brother played guitar and had a band. I remember him explaining to me with great excitement how he’d set up his reel-to-reel recording to get more tracks out of it. I didn’t understand what that meant at the time. Now, I’m married to a musician, and he’s explained it. Recording has changed a lot since then, and it’s possible to create digital songs that have non-song elements, just as it is possible to create digital texts with hyperlinks to music, pictures, and even to other texts. Still, what the written word and music retain in common is narrative.
Taken together, the narratives told by all art including text, picture, and song form the story of a civilization. But viewed individually, the narratives don’t always agree. Do folk songs in general reflect the life of the singer/songwriter, or the time period she sings in, or both? Which are the more “accurate” narratives: the concert recordings or the studio recordings? Does meaning change over time? How? For Woodstock, the narratives told by individuals in song, memoirs, and interviews sometimes diverge from those told by news stories, articles, and books. I’m fascinated by these differences. Who gets to tell the truth of an event’s significance? Which narrative has more capacity for truthfulness?