Scents of the Sixties

"Jimi Hendrix" by Julie Lomoe, Acrylic, 64" x 64", Shown at Woodstock Festival, 1969

SPOILER ALERT – the following post deals with body odor. If that grosses you out, maybe you should skip my blog today, but the topic follows a logical progression. Since I began blogging last May, I’ve disclosed quite a bit about myself and my personal history – in particular my bipolar diagnosis and how it’s influenced my mystery novels, especially MOOD SWING: THE BIPOLAR MURDERS. In their comments, people have lauded me for my courage and honesty in letting it all hang out. The more praise I get, the more personal my disclosures become. It’s a simple matter of positive reinforcement; I learned all about it decades ago when I took B.F. Skinner’s Human Behavior course at Harvard. (By the way, he had a daughter named Julie – he raised her in the infamous “Skinner Box.”)

I’ve received lots of positive feedback for my posts about the 1969 Woodstock Festival, where I won a prize for my paintings. The growing sense of community I’m experiencing as I widen my circle of friends on the Internet reminds me in many ways of the spirit of the 60’s. At the height of Flower Power, I was a newly divorced (well, at least amicably separated) woman in my twenties and a pioneer settler in the cast iron district in Lower Manhattan that was becoming known as SoHo. When I renovated my first loft on Broome Street, I put in a minimal bathroom with the cheapest tin shower stall I could find. Incidentally, that loft was diagonally across the street from the one where Heath Ledger died. The articles on his death all described the neighborhood as luxurious and upscale, but it was anything but back then.

As I recall, bodily hygiene wasn’t a high priority in the 60’s, for myself and for many others. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say we got pretty funky. And at the Woodstock Festival, I didn’t get near running water for three days straight. I’m no Marcel Proust, and I don’t have a vivid olfactory memory. People must have smelled pretty ripe, I suppose, but the odor was masked by all the fragrant smoke.

Today, sitting at our computers and communicating on the World Wide Web, we can get equally odiferous if we choose. As I write, it’s 3:55 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and I’m still in the luxurious powder-blue polyester garment I bought at Wal-Mart for $18. It’s a cross between velour and chenille, it zips up the front, and I don’t know whether to call it a robe or a nightgown, but I’ve been wearing it practically around the clock. I love it so much that if it survives the first wash in good shape, I’ll go back and get another one in pink. It’s comfy and cozy, but the day’s getting warmer, and – well, you get the idea

Thank heavens no one can smell us when we’re being scintillating online. They can’t see us either, unless we want them to. For the Poisoned Pen Web Con back in October, billed as the first virtual international mystery writers’ conference, authors had the option of doing live video feeds, but luckily I wasn’t up to speed on that particular technology. Some authors who did manage to give a presentation that way may wish they hadn’t – the fish-eye lenses built into their computers were anything but flattering.

I wonder if writers in Nebraska or Maine become even more slovenly than I do. I’m fortunate to live in the Capital Region of upstate New York, and there’s lots of live in-person literary and artsy action. I clean up fairly nicely for my age, and I enjoy dressing for success as much as the next woman. I spend much less money on clothes than I used to, though – one of the many advantages of doing most of my socializing online.

In a couple of hours, I’ll be leaving for the Albany’s monthly First Night to make the rounds of the galleries. Knowing my husband, he’ll tactfully say, “You’re going to take a bath, aren’t you?” I don’t know why he feels the need for these reminders after 36 years, because I do have a modicum of judgment on hygiene issues.  

As I sit here at the computer in my upstairs office, looking out at the lake while my two cats stare in tense fascination at the red squirrel using the nearest bare tree as a jungle gym, I realize how lucky I am. I love reminiscing about the 60’s, but given the option, would I want to time-travel back? Not on your life.

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on Marvin Wilson’s blog on November 20, 2009.  For more about my experiences in the 1960’s, click on the Woodstock category in my blogroll at the right. 

 © Julie Lomoe 2010

One Red Push Pin: My poem about unsold works of art

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

This Sunday morning, August 16, marks the height of the Woodstock Festival 40th Anniversary frenzy. My three posts on my 1969 Woodstock experience have pulled in an enormous number of visitors, but I still haven’t tracked down any visual documentation for the paintings I showed there. Several of them still languish unseen in my basement – they’re far too large for any of the walls in my house.

 

I recently posted my poem about what becomes of unwanted books at a library sale. Today’s poem is about unwanted visual art. In a way, it’s the sister of the other poem. But for the visual artist, the question of what to do with old work is more problematic. Old books and unpublished manuscripts can be stored in a few banker’s boxes at the most, a computer jump drive at the least, so space isn’t a major problem. For works of visual art, it’s another matter entirely.

I wrote this poem after a visit to “The Great Municipal Side Show,” a members’ exhibition at the Albany Center Galleries in the fall of 2005.

 ONE RED PUSH PIN

 Ninety-nine art works unsold on the walls,

ninety-nine pieces of art.

If one more creation should happen to sell

there’ll be ninety-eight unwanted works on the walls.

 

One red push pin, one more day

until the show comes down.

This gallery marks the center of a circle,

its radius one hundred miles

in all directions.

Forty artists, one hundred works,

and only one red push pin. The tiny crimson dot

means someone craved the art

enough to sign a check and guarantee a home.

The rest remain bereft,

sad puppies left abandoned at the pound.

 

But maybe not. The gallery maven claims

two more are sold, so that makes three.

Perhaps they’re out of push pins.

 

Ninety-seven pieces of art on the wall.

Ninety-seven fragments

of starving artist soul still hang unclaimed,

or lie supine, or rise on pedestals

above the slate-gray floor of painted plywood,

so like the deck paint on my studio floor

in SoHo lo these many years ago.

So like my loft, so full of painted children,

born of inspiration, left to molder now

in a damp basement ninety miles north

of where the action was.

 

The paintings in the gallery call in plaintive voices.

Please buy me now!

I need a loving home!

My maker’s out of space!

They stare with liquid eyes

that follow me like Jesus as I pass,

my checkbook firmly zipped away,

its balance earmarked for necessities,

and art’s a luxury, or so I tell myself.

I swear I will not splurge.

 

My heart bleeds for the artists

who’ll cart their work back home

with no adoptive parents waiting in the wings.

To them, and yes, to me, art’s no mere luxury.

We thirst for it like water, but its power

is in the making, not the having.

When I crave more art, I’ll procreate my own,

and stash them with their siblings

in my dank, dark basement

where water rises from a spring-fed lake.

 

© Julie Lomoe, 2005

Potential buyers, please note: I took a bit of poetic license here. My paintings aren’t actually moldering in my basement; they’re carefully stored and in good condition, as are the cartons of jazz LPs from the 1950’s I keep vowing to sell on eBay one of these days.

Watch for more poems in future posts. And please stop back tomorrow, when I’ll pose some questions about hosting guests on our blogs.

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.”

Woodstock 1969, Part II: Stuck in the muck for 16 straight hours of music

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

The cliff hanger ending of the first post in my 1969 Woodstock Festival saga left me standing next to my paintings at the art show on the hilltop a couple of hundred yards from the stage, early on Friday evening. Country Joe McDonald was playing by then, and I’d just come face to face with Stephen Greene, my dreaded drawing instructor from the MFA program at Columbia University. As one of the judges, he’d been flown in by helicopter. On Saturday afternoon, I learned I’d been awarded second prize in the art show, and a month or two later, I received a modest check and a congratulatory letter from the promoters of the festival. I hope I can unearth that letter somewhere in my files, since it will help verify my presence and that of my paintings at the legendary event.

By Friday evening, attendance at the art show had slacked off considerably. By now the sloping terrain that formed a natural amphitheater around the stage was jammed with thousands of people. Wandering around was becoming more and more difficult, and folks were reluctant to desert the territory they’d staked out with their tarps and blankets. When the refreshing drizzle segued into steadier rain, I stashed my paintings in the van, then  hunkered down on my beach towel through a number of acts. Midway through Ravi Shankar’s set, I decided to walk back to my motel several miles away. I was soaked to the skin and my feet were beginning to blister where my leather sandals rubbed the wrong way, but the few hours’ sleep in a clean dry bed were worth the aggravation.

For Saturday’s trek back to the festival site, I switched to my Zori sandalsSantana at Woodstock 1969 (that’s what we called flip flops back then.) The day was hot and sunny, and the walk seemed endless, but at last, while Santana played a blistering set, I set up my paintings on the hillside once more. Then I headed down into the mob with my beach towel. By now the crowd was the sea of jam-packed bodies that’s become the iconic image of the festival. I managed to sandwich myself in a few hundred feet from the stage, and there I stayed for the next 16 hours.

Yes, that’s right – sixteen (16) hours. By now moving was impossible. The porta-potties might as well have been miles away, and as for the food stands, forget about it – they were out of food anyway. I’d brought something to eat and drink – maybe bread, cheese, and fruit, I forget – but it was soon gone. And as for peeing, I didn’t. Not even once. Looking back, reflecting on the current state of my plumbing, that’s inconceivable, but my body must have gone into emergency shut-down survival mode. Somehow all the bodily discomforts didn’t bother me. Sometimes I sat, sometimes I stood or danced, sometimes I lay down and closed my eyes, but never once did I leave that soggy, filthy beach towel.

And I wasn’t stoned. The people around me shared a few tokes, the way we shared juice or water, but drugs weren’t a major part of the picture, at least for me. I wasn’t puritanical – I just wasn’t particularly interested, nor was I there to pick up guys. By now the art show was pretty much a lost cause, and I was there for the music, as were thousands of others. Maybe the seriously stoned folks stayed on the periphery of the crowd, but I believe that aspect of the experience may have been blown out of proportion over the years.

The Who - Early Sunday morning

The Who - Early Sunday morning

As for the music, it just kept getting better. The Grateful Dead were off their game, but Janis Joplin was incredible. By late Saturday night, I realized getting back to the motel would be pointless, even if it were remotely possible, so I just lay down on my few square feet of towel. Sometime around 2:00 a.m. I drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by people jumping up and down dangerously near my head while Sly and the Family Stone exhorted them to “Stand” and “Dance to the Music.” Fortunately I was wide awake by the time The Who came on for a two-hour set. Musically, spiritually and esthetically, hearing and seeing them perform their rock opera “Tommy” as the sky lightened and the sun rose on Sunday morning was my peak experience of the weekend.

Then came Jefferson Airplane, terrific as always. Toward the end of their set, I decided I’d better check on my paintings, which I’d left unattended overnight. There they still were, anchored safely in place and undamaged on the hilltop. There too, unfortunately, was the artist who’d driven the van. He and his wife wanted to leave, he said – they had to get back to work Monday morning and they couldn’t stand the thought of another potentially endless traffic jam. Without much of a choice, I packed up my paintings and we left, with a stop at the motel to pick up the overnight bag of clothes I’d never used. The trip back to SoHo was uneventful and anticlimactic – I think I slept most of the way.

So what did it all mean? Did Woodstock change my life, and how do I feel about it 40 years later? That’ll be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll check back then, and as always, I welcome your comments in the meantime.

Woodstock 1969: I was there with my paintings. Now if only I could prove it!

 

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Julie Lomoe, acrylic, 64"x64", 1969

Yes, there was actually an art show!

Would you believe I won second prize in the art show at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August, 1969? Would you believe that was the event’s official name, and that there was actually an art show? There was, and I was in it, but I have only my memories to prove it – along with an uncollected ticket I collaged into a painting I did after the event. This month, with all the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the festival, I’ve vowed to track down some film or photographic documentation of the art show that included my paintings. Several of them are stored in my basement garage, and I’d like to find them a home more worthy of their fabled history.

In June of 1969, I was living alone in a loft on Broome Street, in the lower Manhattan district that had only recently become known as SoHo, when I learned of the upcoming festival that would come to be called Woodstock. There was an article in the Village Voice, saying a number of terrific bands were already signed up. The organizers were planning an art show as well, and were accepting entries. I’d been painting up a storm for several years, ever since earning my MFA at Columbia University, and the event sounded like a great opportunity to exhibit my huge, vividly colored paintings with their images of rock stars and social protest. I registered immediately, then teamed up with an artist I’d exhibited with in an East Village gallery who had a van big enough to hold my work.

By the time we got to Woodstock . . .

Flash forward to Friday, August 15. With help from his wife, we jammed the van full of our paintings and got an early morning start. Within a few miles of the festival site in Bethel, traffic slowed to a crawl, but it was still moving. Despite my avant garde life style, I still had a cautious streak, and I’d had the foresight to book a nearby motel room using my parents’ American Express card. We dropped off my clothes, then continued at a snail’s pace to the site. Since we were exhibitors, they waved our van through, then assigned us our spaces atop a gently rolling hill that was an easy walk from the stage. Each artist’s area was partitioned off by white canvas that billowed in the breeze.

By late afternoon I had my paintings up and wired to the metal framework to keep them from sailing away on a sudden gust of wind. There were few prospective customers, so as Richie Havens took the stage for the first set of the festival, I wandered downhill with my blanket and staked out a spot a couple of hundred feet from the stage. The crowd was building steadily, but navigating between the tarps and blankets was still easy, so after Swami Satchidananda’s invocation, I went back to check on my paintings.

My toughest teacher flies in to pass judgment

Judging of the art show was in progress, and to my amazement, I found myself suddenly face to face with Stephen Greene, my drawing instructor from the Columbia MFA program. As a teacher, he’d been my nemesis – he didn’t like my work, and gave me only B’s. Like the rest of the faculty, he was an abstract painter, but the others were more benign. Since I was stubbornly figurative, and my graduate exhibit consisted primarily of life-size paintings of the Beatles, they didn’t know what to do with me. To this day I’m convinced they awarded me the MFA simply to get rid of me. The only artistic advice I remember from that year was Robert Motherwell’s: “It helps to have a drink before you go into the studio.”

Now here was Stephen Greene, standing atop the hill in front of my paintings. They’d flown him and the other judges in by helicopter, he said. Nattily attired in a shirt, tie, and camel’s hair blazer that was far too warm for the day, he looked as if he belonged on Madison Avenue, not this rolling farmland with its thousands of hippies. “What the fuck am I doing here?” he said with a shake of his head.

 (to be continued)