Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back to the crossroads

WHITEHALL, WIS. -- How bizarre to be listening to Bob Dylan's "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat'' at the Alternative Ground on Main Street in the ol' Hub. Wonderfully bizarre.

You can bring in a guitar here and start a jam of your own. I did that yesterday. But today the tunes are too good. Don't want to wreck the karma. "Papa Was a Rolling Stone'' is on now -- the incomparable version by David Lindley. The shop owner tells me we're listening to The Loft, my favorite satellite station, which can get you jumpin' like a cup of steaming java.

This place used to be the Farmer's Store, where you could buy bib overalls, a quart of milk and the latest Top 40 singles all in the same purchase. And kitty corner was the Walgert Hotel and Tap Room, where I pretty much lived as a kid. Tragically, that place has been a vacant lot since probably the Seventies.

I'm still thinking about Woodstock, about how very few people beyond the cattle herd that showed up even knew it was happening. The mainstream music of the summer of 1969 included Zager and Evans' "In the Year 2525'' -- which was actually written five years earlier -- and Oliver's "Good Morning Starshine.''

I was not listening to Jimi Hendrix at the time. Or Arlo Guthrie, or Joe Cocker (though I soon would be). I was burning the grooves off Johnny Cash's "Live from San Quentin'', which included the crossover hit "A Boy Named Sue.'' That album hit much closer to my home that summer than anything that was going on in upstate New York.

Here was your Billboard Top 5 on Woodstock weekend in '69:
1. Honky Tonk Women, Rolling Stones
2. A Boy Named Sue, Johnny Cash
3. Crystal Blue Persuasion, Tommy James & the Shondells
4. Sweet Carolina, Neil Diamond
5. In the Year 2525, Zager & Evans

Woodstock? Sure, I wish I had been there. But I wasn't. And if I could ride the time machine back 40 years it might be to this very corner of the American heartland. And the folks around here know what I'm talking about.

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