Are You Experienced?

Are You Experienced?

"Then things got freaky. A flash of lightning illuminated the entire 
field. There was David, still on his back, still grinning. Michael and 
Willow, together, peering up at the sky in awe. Debbie, her mouth opened in 
"And Tina, shrieking, 'Here it is! Ten! Nine! Eight!'
"She only got down to three before the skies opened up and a pelting storm 
engulfed us. It didn't last super-long, but by the time it ended, we were 
six mud-encrusted citizens of a swamped city.
"In the eerie, dark silence that followed, Tina turned to David and said, 
'Told you.' Then she threw up on his lap, lay down in the mud, and fell 

Welcome to Woodstock!

"Why must every generation think their folks are square?
And no matter where their head's are, they know mom's ain't there"
-- John Sebastian, "Younger Generation," the closing number in his 
Saturday morning (3:30 a.m. - 3:55 a.m.) performance at Woodstock

I don't wish that I was at Woodstock in 1969. Maybe I once did -- like, 
about, four decades ago. It is one thing to be comfortable with your age, 
but when you're inching your way toward sixty candles, believe me, ya ain't 
sitting around wishing that you'd already had a few more trips around the 
sun just so you could say that you were part of the multitude who can't 
remember that weekend in Bethel NY. (Remember that old bumper sticker?: "If 
you remember Woodstock, you weren't there!!!") And besides. If I was old 
enough for Woodstock back then, I would have also had to deal with being of 
draft age, and that means I'd possibly be speaking Canadian now instead of 
northern Californian.

But, thanks to Jordan Sonnenblick, here we are at Woodstock (which, of 
course, actually took place in Bethel. And there is a mystery here, for sure. 
What has propelled twenty-first century teenager Richard Gabriel Barber 
from his home in 2014 back into the past and caused him to materialize -- in 
front of his adolescent future father and uncle -- in August 1969, as they 
are heading, with a sea of hippies, for Yasgur's Farm?

"The three of them got me into the backseat of the car, where I proceeded 
to give in to a massive case of the shakes. David--Dad--got in right next 
to me, while Michael ran around to the driver's side and fired up the 
engine and Willow threw herself into the passenger seat. 'Come on, Michael,' 
she said. 'We have to get to the festival. Maybe there'll be a doctor there 
or something. I think Gabriel might be in shock.'
"In shock, I thought. Why would I be in shock? It's thirty years before 
I was born, and I'm sitting next to my fifteen-year-old dad, in a car full 
of illegal drugs. Oh, and the driver is my dead uncle. Who just ran me 
over. Stop me when we get to the shocking part."

"Lady finger dipped in moonlight
Writing 'What for?' across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters dawn with answers
Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye"
-- from "Saint Stephen" (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) the opening song in 
the Grateful Dead's Saturday night (10:30 p.m. - 12:05 a.m.) set at 
Woodstock. While, technically, Jerry Garcia's official cause of death was heart 
attack, not heroin, there is no question about the extent to which that drug 
contributed so heavily to his body giving out at age 53.

Guitar-wielding author Jordan Sonnenblick, (who happened to be six weeks 
old when Jimi took the stage at Woodstock and played that mind-blowing 
version of our national anthem), takes us on a time-traveling romp to Yasgur's 
Farm where we get to savor the joyful sea of chaos and humanity that was 

But in the process, Sonnenblick exposes us to what, to me, is one of the 
darkest sides of the music scene and the world of us sixties kids: the 
illicit use of heroin. And that, logically, leads my mind to a more general 
discussion of what are the common causes of young people experiencing despair 
and wanting so badly to escape into hard drugs. That, in turn, prompts the 
question of how might today's society seek to mitigate those root causes 
of drug abuse through counseling, intervention, and other services.

"Someone like you makes it hard to live without somebody else
Someone like you makes it easy to give, never think about myself."
-- "Reason to Believe" made famous by Rod Stewart but written by and 
performed at Woodstock by Tim Hardin, who died of a heroin overdose at age 39.

I can go on and on about the famous and anonymous victims of heroin 
addiction. In fact, I was just recalling an amazing publisher party in NYC 
eleven years ago where the entertainment was provided by Tom Tom Club and Dee 
Dee Ramone's band. That show is one of my most memorable experiences being 
in the world of publishing, bookselling, and librarianship. Unfortunately, 
it was Dee Dee's last ever performance. He OD'd on smack the next month.

There are so many mind-boggling questions that arise from reading this 
story. How and to what degree have the promises of the Summer of Love and 
Woodstock come to fruition? How have they withered and died? There is also a 
lot of discussion of destiny here. This was 1969, when Woodstock 
performer Arlo Guthrie did not yet know whether or not he would be a victim of 
Huntington's Disease and die the same unimaginable death that his father 
endured, or whether he would have a longer life. And Hendrix, who is one of 
several famous musicians to make an appearance as a character in the 
story...well, I can't tell you more than the fact that he is a character here in a 
scene relating to fate that just really shook me to my core. (I still have 
a vivid memory of the day they reported that Jimi'd died.) 

In fact, I've had quite an amazing couple of days, immersed in the long 
strange trip that is ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? It is a tale that really touched 
me deeply. There is just so much here with abusive parents and alcohol and 
drugs and famous characters who we know are going to die and the stupidity 
of war.

Finding myself sitting on muddy blankets with six young people amidst a 
sea of joy and brotherhood at the most famous rock concert in history, Jordan 
Sonnenblick has me thinking about the complicated issues surrounding the 
mind-altering substances -- including alcohol, pot, psychedelics, and heroin 
-- that continue to be an ever-presence in our twenty-first century world. 
It also has me dreaming about how we might once again capture and employ 
the love and innocence of those magical days in making a better world 

This book is quite the powerful experience.

304 pages  978-1-250-02564-7     12 and up
Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (

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