Who Do You Think You Are?


Turnoff to Woodstock

For those who are inclined to romanticise Woodstock, while conjuring fantasies of "three days of love and peace", be advised: this ain't the place where the rock festival happened. The city fathers wouldn’t have a bar of it - not then, not now, not ever. So what's all the hooha about? Well, apart from the fact that Bob Dylan used to occupy what is now the Woodstock Photographic Gallery next to the creek, and often would sit on the front porch and jam with other musician friends, Woodstock isn't likely to create much excitement these days.

Back in the 1920s, Woodstock was an artists' colony, and might've remained so had it not been over-run by so many Sunday painters, sculptors, photographers, furniture makers, antique collectors, electricians and tourists. Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman - who you can see in the doco, Don't Look Back - lived just outside of Woodstock; his grave can be visited near the Little Bear Cafe in Bearsville.  

I ended up in Woodstock after nearly two years living in Mexico (See Exile) and realising I was in need a a better hide-out. I'm not sure what I expected to find. All the New Yorkers I'd met in San Miguel told me I should come to New York - "New York will love you!" - and because most of them lived in or near Woodstock, that's where I came. 

My partner and I lived in an old weatherboard house with a great bank of small-paned windows at the front - 123 Tinker Street. It reminded me of an old Russian hunting lodge, not that I've ever been in a Russian hunting lodge, but it evoked that kind of feeling, specially when the earth was covered by snow and looked like a location in Doctor Zhivago.

 Field where Esopus Indians grew corn before "whitefellas"


WOODSTOCK! The name conjured romantic and poetic images, but maybe that too was a side-effect of the nervous breakdown I was in.

There's actually precious little poetry in Woodstock, owing largely to the fact (I suspect) that the Esopus Indians were wiped out nearly two hundred years ago. Nestled in the Catskill Mountians, it's really a rather haunted place. You can understand how Washington Irving came up with the idea of a headless horseman.

Ed Sanders of Fugs fame averts his eyes and voicelessly slinks by me every time we chance upon one another, as if he's involved in some kind of transcendental witness protection program and I'm a possible informer. I remember bailing  him up in the old post office one afternoon to pass on a message from Gary Snyder, and him looking at me as if I was a raving lunatic. I didn't hold it against him. Maybe that was exactly what I looked like. All I know for sure is that I walked away sensing in our non-encounter a simple albeit curious pathos - a nostalgia that had long ago passed its shelf life, and it made me realise we were both so much older than we ever imagined would be possible. Well, I can't speak for him. But that was how I felt. Then again, I really was in a perpetual breakdown.

I won't mention the other people - writers and artists and dancers and so on - that live in and around the town, although I am inclined to tip me hat to local poet and publisher, George Quasha for his wonderful anthologies, including America, A Prophecy.

After spending the first six months living in a big old two-storey house on the Overlook Mountain Road - shared with Brenda Grey, half black/half Iroquois and a radical gay feminist separatist - I developed a severe case of bursitis that became so bad I ended up spending the better part of three months in bed. Brenda used to come around and visit me and my partner in our new place in Tinker Street. Brenda didn't like her name. Sshe wanted to change it to Rainbow. Rainbow Grey.  She had one of those forceful personalities that really appealed to me - and for some reason we got on like the best of friends, which confounded some of her old girlfriends who could never quite get their heads around the fact that Brenda was so friendly to a man.

The new place was at 123 Tinker Street, right in town. It was a great old weatherboard place with a great bank of small-paned windows at the front that looked straught out on Tinker Street and the Catskill Range, like some kind of old Russian hunting lodge with huge trees front and back. A great winter residence. Tulips grew out the back every winter before the snows came and it was always warm enough to grow frangipanis in pots tahnks to a great oil heater that even in a blizzard made the place feel like a tropical paradise.

There's also a great library, and if you're ever in Woodstock be sure to check it out. Looking at the books one is rather bowled over by what is there. It's like all the famous writers, artists, poets, novelists and diarists that had ever spent time in Woodstock had bequeathed their personal book collections to the town library. First editions of William Carlos Williams and Venassa Bell, Jane Bowles and Ezra Pound. Rare signed additions by by e.e. cummings and Menckin. Breathtaking.  

 Tinker Street, Woodstock NY


The place is still home to Robert Thurman - Buddhist scholar and father of Uma, who also had a place there, with (then) husband, Ethan Hawke. We used to run into each other in Sunflower, the local organic food supermarket.