The Observer's friend David Rose, an artist who lives in Hot Springs with wife and two sons, was inspired by the upcoming Woodstock anniversary to muse thusly:
“August marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, an Aquarian Exposition, 3 days of Peace and Music. Woodstock was my home town but, regrettably, I didn't attend the festival at Max Yasgur's farm. At the time I was being entertained by the U.S. Army under house arrest in a WWI era barracks with a panoramic view of the pine barrens of New Jersey.
“If I had been a free man I probably would have gone to the festival just for kicks but by the time the summer of 1969 rolled around I was no longer buying into the idea that love could move the planet.
“1968 had relieved me of such notions.
“In January of ‘68 the Viet Cong launched the Tet offensive. It was a strategic failure for the VC but a public relations success. Middle-aged men who manned the guns during WWII and who now lined the bars in VFW halls across America were still very much pro-war but the American fence sitters, who had been growing less amused by the war for quite some time, lost their taste for it altogether. War protesting was no longer the domain of fringe elements. Things got ugly. The war would drag on for another seven years but without the hearts and minds of anybody I knew.
“In April we had the assassination of Martin Luther King. The freedom marches would continue but without the grace and dignity he brought to the endeavor.
“Robert Kennedy's death in June wiped out any hope that the war would end soon, the generation gap would be bridged and the wounds healed.
“In August the tanks rolled into Prague and put out the lights. A similar thing happened at the Democratic Convention when Mayor Richard Daley sent more than 20,000 uniformed thugs into the streets of Chicago to deal with 10,000 peaceful demonstrators. Overkill would be the opposition's weapon of choice.
“In November we saw the resurrection of Richard Nixon. What good can you say about a man when even his friends don't like him?
“As a fitting end to a perfect shit-storm of a year I was selected in December by the members of my community to serve in the armed forces of the United States. For those not up on the lingo of the era, I was drafted.
“Jupiter aligns with Mars several times a year and the Moon is in the 7th House for about two hours every day and, as far as I could tell, things just got worse as a result.
“And still, history has made much of this festival, this congregation that lent its name to a generation, and perhaps rightfully so. Attention must be paid when half a million people gather in a muddy field for three days. This might be an everyday occurrence in some parts of the world but for America it was unique.
“The '69 festival might have been a dawning to some and to others it was a requiem for innocence lost, but for most of the participants it was probably nothing more than one heck of a party. Sex, drugs and Rock & Roll, that works for me. Today my drug of choice is Extra Strength Tylenol but in all other respects I remain a true believer. Rock on.”
About that house arrest. Rose explains:
“The army was having trouble fitting me with boots because I had polio as a kid and my feet are mis-matched. Rather than sending me to basic training without boots they kept me in the reception station in New Jersey while they tried to figure the problem out. While there I talked my way off of permanent KP and into painting war murals.
“After about 6 or 8 months of mural painting somebody noticed I was working peace symbols into the compositions' hub caps, gun sights and whatnot. They wanted to court marshal me but couldn't because I hadn't even been to basic training yet and wasn't completely into the Army.
“They put me under house arrest for a week or two and then broke up two sets of boots and sent me to basic training.”
What a difference a draft makes.