Talking ‘Bout My Generation Makes News

As a former journalist I’m used to seeing my name in print, but this was the first time one of my programs made the news in Washington, DC. My lecture was listed second of the best things to do in DC on this particular Monday night. And I have to admit, Paws of Honor was a much better cause than my talk.

The Washingtonian

Things to Do in DC This Week
AUGUST 26-28, 2019

MONDAY
DOGS The St. Gregory Hotel is celebrating National Dog Day with a “Patio Pawty” where both humans and canines can enjoy food and drinks (four-legged friends will enjoy treats from Doggy Style Bakery). The event is a fundraiser for Paws of Honor , a nonprofit that provides no-cost veterinary care for retired service and military dogs, which the hotel also supports with its pet stay fees. Paws of Honor alums will be on hand for snuggles and belly rubs. Free to attend; $35 for drinks, light appetizers, and doggy treats, 5 PM – 10 PM.

LECTURE Even beyond Woodstock, 1969 was a crucial year for music with the formation of the Allman Brothers, Judas Priest, and ZZ Top as well as the recording of the Beatles’ final album. In a lecture at the S. Dillon Ripley Center presented by Smithsonian Associates, DC-based author Dave Price will explore the year in a before-and-after context, looking at the events  of 1959 (“the day the music died” with the death of Buddy Holly ) and the late 1970s with the arrival of Tom Petty , the Clash, and more. Price will pull from the research for his upcoming book What’s That Sound: Song Lists and Stories to Help You Better Understand the Music of the Baby Boom Era. The final lecture in the series takes place on September 23 . $45, 6:45 PM.
My T-shirt says it all …
I share a laugh with one of my guests, South Jersey poet and songwriter R.G. Evans

Notes on Woodstock 2019 – Day 2

Early Afternoon

Since we had spent 11 hours at the Bethel Hills site yesterday, we decided not to go early today. At noon, we went to lunch at the Two Rivers Grill in Matadoras, Pennsylvania where we staying. There we met my new favorite waitress, Lisa, who had just started work that week. For a few years now, if my wife Judy and I order dessert, we share. I’ve made it a standing joke to ask our servers to bring Judy a smaller fork or spoon so that I can get more of the dessert. Today, Lisa complied. But there was a twist. She brought the smaller fork for me, explaining that Judy, as a female, deserved the larger portion. Our dessert was delicious. It was fresh-baked caramel covered apple pie (neighboring upstate New York is known not only as the original home of Woodstock, but also for its apples) with home-made vanilla ice cream. And I don’t even like apple pie.

On the elevator at the Hampton Inn we met a Buffalo couple, Maria and Gunner, who had just arrived that morning and were going to the Woodstock for the first time. They asked us several questions, and since we all had lawn seats for the Santana performance, we asked them if they wanted to travel to the Bethel site with us. They said that would be great and the four of us were on the road by 3 p.m.

While Gunner and Maria wandered around taking in the atmosphere and the sights that we had been exposed to yesterday, Judy and I decided to focus on a just a couple of exhibits.

First up was the Light Bus, a version of which had actually made the journey to the original 1969 festival. In fact, the bus itself has a storied history. In 1968, Bob Grimm, who was then playing in a rock band named Light, asked his friend Robert Hieronymus to “paint us a magic bus”. Heronimus immediately got to work transforming a 1963 split window VW Kombi bus into a vehicle covered with esoteric symbols to welcome in to what was then being called a new Aquarian Age.

Like Ken Kesey and his fellow pranksters on their famed bus Further, Grimm and his friends made the trip across country in 1969 to Woodstock. Their painted bus was featured in an AP Woodstock photo that appeared in newspaper’s around America. Based on that photo, the bus began appearing in all kinds of publications and became a a talismanic of the peace and love portion of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

In 1972, the bus was used to run errands for the Savitra commune in Baltimore. Within a short time, the now decaying bus became unusable. However, in 2009, as part of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, a limited edition diecast model replica of the Light Bus was a popular best-seller.

In 2018, Hironimus and a team of artists restored a 1962 Kombi VW bus in a secluded barn in Maryland. Now, that restoration was drawing big crowds, most of whom wanted to get the pictures taken with the Light Bus in the background.

Next, I headed to Recovery Unplugged tent to talk Jim, a recovering alcoholic police officer from my home state of New Jersey who I had chatted with briefly yesterday. He was at Woodstock at a representative of the music-based alcohol and drug treatment program Recovery Unplugged offers at its facilities in Lake Worth and Fort Lauderdale in Florida and northern Virginia. A fourth facility is expected to open soon in Nashville.

Jim explained that Recovery Unplugged are pioneers in music-based addiction treatment. “Actually, our C.A.C. is the man who literally wrote the book on music-based addiction,” Jim explained, pointing out Paul Pellinger’s book about the story of Recovery Unplugged Music Is Our Medicine. Several musicians including Steven Tyler and Richie Supa of Aerosmith, Morris Day of the Time, and the rapper Flo-Rida are associated with the program.

While we were talking, a Bethel Woods worker approached and told Jim that he and his fellow workers would have to take down their tent and secure all the Recovery Unplugged items as a severe storm was expected to strike the area in about half-an-hour.

Judy and I decided to seek shelter in the Woodstock Museum until the storm passed. We focused on two of the exhibits, one explaining in depth the background of all the artists who performed at the first Woodstock festival and the other a temporary exhibit We Are Golden: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary Festival and Aspirations for a Peaceful Future.

The special exhibition features a collection of of authentic Woodstock artifacts including Jack Cassidy of Jefferson Airplane’s bass guitar and the tunic he wore, handwritten lyrics for the song “Goin’ Up the Country” by Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, and a speaker cabinet and missing equipment used by Bill Hanley, whose work established the standard for outdoor concert sound.

Other sections included Voices from the Past, which presented first-person commentary about changing American society in the 1960s; Woodstock Remembered, first person accounts from people who attended the historic three-day festival; Woodstock Through the Lens, a collection of photos taken at the festival; and What the World Needs Now, an interactive exhibit tat engaged participants in conversations about what they want from society today and how the experiences from 50 years ago could inform attitudes, decision-making, and actions today.

Night

While we were inside, the threatened severe storm never materialized and we headed to the amphitheater lawn to meet Gunner and Maria and enjoy in tonight’s concert with The Doobie Brothers and Santana, with its leader Carlos Santana whose musical breakthrough came from the song “Soul Sacrifice” which was featured in the award-winning 1970 documentary on Woodstock.

Of course, the original Woodstock was plagued by incessant rain storms that turned the festival fields into veritable seas of mud and mess. In fact, one of the lasting moments from the film featured the crowd shouting the “No Rain, No Rain” chant which provided the segue into Santana’s energetic performance.

Well, as if to prove the musical gods have a sense of both history and irony, after the Doobie Brothers concluded their set (which included their huge hits “Listen to the Music”, “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “Long Train Runnin,” and “China Grove,” as well as my all-time favorite Doobie’s tune “Ukiah,” lighting flashed and thunder rolled. Those of us in the amphitheater (which has a reported capacity of 16,200 but on this Saturday night, was estimated to be far more than 20,000) prepared for bad weather, and, indeed just minutes before Carlos Santana and his current band were scheduled to take the stage, rain began falling.

As they have on this tour all summer, Santana was paying tribute both to Woodstock and the 50th anniversary of his band. With an explosion of noise from the crowd, a precoded version of the rain chant from the Woodstock burst from the speakers and, once on stage, the band broke into three songs that became their standards from their initial Woodstock debut – “Soul Sacrifice,” Jin-go-lo-ba,” and “Evil Ways”. Now, while it is true you can’t go home again, or as the Chinese put it, you can’t put you feet in the same river twice, that Santana there-song opening was about as close as you can get if you had been one of the estimated 400,000 who attended Woodstock in 1969.

Complete Set List for Santana at Woodstock 2019

  1. Woodstock IntroPlay Video
  2. Soul Sacrifice(with ‘Light My Fire’ tease)Play Video
  3. Jin-go-lo-ba(Babatunde Olatunji cover)Play Video
  4. Evil Ways / A Love SupremePlay Video
  5. (Da Le) YaleoPlay Video
  6. Put Your Lights OnPlay Video
  7. Exodus (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover) (with The Doobie Brothers) (with ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ and ‘… more )Play Video
  8. Black Magic Woman / Gypsy QueenPlay Video
  9. Oye como va(Tito Puente cover)Play Video
  10. Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile) Play Video
  11. Happy Birthday to You(Mildred J. Hill & Patty Hill cover) (for band member and roadie… more ) Play Video
  12. Imagine (John Lennon cover) (Cindy Blackman Santana on lead vocals) Play Video
  13. Hope You’re Feeling Better (with rap interlude and blues outro)Play Video
  14. Total Destruction to Your Mind (Swamp Dogg cover) (with ‘Miss You’ tease, ‘(I… more )Play Video
  15. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)Play Video
  16. Breaking Down the Door Play Video
  17. Corazón espinado Play Video
  18. Maria Maria Play Video
  19. Foo Foo Play Video
  20. Encore:
  21. Are You Ready (The Chambers Brothers cover) (with Cindy Blackman Santana drum solo) Play Video
  22. Smooth Play Video
  23. Peace Love and Happiness (with band introductions; with… more ) Play Video
  24. Get Together(The Youngbloods cover)

I Like to Be in America: ‘West Side Story’ Still Relevant After All These Years

Mention the names of lovers Tony and Maria or the song titles “Somewhere” or “I Like to Be in America” to just about any Baby Boomer and they’ll immediately know you’re talking about one of the greatest defining American musicals of their era, West Side Story.

For more than six decades now, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling, tragic reworking of the classic Romeo and Juliet tale set in New York City in the 1950s has been captivating hearts and minds of audiences around the world. But in today’s America, given our bitter battling over immigration and fear of the outsider, the acclaimed musical has been given renewed significance and is just as powerful in production as it was when it debuted on Broadway 1957 and won the Academy Award for best picture in 1961.

If he were alive, famed composer and conductor Bernstein would be 100 and to celebrate his centennial legacy The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is offering a series of his of his works, including having the National Symphony Orchestra and a talented young cast from New York recently perform a special West Side Story in Concert.

“Today, it seems incredible that Leonard Bernstein could have written West Side Story, an up-to-the-minute commentary on gang warfare then in New York City,” says Fransesco Zambello, artistic director of Washington Orchestra. “But it is timeless in that it struggles with the ideals that are at the heart of the American project: the idea that we are all created equal, and with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“In West Side Story, discord between native-born Americans and recent immigrants leads to tragedy, but its most famous song is an anthem to true optimism, a belief in a world “Somewhere” where each person has a place, each person has a home,” Zambello added.

Zambello contends that while we should enjoy Bernstein’s music, we should never neglect his message. “If we simply enjoy the tunes we are missing the point,” he says. “Bernstein devoted his life not only to art, but also to advocacy, education, and the responsibilities of citizenship. May his legacy always inspire us to do the same.”

National Symphony Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, who led the musicians and even changed costume to portray the infamous Officer Kruppke in one scene, has often contemplated why West Side Storyis so enduring.

Reineke acknowledges that part of the musical’s popularity comes from Bernstein’s infectious melodies, complex rhythms, and jazz-infused harmonies. But it is the fact Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sonheim’s sometimes witty, sometimes heart-breaking lyrics, touches so many of us so deeply, he contends, that gives West Side Storyits staying power.

“It shines a mirror on each and every one of us to make us think about how we treat each other as fellow human beings. It exposes our prejudices and preconceived ideas about one race or one class versus another,” Reineke said. “Somehow, someday, somewhere – that was the issue Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim contemplated decades ago. To honor Bernstein’s centennial, I implore each of us as individuals to begin answering ‘Here, now, and compassionately.’”

10 Facts About West Side Story You May Not Have Known, But Will Now Thanks to Mental FlossandWriter Mark Mancini

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE ABOUT A CATHOLIC BOY & A JEWISH GIRL.

Religion and national identity would’ve driven the drama of East Side Story, which is what choreographer Jerome Robbins & composer Leonard Bernstein called the project they started working on in 1949. But eventually they decided that “the whole Jewish-Catholic premise [was] not very fresh” when they were having a poolside meeting in Beverly Hills six years later. Under the California sun, they decided to instead focus on—in Bernstein’s words — “two teenage gangs … one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled ‘Americans.’” Because Manhattan’s eastern neighborhoods had been largely gentrified by then, their production was soon given its present title.

2. THE DIRECTOR INSISTED ON AN UNUSUALLY LONG REHEARSAL PERIOD.

Before opening night, your average 1957 musical cast was only given four or five weeks’ worth of practice. Robbins (who also sat in the director’s chair) demanded eight. “We had a lot of work to do,” he recalled, with the show’s intricate dance sequences requiring extra attention.

3. THE JETS & THE SHARKS WERE PROHIBITED FROM INTERACTING OFFSTAGE.

Robbins tried generating real hostility between these fictitious gangs. According to producer Hal Prince, the Broadway veteran kept both groups of actors as far away from each other as possible. “They were not allowed to socialize out of the theater, [and] they were not allowed to take their lunches together.” Obviously, this was an extreme approach. But over time, it started working.

4. FOUR-LETTER WORDS WERE REPLACED WITH INOFFENSIVE JIBBERISH.

Through West Side Story, lyricist Stephen Sondheim wanted the F-bomb to make its musical theater debut. Initially, this choice word appeared in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” but Columbia Records (which released their original cast recording) noted that using such language would violate obscenity laws and—hence—prevent the show from touring across state lines. Defeated, they went with “Krup you!” instead.

5. SPOILER ALERT: MARIA HAD A DELETED DEATH SCENE.

Shakespeare may have killed off both title characters in Romeo & Juliet, but one of West Side Story’s star-crossed lovers lives to see the final curtain drop. Things almost ended much differently. Maria’s untimely suicide was part of an early draft—until composer Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) offered his two cents. “She’s dead already, after this all happens to her,” he told Robbins.

6. BERNSTEIN PLUCKED “ONE HAND, ONE HEART” FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MUSICAL.

At the time, he was scoring West Side Story and Candide—which was based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella of the same name—simultaneously. Though Bernstein crafted “One Hand, One Heart” for that production, he repurposed it as a romantic duet between Tony and Maria. In exchange, “O Happy We,” which was originally a duet for West Side Storymoved to the first act of Candide.

7. “SOMETHING’S COMING” WAS WRITTEN LAST-MINUTE.

Just 12 days before West Side Story premiered in D.C. (it’d debut in New York later), Bernstein and Sondheim wrote Tony’s hopeful ballad. Their inspiration came from a piece of dialogue that the character was to deliver during his first scene. The line, as penned by playwright Arthur Laurents, went like this: “Something’s coming, it may be around the corner, whistling down the river, twitching at the dance—who knows?” When asked if he’d mind letting the sentence get turned into a number, he enthusiastically replied “Yes, take it, take it, make it a song.” This late arrival had to be re-orchestrated several times, making it a bit of a headache for the pit band.

  1. AUDREY HEPBURN WAS TAPPED TO PLAY MARIA FOR THE FILM VERSION.

In 1959, the screen legend was pregnant—and because she’d already suffered two miscarriages, Hepburn wasn’t about to over-exert herself this time. So, when she was offered the lead role in what would arguably become the most celebrated movie musical ever shot, she declinedRebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood got the part instead, with Marni Nixon dubbing over her singing voice.

  1. WEST SIDE STORY’S 1961 CINEMATIC ADAPTATION SET AN ACADEMY AWARDS RECORD.

Seven months after its release, the flick brought home 10 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and even Best Picture. Thus, it won more than any other musical ever had in Academy Award history. As of this writing, the distinction still stands.

  1. A BILINGUAL REVIVAL OPENED ON BROADWAY IN 2009.

Laurents joined forces with producers Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander to retell the story he’d helped craft over 50 years earlier. This time, he leveled the playing field. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the gangs somehow,” he explained. By letting the Sharks speak and sing in their native language during large chunks of the musical, Laurents hoped to do exactly that. Like the original, after a run in Washington, D.C. the show moved to New York, where it ran for 748 performances.

This article first appeared

in Talking ‘Bout My Generation

When Duck and Cover Drills Just Didn’t Cover It

By Dave Price

Like most Baby Boomers born in the 1940s and early 1950s, I can vividly recall those 13 harrowing days in October of 1962 that came to be called the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I remember sitting in front of our family’s black-and-white television and hearing President John Kennedy describe in terrifying detail how the leaders of Communist Russia had installed nuclear missiles in neighboring Cuba and now they were pointed directly at the east coast of America.

I didn’t then, and certainly don’t now, recall all of President Kennedy’s speech. But I knew from his look and what I had previously read and seen on TV the situation was ominous. The president was talking about the possibility of the deaths of millions of Americans.

I don’t think I fully understood death then. What 10-year-old does?

But I was aware that the silly drills we were being subjected to in school were meaningless, if not indeed idiotic. We practiced two types. In one, we marched silently, single file out into the hallway away from the windows, put our arms against the wall in front of us, and placed our head on our arms. In the other, we were ordered to crawl under our wooden desks and remain there until an all-clear was sounded. To me, both were ridiculous. Hadn’t people seen the fiery blast and deadly mushroom cloud of fallout to follow? How were these positions supposed to protect anyone against that?

Obviously, I didn’t want to die, but my biggest concern centered around my mother and father. They worked in a city about 10 miles from my school. I determined I wasn’t going to let the world end and not be with them.

So, I came up with a plan. My 4thgrade teacher was Mrs. Dorothy Robinson. She drove a big Oldsmobile. I had observed that she always put her car keys in her large purse before starting class. She would then put her purse on the floor on the right side of her desk. I knew what I would do. At the initial signal for any attack, I would dash from my chair, grab her keys, bolt to her car, and drive the 10 miles to be with my parents.

Of course, there was a major problem with my plan. I had never driven a car before. But I was convinced I could do it if I had to.

Finally, on Oct. 26th, it was reported that the Soviet Union had backed down. They would remove the missiles. For now, the world was safe. I didn’t have to learn to drive during unimaginable destruction.

Seven years later, I did get my license. And one year later, I found myself in college, learning academic ways to support my growing belief that peace is always better than war. I made a life-long commitment to trying to be a person of peace. Over the years, I’ve come up with many reasons to support that decision. But I’ve never found any better than the two I learned in 1962 – there’s no way a wooden desk can keep you safe from an atomic bomb and a 10-year old is way too young to drive.

The End of the World as We Know It Was Only a Hair’s Breath Away

While almost all of America was filled with dread during those tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, if we had known then what we know now we probably would have been even more terrified.

“We came within a hair’s breath of the destruction of the world,” says Janet Lang, a professor of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “We look back on the Missile Crisis and it was peacefully resolved. But we didn’t know at the time how it was going to turn out.”

Lang and her husband James Blight, chairman of the International Affairs department, appeared at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to discuss their new book The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/Kruschev/Castro in the Cuban Missile CrisisThe authors are also responsible for an interactive website on their project which you can access by clicking here.

Blight agrees with his wife’s alarming assessment. “If you don’t believe in divine intervention, this (piece of history) will really test you. We are fortunate to be here today and having this discussion,” he contends. “It shows that a nuclear was is possible even if no one wants it.”

The story involves three countries – the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba – and their three leaders at the time – John Kennedy, Nikita Khruschev and Fidel Castro.

Blight says that while many people focus on the 13 unbelievably stressful days in October, 1962, the story actually began 18 months earlier. Kennedy was then the new American president. He carried through with the authorization of a previously planned private attack on Cuba and its Communist leader Castro. That invasion, known as the Bay of Pigs, was an utter fiasco. However, it convinced Castro that Kennedy was intent in taking over his tiny island. He turned to his most powerful Communist ally, Russian Premier Khruschev. Khruschev ordered that nuclear missiles aimed at the United States be secretly installed and sent 43,000 Russians to Cuba to handle that task.

“Cuba’s often overlooked, but it was the mouse that roared,” Blight says. First, Castro was really wrong about Kennedy’s intentions. Privately, the president was saying after the Bay of Pigs that he would never undertake any military operation against Cuba (even though there were many covert plots to kill Castro). And, for his part, while Khruschev wanted to back Cuba – which at the time was considered the crown jewel in the Communist empire since it was located only 90 miles from the U.S. mainland – he certainly didn’t want to start a war with America.

But once America discovered the Soviet missiles, a showdown was inevitable. In America, on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. Kennedy delivered what Blight terms “the scariest speech that any president has ever given.” Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba, saying that if Soviet ships bound for the island didn’t turn back and the missiles already on the island weren’t removed, America would take action.

While Americans of all ages nervously waited for what would come next, low-level surveillance flights over Cuba continued. Cubans were convinced that such flights signaled an immediate American attack. In his mind, Castro was prepared to act, even if it meant possible world destruction.  He would allow Cuba to become a martyr for the socialist cause. “Cuba will matter. Cuba will make a difference,” Blight says, detailing Castro’s thoughts at the time. The Russians had ordered no action taken against the planes. However, besieged by his people, Castro, after witnessing one of the ear-splitting jet flights in person, issued the fatal order – shoot the planes down. The 43,000 Russians in Cuba were convinced that they would never return home, dying when the island “went up”.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Khruschev, when he was notified of Castro’s intention, exploded. “This is insane. Castro is trying to drag us into the grave with him,” he was said to have shouted.

Finally, after days of negotiations, the Soviet ships turned around and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. The options may have been few, but the right ones were chosen to avert a nuclear war. However, the positive outcome was never guaranteed. “You take Kennedy out and put someone like Lyndon Johnson in and we’re not here,” Lang maintains.

But what implications does studying the Cuban showdown have for us today in our 21stCentury world? The professors say there four:

  • Armageddon can happen. “You don’t have to go to science fiction, you can just go to history,” Blight says.
  • Nuclear war is possible even if no one wants it.
  • Big powers, for their own good, must empathize with smaller countries.
  • And, finally, you can’t know with any certainty what would actually happen in the event of another near-nuclear launch. “You can’t prepare. There are simulations, but in real life people can crack and crumble under such pressures. You can only do something like Cuba once. What happens next time is anyone’s guess,” says Blight.