Monday, September 3, 2018

Woodstock (one*more*time*)

Woodstock (one*more*time*), by Richard Hubbard
No month stated, 1971  Award Books

Back in my review of the Nick Carter: Killmaster novel Target: Doomsday Island, which was the sole contribution to the series by a writer named Richard Hubbard, I mentioned that I had another of Hubbard’s novels, also published by Award, which was about Woodstock. Well (and you’ve probably already figured out where I’m going with this), this is that novel! And I have to say, it’s pretty much everything I wanted The Rock Nations to be.

Whereas that earlier novel ranged all over the “rockfests” of the day, this one focuses on just a sole festival – The 72-Hour Woodstock Bash, to be held even closer to the actual Woodstock this time. This allows Hubbard to dwell on one location, focusing on the scene and the setting. And more importantly, Hubbard’s novel is written in a much-preferable third-person, so the novel doesn’t come off like the assholic first-person diatribe that The Rock Nations did; we get to meet a larger and more diverse group of characters.

Strangely though, Woodstock (one*more*time*) comes off as too short, at just a little over 150 pages. This makes me wonder if it was a contractual affair for Hubbard, Award trying to tap into the hippie craze with an appropriately-exploitative cover. As it is, we really don’t get enough of an idea of how – or why – this second Woodstock “Bash” was set up (even though the back cover copy implies that this is exactly what the main plot will be), or what the acts appearing in it are like. And while there are many colorful characters, in some ways there are too many of them and Hubbard is often guilty of ignoring the more interesting ones to focus on the boring ones.

The novel opens with the new Woodstock coming up within the next few days – again, despite the back cover copy there’s no detail on its planning or the business end of it – and a character named Jeanie Revere, who has just broken up with her latest boyfriend, decides to go check it out. Jeanie’s a 19 year-old college dropout, sleeping around in Manhattan, and in a hazy backstory we learn she was briefly married to an abusive wanna-be rocker who OD’d after the couple divorced. Jeanie is practically our main character but she’s kind of dull. She’s got a lot of hangups, too, coming off as alternately needy and dismissive, particularly to the male characters.

Meanwhile other characters are heading to Woodstock, like Farley Jordan, a narcissistic rich kid who rides around in a psychedelic Day-Glo “land cruiser,” sitting in the opulent, shag-lined interior and strumming his guitar while gals give him blowjobs and partake of the free drugs. His driver is Billy Blue, so named due to his “blue-black” skin. With his traveling psychedelic freakshow, Farley cries out to be the central character of the novel, but sadly he’s quicky shunted off to a supporting role, only appearing in several pages total.

Instead, it’s more of those boring characters who take the limelight: like newly married couple Chet and Harriet Rogers. Chet is concerned he’s “old” now that he’s 30, but he’s growing his hair long and he even got a peace symbol medallion to look young and hip. Harriet meanwhile is nine months pregnant and wonders why Chet is taking a “shortcut” through rural New York; belatedly she realizes Chet’s planned this all along, to go see this new Woodstock thing. Folks, the last goddamn place I would’ve taken my wife when she was nine months pregnant was to an outdoor festival in the middle of summer with no indoor plumbing or etc.

But then, Chet’s an asshole of the first order – a running plot is his narcissitic concern over his age and studliness, hoping these hippie chicks see him for the virile stud he is…but on top of that, he also plans to sneak away from Harriet and bang as many hippie gals as he can!! The cro-mangnonry of it all is almost absurd, not the least because Chet gets away with it, not once but with three different hippie chicks! Meanwhile Harriet has her own, uh, encounter, but that one’s more weird than sleazy. Anyway these two characters also take most of the spotlight, particularly given that Jeanie Revere is an old flame of Chet’s – not to mention she’s one of the hippie babes he bangs on the sly here at the second Woodstock.

Other, more minor characters would include Buckrogers, a bald-headed drug peddler with stainless steel teeth; Hungry, a pretty hippie chick who plans to fuck a hundred guys over the course of the weekend; Dave, a mellow black guy who just wants to enjoy the scene but becomes the target of a sadistic sheriff; Buster, the sheriff in question, a benched pro footballer who doesn’t consider himself racist but decides to “monitor” Dave and eventually sets him up on phony charges; and finally Mickey, a dude who comes to Woodstock with Jeanie and manages a no-name rock group, who tries to take advantage of the sudden cancellation of the festival in a subplot that ultimately goes nowhere. We also have one or two sequences featuring the four young men who organized the festival: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Irving!

In addition there are the various performers, but sadly Hubbard doesn’t focus on them much; in this regard, there’s only slightly more “rock” content than in The Rock Nations. But unlike that novel, here Hubbard creates all new groups; there’s Harley Thrug, who is famous for an 87-minute song; a hard rock group whose name I was too lazy to jot down; Kinzua Sockeye(!), a waifish American Indian who sings “Me and Bobby McGee” in honor of the recently-departed Janis Joplin, dedicating it to the also-recently-departed Jimi Hendrix; and finally Rob Zimmer, who plays a zither(!), and who clearly is intended to be an analog of Robert “Bob Dylan” Zimmerman. Honestly it sounds like a pretty terrible lineup.

Hubbard ranges around this cast of characters – though he always keeps the performers at a distance, so that we never see anything from their perspective – and brings to life the colorful scene. Cops are everywhere, but per the rather reasonable sheriff, they’ve been ordered not to bust anyone doing drugs – or even selling drugs – but just to make sure no one gets hurt. As mentioned though Buster doesn’t like this and decides to, uh, bust Dave on a phony heroin charge, bullying Buckrogers into planting the evidence. This eventually leads to Chet, a lawyer, becoming a momentary hero of the hippies as he gets the kid out of jail.

Chet as mentioned is a total dick but one must admire the brazen nature of his plan. He basically just abandons Harriet when they get to the festival, runs into Jeanie – here we learn the two were in love but it broke off when Chet met Harriet – and he promptly takes her back behind some shrubs and has some quick sex with her. Hubbard is fairly explicit in these scenes, especially in an earlier one in which we see Hungry the nympho at work. But Hungry is another of Hubbard’s disappearing subplots; she’s introduced as sort of an important character, insofar as we’re introduced to her and whatnot, but she then disappears, only to show up late in the game to fuck Chet – by which point she’s screwed 69 guys and Chet feels as if he’s pronging “oozing red meat.” One of the more gag-inducing sex scenes you’ll ever read, folks, down there with the sick-o sleaze in The Illusionist.

It seemed to me that Hubbard was almost doing a Burt Hirschfeld thing in that he took this big cast of characters, put them against a colorful backdrop, and then just let them simmer for a while. Also in that, despite the colorful backdrop, it eventually boils down to the soap opera dynamic between a few main characters. But Woodstock (one*more*time*) is a helluva lot more streamlined than Hirschfeld, to the point where you wish Hubbard had given himself at least a couple more pages to flesh things out. But he does follow the same template, with all the Woodstock stuff gradually getting less prominence so he can focus on the “who cares?” triangle of Chet, Harriet, and Jeanie.

I say who cares because none of these characters are interesting, or even likable. Chet’s an ass, Jeanie is so uncertain and confused that she comes off as dumb as a box of rocks, and Harriet is too reserved and conservative for the setting. So again we have that confusing conundrum where an author has given us characters wholly inappropriate for the plot; basically just like The Rock Nations, which demanded a superfreak hippie hero but instead gave us an entitled asshole.

But this is the plot, so far as Hubbard is concerned: Chet ranges around the festival, scoring when he can, trying to figure out why Jeanie’s alternately hot or cold, and meanwhile Harriet smokes some hash and ends up getting screwed doggy-style by Farley, who has a thing for pregnant chicks. And of course Chet comes in on the land cruiser right while it’s happening, and storms off – despite the fact that he himself has screwed two different gals in the past several hours, not to mention that he promptly has unsatisfying sex with Hungry. Frustratingly, more interesting subplots play out in almost backstory – like Buckrogers, whose fate is rendered in dialog. Farley is also delivered an ignoble, harried fate, throwing a tantrum when his free show is met with jeers and going ballistic in his land cruiser.

I forgot to mention, the Woodstock Bash is cancelled not even a day in, because a farmer whose property borders the site sees a bunch of shit in the lake – yep, those damn hippies are relieving themselves right in Mother Nature, not willing to stand in line for the port-a-potties. So the crotchety farmer gets the festival cancelled, which is again frustrating because you wanna read a book about a friggin’ rock festival, not about a bunch of people stumbling around in the woods and refusing to leave. But the show does eventually go on, mostly due to that reasonable sheriff, who argues quite reasonably that these kids will leave once they see the performers they paid to see.

Anyway I mention the shitty lake because in the finale Harriet, in a sort of drug-induced suicide trip (mostly due to Chet having seen her screw Farley), wades out into the lake and, we learn once again via dialog, is found literally eating shit(!). Well she pukes a bunch but is otherwise okay, and around here Chet realizes he’s being a prick so maybe should check on his nine-months pregnant wife. Plus Jeanie’s told him “so long,” deciding after all that she’s in love with Mickey, and none of these other hippie girls are too interested in him. So the happy couple climbs back into their car and heads on back to the city for a veritable happily ever after.

Hubbard’s writing is good, though, skirting a literary vibe but never becoming pretentious. He’s guilty of rampant POV-hopping, though. He also seems to understand the Woodstock Nation, but at the same time hasn’t exactly given us notable representatives of it. So all in all, a quick but worthwhile read. But I wouldn’t say this is the great counterculture/rock novel of the era – that honor would still have to go to Death Rock.

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