Jack’s little brother was a pain in the nose
, fifteen going on twenty-nine. The problem was he thought he was happening. The fact is, I guess he was. He was cute as a button and smart as a whip. He certainly had my number. He sussed out right away that I was sweet on Jack’s girl and she was sweet on me.
Jack’s little brother embodied most of my problems in those days. I say most because the size and shape of my biggest problem—my imminent conscription into Uncle Sam’s Vietnam Adventure Club—had not yet become abundantly clear to me. That was due to change in a mere four days—Wednesday, when I reported to the Induction Center up in Albany for the long bus ride to Fort Dix (hmmm), New Jersey.
So there we were, the three of us, sitting in Jack’s crib, creekside in upstate New York, just a quarter’s worth of toll across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and twenty minutes from Woodstock, our old stomping grounds, enjoying an ice cold imported brew and the early evening light. Eighteen was the drinking age in those days, and Jack and Rita and I—along with whatever little hippie girl I was grooving with at the moment—had tipped many a glass and survived many a last call at many a road house between where we were and Woodstock.
Of course, it wasn’t Woodstock in those days. We’d been going there since we first learned to drive, and our Woodstock was just a little pinko commie hamlet in the Catskills where city folk who called themselves artists came to get away from it all. Whatever "it" was.
Change was in the air. We’d spotted Dylan on more than one occasion, managing to maintain an easy anonymity up there in the pine trees by the Kill. Neil Young would slink downtown like a famished adolescent wolf who’d just worked up the balls to warm himself by the campfire. I remember watching Jimi Hendrix unload his own gear one afternoon. Whatever we were doing that day was so important we didn’t even bother to go to the jam at the church there on the corner that night. But Hendrix did, and we drove by drunk as skunks on shore leave on our way back home, slashing across his unmistakable riffs in our little cozy accident-proof Saab as if we were the most privileged kids who ever walked the earth. And in a way I guess we were
We lived in unusual times: the titans of the music world, the progenitors of pop culture as it has come to be, were a lot more accessible then, before the Vietnam War and Consciousness as Big Business changed everything. The artists were people first. It was a good way to be. It gave them something to write and sing about. Mostly they wrote and sang about sex and drugs, two things we couldn't get enough of.
So the kid comes in, wincing at the Jethro Tull we’ve got cooking on the stereo at the moment, and he says to me "Hey, you going to the show this week over to Woodstock? It’s gonna be great. Ten Years After and Canned Heat."
Ten Years After. Canned Heat. I do believe that those were the only bands that were truly lined up, signed-on-the-dotted-line, at that point on the "Three Days of Peace and Love" bandwagon. At any rate, they were the only bands that got my young friend excited, whatever he was about. Jack and Rita looked at me, a little sad I think, and I said "No, man. I’ll be in the army."
Is that not a bitch? Only the biggest rock n roll show in history, it turned out to be. Woodstock! And I’m the newest member of Uncle Sam’s Killing Machine, condemned to peeling potatoes and spit-shining my boots the weekend my best friend and his (my) girl and his little brother are tripping on over to our favorite little ole town in the Catskills. In the immortal words of Chef from Apocalypse Now: "Fu-uck."
Those first couple weeks of Basic Training all blur together. Not enough sleep, too much bad breath and worse aftershave in your face, a curious melange of high protein, carbohydrates and nicotine and run run run run run. All day, every day, these ARE the bastards they tell you not to let grind you down. Basic Training is all it's cracked up to be, and more, because AFTERWARDS they send you off to die. Kill. Whatever. One or the other, and it's not even your choice. They send you off to be lucky. Or not.
I was lucky, cause they made me a theater director (equal opportunity employer, Uncle Sam, Lord love him), and they sent me off to build a whole theatre program in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. In Arizona. Which I was happy to do, as you might imagine.
The next half a year is also a bit of a blur: I did some good plays. Did some excellent drugs. Drank a lot of Mexican beer. Met a wonderful girl. And I woke up rudely one morning to hear the words: "Hey, Run, you lucky fuck! You're going to Nam!"
Yeah, just like that, out of a blissful sleep of dreams, they get me anyway. I'm a bloody theatre director! By this time I'm a producer! An impresario, for chrissakes! We've been written up in The Army Times!
Well, they wanted me to do the same thing over there. Over there, like in the song. And that's a long story yet to be told on this site. Suffice it to say, things ran rapidly down hill. There was a lot of shit and a lot of fans and the wind was all wrong most of the time. Back in the world, the Woodstock rockers were dropping like acid in the Haight: Al "Blind Owl" Wilson from Canned Heat killed himself the first week of September. Jimi Hendrix crashed and burned on the 18th. Janis Joplin decided not to wake up about two weeks later, in October. And aside from that—you know, junkies offing themselves—my friends were getting killed. By other people. Daily. It was all too fucking much, G.I., and it had very little to do with Peace and Love.
Personally, I got hit by lightning on guard duty one wet winter evening. I was on a phone, a land line, one of those olive drab boxes you see in the movies, and it's connected to another box a couple hundred yards away by wire and—WHAM!—that lightning bolt laid me out horizontal, singed my clothes and my hair, you could smell shit burning, and Jesus-be-praised, I saw the light.
I was in charge of the movies, too, that went through the Americal Division during that year of death and rock n roll. We got a print of Woodstock, the movie, which had just been released back home. It was in sixteen millimeter, but it was anamorphic, which means wide screen, baby, and we got our shit together, with an anamorphic heavy duty projector from Da Nang and a kick-ass set of speakers, and we had ourselves an outdoor screening of Woodstock, on the shores of the South China Sea.
There were five hundred G.I.'s all squeezed in nice and tight by a cordon of Military Police. Must've been a hundred cops. Hmmm. Five to one. Pretty nice odds. Wouldn't want to take a chance on half a thousand grieving men with automatic weapons and marijuana. The thing was, though, even the MP's were firing up their bowls. It was three hours of peace and love and music, man.
It was Woodstock in Vietnam.
It was better than Show Business. It was War.
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers