Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969

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9780142180877: Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival, 1969

“Mr. Spitz feeds us every riveting detail of the chaos that underscored the festival.  It makes for some out-a-sight reading, man.”  The New York Times Book Review
 
Celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2014, the Woodstock Music Festival defined a generation. Yet, there was much more than peace and love driving that long weekend the summer of 1969. In Barefoot in Babylon, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Bob Spitz gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Woodstock, from its inception and the incredible musicians that performed to its scandals and the darker side of the peace movement. With a new introduction, as well as maps, set lists, and a breakdown of all the personalities involved, Barefoot in Babylon is a must-read for anyone who was there—or wishes they were.

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About the Author:

Bob Spitz is a journalist, author, musician, and a former manager of major talents, including Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. He lives in Connecticut.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PART ONE

The Nation at Peace

CHAPTER ONE

Four Champions Fierce

From the beginning, the script reads like an MGM musical comedy of the 1940s . . .

—BusinessWeek

1

Ashrill alert penetrated the apartment’s unruffled silence, startling the two young men inside. John Roberts, who had been dialing a long-distance call, vaulted toward the wall intercom and slapped the Talk button.

“Yes?” He automatically switched fingers to Listen. The doorman’s heavily accented response crackled: “Meester Mike and Meester Arth.”

Roberts peered over his shoulder to the velours couch where his friend and partner, Joel Rosenman, was probing the circuitry of a disabled transistor radio.

“Don’t look at me.” Rosenman shrugged, looking up from his surgery.

Roberts depressed the Talk button again. “Just a moment,” he said, and walked over to his desk. He flipped open a tan leather binder and ran his finger over a dog-eared page. The cryptic entry in his appointment book read simply: Lang/Kornfeld, 3:00. It was scrawled across the bottom of a page dated “Thursday, February 6, 1969,” a day that Roberts and Rosenman would forever inscribe as the moment of maculate conception, the birth of the Woodstock Generation.

“These are the two guys Miles sent over,” Roberts remembered. “I forgot all about it.”

“Me too,” Rosenman said. “They’re looking for money, right?”

Roberts said they were and instructed the doorman to allow their guests into the building. He and Rosenman had halfheartedly agreed to see Lang/Kornfeld on the recommendation of Miles Lourie, a prominent music-business attorney, who represented an impressive roster of contemporary recording artists that included Ray Charles and Paul Simon. Lourie had heard through a mutual acquaintance that Roberts and Rosenman were rolling in investment capital and had called them a week earlier with a proposition.

“My clients have a unique approach to a recording studio,” Lourie had said, holding back on the details. An old legal hoofer at heart, he played his cards slowly and with a dealer’s reserve. Lourie, in fact, considered his clients’ concept to be both economically sound and enticing, so much so that he was willing to represent it on a contingency basis. With the proper pairing of individuals, he envisioned everyone—including himself—profiting quite handsomely.

“All I’m asking is that you spend a few minutes with them, listen to what they have to say. And by the way, John, don’t be put off by their appearance. They look a little different than the type of people you and Joel are accustomed to dealing with, but I think you’ll find what they have to say refreshing.”

The last thing John Roberts and Joel Rosenman wanted to do was to waste time listening to would-be tycoons with a penchant for sound systems and superstars. A few months before, after several false starts in private enterprise, they had been referred to a similar cartel intent on building a recording studio; that liaison had resulted in their involvement in a project called Media Sound (in which Roberts and Rosenman had become partners), that was now underway to their utmost satisfaction. Why should they waste their time mulling over an identical proposal?

Still and all, Miles Lourie was considered a moving force in an industry they were entering. It wouldn’t do them any harm to be in his favor in return for a few minutes of their time. So John Roberts had consented to see Lang/Kornfeld at their convenience.

“You know anything about these guys?” Rosenman asked his partner, straightening up the pile of electrical scrap on the coffee table.

“Only that their first names sound like Meester Mike and Meester Arth—whatever the hell that means,” he said, shaking his head discontentedly. “And . . .” And, by the way, John, don’t be put off by their appearances. The lawyer’s words came back to him as he straightened a few things on his desk. It was a peculiar statement for a lawyer to make about his clients.

“And?” Joel waited for Roberts to continue.

“Uh, nothing,” Roberts said evasively as the door bell rang. “It wasn’t important.” And he moved in front of Rosenman to answer the door.

It wouldn’t be Roberts’s last appointment with this mysterious duo, although many of their subsequent encounters would not be arranged so easily—so exasperatingly easily! For years to come, there would be moments when he would wonder in how many ways the course of his life might have been altered had he politely refused Miles Lourie’s request. How indescribably empty it might have been—the colossal dream, the creativity, the excitement, the gamble, the recognition, the fame. Each memory invaded his senses the way a tilt-a-whirl whips a screaming child in and out of environmental focus. And after the legendary ride was over—when all contrasting recollections of enchantment and chaos had been sifted by perspective, by time—the inconceivable conclusion he always reached never failed to astound him: that given the chance, he would pull the magic lever and take the ride all over again.

· · ·

Oliver Goldsmith once wrote that “friendship is a disinterested commerce between equals.” If, in reality, there was ever an invisible line of demarcation drawn to define their worth to one another, neither John Roberts nor Joel Rosenman paid it any mind. Their friendship from the start was a genuine marriage of trust and admiration, neither lopsided nor doubted. If one of them needed advice, the other became father confessor; if there was a difference of opinion, a compromise was eventually reached. It was that sort of give-and-take relationship, with impregnable bonds.

Roberts, a solid, bullish young man with pink dimpled cheeks, twinkling brown eyes that were dead giveaways in a poker game, and tousled, chestnut hair parted to the side, was three years younger than his friend. He had been born in New York City in 1945, four days before the German armies surrendered to the Allied forces, and grew up in a small New Jersey army town. John’s maternal grandfather, Alexander Block, was one of the early East Coast pharmaceutical empire builders. When he died in 1953, Block Drugs was divided among his children. Elizabeth Roberts, his only daughter, inherited one third of a company grossing upwards of twenty million dollars a year behind such nationally renowned products as Polydent Toothpaste, Tegrin Medicated Shampoo, and the Pycopay line of accessories. But Elizabeth herself had been sickly, and it was not long after her father died that she, too, passed away at the age of thirty-nine. She was survived by three sons: William, born in 1937; Keith in 1943; and John, her third and last child. John, who was eight years old at the time of his mother’s death, with his two brothers, became a beneficiary of the Block Drug wealth.

Alfred Roberts, John’s father, was left somewhat unprepared for the task of raising three sons, and he attempted it with diffidence. He was forty-six when Elizabeth died and never felt comfortable around Keith and John. “You’re going to wind up a bum,” he’d constantly berate John, who regarded school as primarily another social event.

In 1961, John preserved the Roberts family’s Ivy League tradition without fanfare, and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. His going to college was merely intended as “doing the right thing” and, thus, he exhausted four years away from home, “having a great time and sliding by.” Anyone evaluating his years at college would have summed them up in two words—fraternity and friends.

While an undergraduate at Penn, Roberts befriended a senior predental student named Douglas Rosenman, whose academic bravura complemented Roberts’s open contempt for discipline. It wasn’t long, however, before John came to realize that beneath the academically polished, all-American exterior, his new friend was tortured by a streak of insecurity. He was obsessed with the versatility of an older brother named Joel who seemed to have the aggravating habit of excelling in everything he attempted—and, to hear Douglas tell it, Joel had attempted everything at least once. It was not spite that Douglas nurtured, but jealousy, born together with love and admiration, the most painful kind of all.

Roberts soon tired of hearing about Joel’s exploits and was determined that if he ever got hold of this living legend, he’d seek revenge for the number he had done on his friend Douglas.

All things considered, facing graduation, John Roberts was already a man of means in search of ways. He had inherited a cache of four hundred thousand dollars on his twenty-first birthday, and he was entitled to three separate payments of one million dollars on his twenty-fifth, thirtieth, and thirty-fifth birthdays. Accordingly, money, in the ordinary sense, was not a concern. However, he didn’t care merely to live off his inheritance. But the question of what to do with his future remained. Oh, he was a talented horseman, could shoot eighteen holes in the low seventies on a good day, read about as many books as any member of his family, had an easy time acquiring and holding friends and, if one were to base an estimation of his coeducational finesse on the number of dates he had, an expert with women. But, while most of his friends (and women) devoted their full time to preparing for responsible careers, John Roberts was tensely biding his time. In the end, he was just another college kid burdened by millions of dollars.

2

The summer of 1966, what Newsweek billed as “the longest, hottest summer . . . the roughest in years,” was the watershed for rebellion against the status quo. From then on, America’s youth emerged as a group to be reckoned with. Suddenly, complaisance was designated as a treasonable offense by the young vocal masses: you were either for the draft or you evaded it; you supported the black power movement or you were a racist; you advocated the legalization of marijuana or you were a redneck. You took a stand and defended it. Everything had the potential for erupting into a passionately fought cause, and “right on!” provided the perfect wash. Within weeks, the lines were drawn across all traditions. It was child against parent, youth against the Establishment. No one knew what to expect.

By early June, for example, just before the University of Pennsylvania staged its graduation exercises at the wonderfully prehistoric Civic Center, the United States publicly admitted that it had conducted the first tactical bombing missions over Hanoi. Responding to Senator Fulbright’s charge that the country was “succumbing to the arrogance of power,” President Lyndon Johnson countered by advocating that “we must continue to raise the price of aggression at it’s source.” Students, who saw that price as being fixed relatively high in Washington, answered him by raising a phalanx of middle fingers. They saw themselves as apostles destined to change the course of history. And they were fired with determination.

Roberts watched this awakening skeptically, but he was a worried skeptic. He was cautiously amused by the movement’s electricity but wondered where and how he would fit into it. He walked through commencement exercises shell-shocked, as one who had been abandoned in a crowd of strangers. Wherever he looked, his fellow Penn classmates filed past him, swelling with the pride of decision—an emotion he sorely lacked.

To others, John acted confidently. It was time, long past time, in fact, to make a few decisions about his future. He acknowledged to himself that if he made a clean break from the past, he’d be well on his way to standing on his own. At age twenty-one, it was something less than a prophetic revelation.

· · ·

Graduation left John Roberts a displaced person on uncharted seas. He had no ambition, not even a glimmering of a concrete objective he could genuinely pursue. That was his singular punishment for inherited wealth. And he’d overcome it, he was convinced of that. His family harbored the hope that he might elect law as being as likely an alternative as any, but John put an immediate end to that; law placed too much emphasis on personal discipline.

Instead, he applied to the Annenberg School of Communications in Philadelphia on a part-time basis to study writing and literary criticism. He would have preferred entering Annenberg as a full-time student, but to escape being drafted and shipped to Vietnam, he had joined an army reserve unit at Fort Monmouth and had no idea when he would be called up to fulfill basic training. To keep him busy the other three days of the week, he accepted a position at a Wall Street brokerage firm as a research assistant.

Roberts tried to be a conventional businessman. He dabbled in the stock market, but his trading of securities was purely amateur (“speculative” being a term reserved for professionals who take educated risks) and took on a frightening, albeit recurring, characteristic: John handed Wall Street his money, and they handed him even less in return. Still, there didn’t seem to be anything else looming in the future with which to occupy his time.

One afternoon John picked up the phone and was surprised to find an old friend on the other end of the line. Douglas Rosenman invited John to spend the weekend at the Rosenman family home in Long Island. “We could play a little golf, take in a few movies—you know, just take it easy, like old times. My brother, Joel, is out here. He’s taking his bar exam, but will be finished in time to play golf with us. He’s dying to meet you.”

The name caught John completely off guard.

He was tempted to tell Douglas to make it another weekend; however, his curiosity got the better of him.

“You’ve got a deal, Douglas. Let me finish up here, and I’ll see you Friday evening.”

Joel joined them at a nearby golf course on Saturday morning. Much to his surprise, it was a thoroughly enjoyable interlude for Roberts. His apprehension was abated somewhat when he discovered that Douglas had come to terms with their previous rivalry. John, in fact, found himself enchanted by Joel. On the basis of previous descriptions of the older brother, he had expected an egotistical snob who would swagger across the course with them while playing his own unblemished game of par golf. Instead, he was charmed by Joel’s friendliness and good-natured self-mockery; a young man of ordinary appearance and modest self-respect.

Joel Rosenman was of average height with active moonbutton eyes that seemed to balloon with excitement; Joel’s aquiline face resembled a Shakespearean actor’s chisled, expressive features: cheekbones set high above gaunt cheeks, a jaw jutting forth from a thin, tight mouth. His black curly hair flopped along the sides of his temples and, from afar, he gave the impression of a shaggy dog playfully loping across a field. John was overwhelmed by Joel’s carefree spirit, and they immediately struck up a relationship. By the end of the weekend, they had agreed to share an apartment in New York, where Joel was going to work at his uncle’s law firm.

A month later, John Roberts and Joel Rosenman scoured the city in search of a place of their own. It took them two days to find an apartment within Joel’s relatively conservative budget. B...

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