Woodstock 1969, Part III: Requiem for the spirit of 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Thoroughly wrung out after my three days at the 1969 Woodstock festival, I got back to my SoHo loft and my painting. Perhaps coincidentally, my Sixties psychedelic style peaked in late August of that year, and my work took a darker turn. I began softening the hard edges, dimming the colors with airbrush and spray guns. Was it something in the air, a change in the zeitgeist? Maybe, though I didn’t recognize it then. All I knew was that I was growing bored with the colorful hard-edged style I’d developed over the past several years and weary of my frenetic, hedonistic life style.

For me, the Sixties were all about liberation from my straight-laced Midwestern background and the compulsion that drove me toward academic achievement. I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a child of the Sixties. It was late autumn of 1964, I’d been married about six months, and I was enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia University. Our studios were in the upper reaches of Lowe Library, and I shared space with Susan Hartung, another native of Milwaukee, who’d brought in a portable radio. One day the radio emitted a sustained, twangy note that segued into an astounding guitar riff that grabbed me in the guts. “What’s THAT?” I asked my studio mate. She stared at me with a look of incredulous scorn. “It’s the Beatles,” she said.

Somehow I’d been so sheltered that I’d missed the beginning of the British invasion, but the opening bars of “I Feel Fine” changed that instantly.* Soon I was buying Beatles records and fan magazines. Pop art was in its infancy, and I began painting nearly life-size images of my new idols. My Beatlemania Beatles 1964deserves a post of its own (remind me to describe the time I practically got into their bedroom.) But suffice it to say that I betrayed modern jazz, my first musical love, and entered a delayed but protracted adolescence that consumed me right up till Woodstock, when I encountered that Columbia drawing instructor who’d so detested my Beatles paintings. My art over that five-year period reflected the politics and social issues of the era, including the Vietnam war, but mostly it was about the music, and so was my life.

Rolling Stones Gimme ShelterIn music, the darkness descended in earnest at the Rolling Stones’ ill-fated concert at Altamont, where a man was beaten to death by Hells Angels acting as security guards. Things got worse in April of 1970 when Paul McCartney announced the breakup of the Beatles. When the news broke, I was in Florida. My mother was in a coma in a Sarasota hospital following a fall in the bathroom of the house my parents had rented for the winter, and her prognosis looked bleak. At last she regained consciousness of a sort, but the subdural hematoma and the prolonged coma had affected her deeply, and she was no longer the same woman.

My paintings grew ever darker in the ensuing months. Jimi Hendrix died on September 18th, and Janis Joplin on October 4th. They’d already been favorite subjects of mine, but now I painted them in memoriam. In October I Jimi Hendrixflew back to Milwaukee to visit my parents, bringing slides of my newest paintings. My mother was failing rapidly, only intermittently lucid, but when I projected the slides on the walls of her bedroom, she rallied enough to express concern. “Those paintings are so dark and gloomy,” she said. “Why do you paint such sad paintings? Life is beautiful – you should be happy.” She died a month later, on November 20th. In retrospect, she was right – being happy is definitely better, and for me, the happiness, freedom and innocence of the Woodstock era was definitely over.

Now, forty years after Woodstock, I’ve discovered a new kind of happiness. As Joni Mitchell sang, “The seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down – we’re captive on the carousel of time.” Last week I rode the carousel – literally – with my two granddaughters at the Ulster County Fair, and tomorrow my daughter signs the closing papers on her very own house – in Woodstock.

I have some thoughts on the positive parallels between the sixties and the internet revolution of today, but those will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, check back in on Friday, when I’ll be featuring my first guest blogger, Sunny Frazier.

* For music lovers only: Wikipedia has an exhaustive entry on “I Feel Fine,” saying it “marks the earliest example of the use of feedback as a recording effect.”  Here’s an excerpt: “The intro to “I Feel Fine” starts with a single, percussive (yet pure-sounding) note (a high “A” harmonic) played on Paul’s Hofner bass guitar that sustains, perhaps beyond any song previously recorded. It is then (famously) transformed and distorted via feedback. According to Paul McCartney, “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pick-up on it so it could be amplified… We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it… and it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’ ‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object– an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”

8 thoughts on “Woodstock 1969, Part III: Requiem for the spirit of 1969

  1. Wonderful — I really enjoyed this post. It’s fascinating how your life seemed so connected to the very mood of the country, that shift from the optimism to a bleak pessimism.

    My mother in law saw the Beatles in Milwaukee in 1964. One of her favourite memories; she has collected all kinds of Beatles memorabilia, but that $5 ticket is still the most precious.

  2. I’m with Elizabeth. I’d love to see you write a book about this. Your art, your connection with the culture and the times, and the way you express yourself, bring me instantly back to those days. Thanks for this series of posts, Julie.

  3. Great posts. I love anything Woodstock. Unfortunately at seven years of age, my parents would not let me attend. Thanks for the posts. Most interesting and fun to read this week.

    Stephen Tremp

  4. Wow! So many parallels between my life and yours, back in the sixties…except I was living in San Francisco and newly married and attending Cal.Univ.SF back then. And I’m not an artist (lol). I guess the similarities I see go below the surface!

    I remember the Beatles bursting upon the scene while my head was somewhere else. I, too, was trying to escape a conservative background during the sixties. In 1964 in SF, the Free Speech Movement was alive and well.

    Love those old times. I also love these new times, with the Internet and blogging, enjoying the connections that sizzle over the Web.

    BTW, I’m in the same Central Valley author’s group as Sunny Frazier…we all meet for Book Fests. Enjoyed the guest blog.

  5. Hi to my loyal Blog Book Tour cronies, Kate, Elizabeth, Karen, Stephen and Jane. Thanks for the compliments! As for writing a book about my Sixties experiences, I don’t see that happening. But a few more posts – definitely!

    One of my short-term goals is to redo my website, and when I do, I plan to add more of my visual art. I like the multimedia, interactive nature of the Web, and I’m coming to view it as my favorite creative medium these days!

    A few posts ago, someone suggested I write a mystery novel set in the Sixties, and that idea intrigues me, so who knows . . .

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