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Monday, October 23, 2006

Richie Havens and Radio Silence

A friend of mine e-mailed a few days back to question the deafening silence around my corner of the internet. In fact, a few of you have started posing questions and they are all really fair. I just can't answer them right now, because I'm stuck on a question that has to be answered really soon and I have no idea what the answer is going to be. I promise, when the time is right, I'll tell you all about it. For now, suffice it to say that I'm back from LEAF and it was a much-needed and wonderful experience.

My friend, T, took the picture below on one of the mornings we spent next to the lake. It's one of my favorites he's taken in years.

Before I drop into my decision box for a few days, I have to recount one moment from LEAF that is going to stick with me for a while.

We weren't sure if we really wanted to hike around the lake to see Richie Havens. If you'd asked me on Wednesday, I might have said Havens was part of another era, worn out, and likely could not speak to 2006 America. Woodstock was nearly 40 years ago you know?

Something, and I'm still not sure what, moved me off my ass. I grabbed the wife and followed a couple of friends around the lake to the main stage. The crowd was packed under the tent and forced us to stand on the periphery. My wife is non-tall and struggled to see what I could see on stage. Havens looked old, as I expected, but the sound was pure and verging on something spiritual. I realized immediately that I was enjoying myself. My thoughts drifted from my main source anxiety to nothing as I listened to Havens' jam. For a while, he was alone on stage. His voice was stronger than most 25 year-olds, despite the fact he'll turn 66 in a few months. John Lennon once said that Havens played, "a pretty funky guitar," and even in the cold, dusk air of Black Mountain, North Carolina, Havens fingers moved so effortlessly over the frets that I alternated between awe and envy.

When Havens slipped into a cover of CSN Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," none of us immiedately recognized it. It was slow in the beginning and it took most of us until this part to figure out what he was singing...

We are stardust,
we are golden
We are ten billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

By now, another guitarist and a cellist had joined Havens on stage and moved into a driving jam that needed no drums. Hell, it didn't even need electricity. By the middle of it, we were all so stunned by what we were hearing, we were on the verge of tears. When it was over, the crowd called Havens encore. It turned out to be a semi-acapella version of Pink Floyd's "On the Turning Away." This part hung in the air when he sang it:

On the wings of the night as the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite in a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange, mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change on the wings of the night

On the way back to camp, we all agreed that we had seen something sort of special. I admitted I didn't think Havens could speak to 2006 and admitted that he proved me wrong. Somehow, a man who was born before my father, who came to importance 40 years ago, who sang a Pink Floyd song that was actually on an album from 1987 (after Roger Waters left the band), touched an Appalachian crowd in 2006.

Around the campfire, I was curiously quiet for an hour or so before asking a few friends, "How long do you think it took America to realize that Woodstock was going to be a cultural phenomenon? Do you think it was immediate or took a while?"

My friend Beth spoke up. "I think they knew immediately."

Everybody nodded their heads and continued to nod when I off-handedly talked about how something like that couldn't be manufactured, that it just had to happen.

Richie Havens opened Woodstock with his song "Motherless Child," with the word "Freedom" repeated many times through the song's drive.

Everyone was still nodding about the inability to force cultural change through manufactured symbols. Everyone was still nodding when someone said, "They just have to happen.

And nobody stopped nodding when someone else said, "Maybe it's time."



Blogger Daddy said...


7:55 PM  
Anonymous shep said...

sorry I missed Havens, but enjoyed the rest of leaf with all you fine people

8:40 PM  
Blogger Sparky said...

Great piece. Hope your decision making process goes as smoothly as possible - every crisis *is* an opportunity for change...

10:56 AM  
Blogger Sparky said...

Great piece. Hope your decision making process goes as smoothly as possible - every crisis *is* an opportunity for change...

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Su said...

Decisions, decisions. Going through some of those myself right now.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Mrs. Otis said...

It's too bad T's a PR hack now. He is an incredibly talented photographer. Too bad it's sometimes tough to pay the bills doing what you do best.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Ignatious said...

not to be a nit, but damnit, it's a cover of joni, not csn.

joni rules.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

Damn it, Iggy. Hate it when you're right.

1:19 PM  

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