Brian Gunshor, we’re talking today about Woodstock. From Tel Aviv. And we’re going back how many years? Forty-five years, almost. Okay, forty-five years ago you’re a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, home for the summer in White Planes, New York. You hear about Woodstock because…
“It’s all over the place, it’s all over the news, video, aerial shots of the crowds, we knew something was up”. And your friend Scott? “Scott Rosenblum” (we’re going to look him up) and who convinces whom? “I believe it was Scott who convinced me to go. He says “Brian, let’s go to this thing, we don’t want to miss this thing. Yeah, I thought he was crazy but we went.”
So you get into Scott Dad’s car, carrying?
“Ourselves, and whatever was in our pockets. Gornisht (nothing). A few bucks and nothing.”
So you didn’t come prepared.
“We didn’t know what to expect”.
You’re driving up the throughway, you see cars parked, and you say…
“Okay, we’re going to have to park. “As we’re approaching the destination, we’re seeing that there’s a big traffic jam, people are pulling to the side, getting out of the cars, unloading and walking. So they must have known something.
There were no cell phones then. So we parked the car and started walking. And we walked for what seemed to be miles and miles and miles, let’s say five miles just to be safe, and we came round the bend and see this ocean of people. On the floor. And milling around.
And it’s like being in a baseball game in terms of the volume of the noise of the crowd, but there’s a lot of music in the background and there’s people who are making announcements and issuing warnings on the PA system and they’re warning about drugs, about “Don’t take this mushroom, don’t take that button. Careful on the brown stuff.” If you going to share it with someone, know who you’re sharing it with.”
How hard was it to get a joint?
“It wasn’t an issue.” I’ve never seen more marijuana or joints, or bongs, lots of bongs too. So even if you were a passive smoker, if you abstained, you were not abstaining. So I spent two nights and three days in the mud and the rain, a real “mud child”. I was one of the people who didn’t get naked (I’m sorry to say).”
When we talked prior (to the interview), you said that there was this feeling of being in a situation that’s beyond your control.
“Especially when it started to rain and became muddy and uncomfortable. And you see all these people around you and they were in exactly the same position. (this brings to ming The Holocaust ). You know that you are just one of thousands of thousands of people that are moving on a parallel path, and there is no way out, you have to take the course of least resistance and be part of it. And that’s what we were. So we were ‘billion years-old carbon’.
“There with the masses of people, might as well sit down, enjoy the music. The two things that worried me most were being able to find a place to relieve myself. On the outskirsts there were people who had setup booths to sell this and the other thing, including brownies.
There were food vendors there but they quickly ran out of products. Basically everyone was hungry and thirsty for three days, if they didn’t have bring their own food supply. And you didn’t. And you stayed to the end. “We stayed pretty much to the end, Jimi Hendrix, we started walking back when he was over and we saw the people moving out, and we knew I had to back the following day, so we started walking back on the side of the throughway and it was raining, and it was hot and humid. There was no sleep to be had. If I slept it was involuntary.”
“So basically, except for the helicopters overhead, and the people on the PA system, it was music, people, talking, laughing, joking, playing Jewish geography, lots of politics. A lot about the was in Vietnam, and it was relevant to me because what I was going to do right after. “
Great musical moments?
“Richie Havens singing Freedom was one of the great musical moments. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were my favorites. I wasn’t crazy about “Blood, Sweat and Tears”. And Santana. “Oh yeah. Woodstock made Santana. They had five or six good albums and then became monotonous.”
“It’s over, people get in their cars and they go back to their lives. And the very next day I hada my draft physicial. The same place that Arlo Guthrie went, and I had my draft physical, I went with a letter from my doctor, Dr. Friedman, whose daughter was a classmate of mine at school , by the way, and I think she became a federal judge. And I had my draft physical and the doctor’s letter got met out, and I was 1-Y, and didn’t have to go to Vietnam.”
So in conclusion, was this a defining event in your life?
“Absolutely! You can’t help but be in a situation and not understand immediately that this is a very important event in your life. It was quite clear then. “I knew that this was a ‘once in a liftime’ event. Not merely ‘once in a lifetime’, but a ‘once in history’ event. It was unique.”
Brian, you told me that you had this insight on why there was no violence and so much friendship.
“Because nobody was prepared for what exactly had developed. Nobody anticipated the number of people who were actually going to come. The fact is that, however many tickets they sold, they didn’t realize that there was no way that they could prevent people from not being there. And so they went with the flow and everybody decided, in an implicit social contract to be peaceful. Because what was the alternative? And everybody seemed to manage to get along. And there was every ethnicity.
“And a couple of months later you had Altamont, and because of the lessons, if you will, that they picked up from Woodstock, at Altamont, they realized that they needed security. So who did they call in for security? Hell’s Angels. And the rest is also history. That’s why I teach my students that for me, the sixties ended with Woodstock. Not with the Stones at Altamont. For me the epitome of the sixties teachings, “Smile on your brother, everybody get together, the age of Aquarius”.
The movie was “Give me shelter”. “Gimme shelter, was part of it, the movie about Altamont. The sixties from a cultural standpoint ended with Woodstock and maybe Andy Warhol.”
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