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Flatbush Flashback

The Distance We've Traveled

Because I rarely know what I'm going to write till the morning I write it, these blog posts can be less than perfect. And sometimes, as was the case yesterday, I can write something without fully understanding what I've written.

The idea for a post about Richie Havens came to me in the shower yesterday morning. I knew that the story of seeing him perform at a corporate Christmas party was interesting, and that it said something, possibly profound, about money and Manhattan in the late 20th century. So I banged it out, gave it the generic title of "A Richie Havens Story," which seemed fine at the time, and posted it.

But it wasn’t until later that afternoon that a Facebook exchange brought the story into complete focus. “It must have been a surreal kind of shock to witness the hero of Woodstock playing to that crowd,” said Skip Slavik, a regular reader.

“Yes, exactly,” I replied. “It was like, ‘Man, things have sure come a long way from Woodstock.’”

The correct title for the piece popped into my head several hours after that, as I was walking on Broadway, on my way to the liquor store to buy some wine for dinner. I knew that “Far from Woodstock” was the correct title because it came with a melody. Except I didn’t know a song called “Far from Woodstock.” I then realized that the melody I was hearing in my head was “Miles from Nowhere,” an old Cat Stevens song that contains the lyric, “Lord my body has been a good friend/But I won’t need it when I reach the end.”

That’s when I fully understood what I’d written: Richie Havens was dead, and my story about seeing him perform at that party was a tale of men in suits who wanted to own a piece of musical history, if only for 20 minutes. But primarily it was about the distance we’ve all traveled, spiritually and otherwise, since Havens sang “Freedom” at Woodstock.

I went home. I changed the title and the last line. And I felt that, poetically, everything had fallen into place, if only for an evening.

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