Laurel at Woodstock, 1969
Laurel smiled orgasmically into the lense, mud-covered and alive. She made our history.
"Laurel is on the pages of Life magazine!” Roger shouted. It was days after Woodstock and celebrity was in the neighborhood.
Laurel was our celebrity. She didn't just GO to Woodstock - she was memorialized in the pages of Life. No one was surprised. Like a celebrity, Laurel was also a stranger.
Whenever and wherever she appeared, Laurel smelled like fresh sex in broad daylight. Laurel was gloriously wanton, whorishly flush when she'd smile at a new man. Meeting up with Laurel was like walking into someone's bedroom unannounced.
Laurel was at least 25 years old, the first old hippie I met in 1969. Blue-eyed and beautiful, her dark roots peeking through short blonde curls, Laurel could run her fingers through her hair and take over a room upon entering. She commanded the panting admiration of younger men, older men and most in between. She was sleeping with Roger and Tom and maybe Rob, and didn't care if Richie Havens or Joe Cocker would show up to play at the rock festival. She was looking for somebody to do. It wasn't even a landmark event in the making.
That day in 1969, she was looking for a ride to some farm, Max Yasgur's farm.
A bunch of us, about 10 people who said we were friends, were sitting around a rundown basement apartment off Western Avenue. There wasn't a breeze and the temperature was about 102 degrees with a fan. Frank - on parole, in between prisons - was rolling joints; everyone was looking for something to do, somewhere to go, it seemed.. There were going be some bands playing in the Catskills, but "who's going to be there" was really about who we knew, not the musicians who might not show up. Laurel would be there. She was unemployed or in between jobs or men but she had the time. I didn't.
I was in awe of Laurel's freedom; she was amorally joyous in her inhibitions, grabbing what she wanted (including one of my boyfriends). She abandoned conventions without a hint of reflection or regret, inspiring envy and revulsion all at once. Laurel was a force - she was tall, taut, seductively draped in men's bleached white t-shirts, her underarm hair growing openly, not accidentally.
She was also the "queen" of wannabee hippies gathering in the park in upstate New York that year. We'd all meet around 11 o'clock in the morning by the fountain, daydreaming about migrating to Haight-Asbury in San Francisco and wondering out loud who'd get there first.
A man walked on the moon a few weeks earlier. But back at the fountain, Freddie was dropping acid, George didn't know he'd jump off the bridge a few years later, and Tom was going to be a lawyer someday. Bob, who captured youth by living with his mom at age 36, sold too many drugs and went to prison. Chink tried to kill himself the following year.
Freddie never did stop taking LSD; he was still hallucinating 5 years later when I ran into him on the street.
But back then, the rest of us were mostly just a pack of renters or nearly homeless people on the run from menial jobs in mediocre lives. A refugee from affluence, I was lost from suburbia, trying to "find myself" between Bernie the hustler and Neil the felon. That day in August, it was hot and steamy and I was lost.
Laurel was wildly found, not lost. She knew who she was. She would be on the pages of Life magazine within the week. Covered in rainstorms, dirt and men, Laurel beamed victorious, celebrating her sexuality, the image of Woodstock's women.
That weekend - the weekend of Woodstock - I was getting ready to go back to school, waitressing part-time on the graveyard shift at the Union Diner. And that's where my story of Woodstock ended. I had to work. There I was, a mile from a band of earnest hippies ready to board a Volkswagen bus and sling around in mud and marijuana for a few days of music and I had to work. It didn't seem important at the time. Some guy’s farm was about an hour's drive away and it was just another rock concert. I didn't even try to get the night off from work. I needed the money.
So I spent that night saying I'd see you all and went to wait tables and greet the drunken guys at 4 am looking for scrambled eggs and soup and me. Laurel and everyone I thought I knew was taking down tents and closing off traffic in the Catskills, I was wiping off tables and splitting tips with the cook.
The news about Woodstock wasn't pretty or exciting or history in the making at the time. There were traffic jams, muddy people getting high, acoustics unplugged, famous musicians and bands that would be legends or has-beens in no time. Or, like Jimi Hendrix, dead.
But it was Woodstock, a sit-in for the revolution, a handful of rebels, most of whom would go home and have regular jobs and ordinary lives. I was on the periphery of Woodstock, but it wasn't relevant. I didn't know the bands or the crowds and didn't miss the mudslides. I could always claim to attend because, after all, who would challenge me among 300,000 strong?
But my truth was better because the truth was that I knew someone who did go, someone on the pages of Life. I knew Laurel, unashamedly sexual Laurel who slept with everyone we knew and made the pages of Life magazine, raising her hairy armpits in defiance, her breasts wrapped in a damp, muddy t-shirt.
She smiled orgasmically into the lense, mud-covered and alive. Laurel made our history.
"Laurel at Woodstock" is less about Woodstock than it is about what makes an era memorable - the people who weave tomorrrow's daydreams and regrets. Woodstock was a crystallizing event that came alive through the people who went - and those who missed the show.