Ishmael Reed Reflects on Woodstock


The NY Times has a great piece on their “Room for Debate” blog which solicited opinions on Woodstock and it’s cultural/political significance.

My favorite is by the great multiculturalist author Ishmael Reed and while I don’t make it a habit to post whole items, I couldn’t resist in this case since I found Reed’s piece insightful and a true postcard of 1969 New York:

My name appears in the official Woodstock program as one of three favorite writers of the Counter Culture. I don’t know how it got there. Was it because my first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, was excerpted in The East Village Other, an underground newspaper founded in mid-60’s by the late Walter Bowart, and me. I got the name “Other” from Jung’s introduction to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Maybe it was because I appeared on a 1966 ESP record called “The Other,” which included some of the stars of the underground, including Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, the Velvet Underground and Marion Brown.

Jimi Hendrix? I once ran into him at a Manhattan place called “The Scene.”

Later, Doubleday asked me to write his biography. I recommended poet David Henderson whose “’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky” is still the classic Hendrix biography. David and I belonged to a Lower East Side workshop of writers named Umbra, whose literary achievements have largely been ignored by chroniclers of the counterculture. When the workshop ended, I moved to Chelsea and began to write my novel.

The reason that very few blacks showed up for Woodstock was because by 1969, the interracial experiments and the collaborations of the late 50’s to the mid-60’s had ended.

As a reaction to violence against blacks in the South, especially the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, Black Nationalism began to influence black intellectual and artistic life.

The late Bill Amidon’s novel Charge..! is the best novel written about that period. He was one of the writers who hung out at Stanley’s, a bar where black and white writers and artists gathered in the 1960s, presided over by the owner, our uncle, benefactor and patron named Stanley Tolkin.

Those were the glory days when a struggling writer could survive on 25-cent Ukrainian cabbage soup, a knish and beer. My rent was $65 a month.

On Aug. 10, 1972, The Village Voice published Amidon’s “Where Have All The Hipsters Gone,” a belated lament for a downtown multicultural Renaissance that had vanished by the late 60’s. (source)

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One response to “Ishmael Reed Reflects on Woodstock”

  1. Dave Range Avatar
    Dave Range


    Bill Amidon was my uncle, although to my knowlege, I had never met him. His sister Loretta was my mother. She passed away five years ago.

    I was at my brother house on Christmas day and noticed Charge..! on their bookshelf and I am half way through it. I always wanted to read it while I was growing up but my mom wouldn’t let me until “you’re older”, I hope 44 is old enough.

    My brother says that he has some of Bill’s scripts from some off Broadway shows that he is going to try and locate and I’m sure that I will be reading those soon after Charge..!

    I wish I would have known Uncle Bill because judgeing from his writing he sounds like he would have been fun to hang around, four decades after he wrote his book I still find myself laughing at the way he presents his characters and the lines he used throughout the book.


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