[Another in a short series of departures from my usual fare, on the occasion of the re-release of my 1989 book and audiobook and the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.]
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair of August 1969 gave birth to an Oscar-winning movie, dozens of songs and CDs, and a half-million or so stories of the ebullient children of the Sixties who attended the three-day rock fest.
What the festival did not give birth to were any babies.
That's right: There were no babies born at Woodstock.
In the late 1980s, during the research for my book, Woodstock: The Oral History, recently re-released, I searched everywhere, and talked to everyone else who searched. I checked hospital records, birth certificates, and news accounts. I interviewed the festival's producers, stagehands, and the head of Woodstock security. I button-holed members of local police departments where the festival was held, as well as the National Guard and the United States Army, both of which were called into service to help deliver food, evacuate the sick, and provide political cover to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
I talked to doctors and nurses who were pressed into service at the festival and who worked at nearby hospitals, as well as leaders of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, a group that operated first-aid stations to treat everything from blisters to bum trips.
Before he died, Abbie Hoffman, whose group of radical Yippies helped deliver medical supplies, told me he knew of no festival newborns. Neither does Wavy Gravy, co-founder and life spirit of the Hog Farm, the commune whose meals of museli (breakfast) and bulgur wheat (lunch and dinner) fed thousands of hungry hippies, and whose innovative "trip tents" helped lure hallucinating hippies back down to Planet Earth.
No babies. Nada. Zippo.
I'm not alone. Over the years, I've received countless calls from nearly every major new organization in the U.S., and some from abroad: ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC; the Associated Press, United Press International, and Reuters; the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. National Public Radio checked in, as did producers from Oprah and Nightline. Interview magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Rolling Stone are among the inquiring minds seeking the furtive flower child.
And then there's the small brigade of Woodstock buffs who've managed to track me down.
They all wanted to know the same thing: Where is the Woodstock baby?
Why is everyone looking for a child born in a muddy alfalfa field during a three-day rock concert in upstate New York? Why are they still searching after all these years?
No one knows for sure, but I have a theory. For many of a certain age, Woodstock represents a magic moment in time, an unprecedented -- and unequaled -- gathering of bodies, minds, spirits, and talent. The half-million or so festivalgoers were buffeted by rain, mud, drugs, radical politicos, and a severe lack of food, medicine, and Port-O-Sans. But they endured the event with high levels of ingenuity and integrity.
By all measures, Woodstock should have been a disaster. Instead, there was much joy and humanity, and heroics galore. As a result, Woodstock has become symbolic of a can-do spirit of the times.
So, a child born on the premises could well be the embodiment of that spirit, a touchstone to a time long past.
But he or she does not exist.
As I said, it's not for lack of looking. And when all the rolling stones have been turned in search of this hair apparent, consider: During the past 40 years, no one has ever come forth and said, "I gave birth at Woodstock" or "I was born at Woodstock." Or even, "I know someone who was born/gave birth at Woodstock."
Why does anyone even think this kid is out there? Probably because at Woodstock, rumors ran rampant and on-stage announcers broadcast whatever someone scrawled on a scrap of paper and handed to them. Maybe one mentioned the "B" word. Maybe not. Problem is, no one can remember. (If you do, you weren't really there.) But once the story got started, everyone's assumed it's true.
In the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary, Woodstock, singer-songwriter John Sebastian is seen announcing from stage that, "Some cat's old lady just had a baby." But I'm told by people who were on stage with Sebastian that he was tripping during his performance. He might actually have been talking about a cat.
Okay, it's possible such a blessed event occurred. (From an actuarial perspective, it's likely, given the number of women of childbearing age who attended.) Indulge me in another theory: A woman delivers a child, naturally and without complications, in the privacy of a tent or a car, in the presence of one or two trusted friends. So healthy were mother and child that neither required medical care until they were at least a couple counties away from the festival site.
Over the years, this mystery mom has reached a place in society where it would not serve her well to be known as the Mother of All Rock Concerts. So, she has told no one, including her child. Neither has anyone else.
It's possible. But don't bet your love beads on it.
In my search for the Woodstock baby, I've had some near misses. One involved a child born during the festival, but in a nearby hospital. Turns out the mother decided at the last minute not to attend Woodstock. Probably a good thing: The roads were blocked for 50 miles around the concert site.
And then there's Eliot Tiber, who wrote the self-centric book that became the new Ang Lee movie Taking Woodstock. He claims he helped deliver a baby at his family's motel a few miles from the festival site. But no one besides Tiber has ever verified that, and his book is full of tales that put him at the center of the action in a way that few others recall.
Finally, there's a young woman outside Chicago I'll call Rebecca, since I never got her real name. We met, sort of, during my 1989 Woodstock book tour. She phoned in during the call-in portion of a live TV interview on a local station to tell me that her parents had met at Woodstock and she was born nine months later. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to ask Rebecca to stay on the line so I could get more of her story. Alas, I let her slip away.
She may be the closest we have to the real deal.