I was just a little too young to enjoy the fruits of free love when they first burst forth in the second half of the 1960s. There were always reservations – not the least of which was the apparent necessity of wearing flowers in one’s hair, which is not a good look – but if I’d been able to scrape together the money, I would have taken the first plane to San Francisco and allowed some hefty chick the pleasure of treating me to a blowback while listening to the Grateful Dead playing some endless dirge.
I was prepared for action when Woodstock came around, but there was something about a festival on the East coast of America which didn’t feel right. The prospect of all those ‘bridge and tunnel’ folk who, I had been told, regularly invaded Manhattan at weekends and ruined the cool scene there, well, the prospect of them turning up in some field in the middle of nowhere and just being uncool with flowers in their hair and dreadful tie-dyed grandad shirts, not to mention the prospect of sitting through Country Joe and the Fucking Fish droning on about Vietnam – it all added up to a cosmic no-no.
I did, however, go to see the film of the event when it finally appeared. By this time Woodstock was being hailed as the defining moment of the hippie era and a lasting monument to free love, given that more people were born at the festival than died there. I was utterly horrified by the spectacle. For a start, the sight of people in vast numbers is abhorrent, particularly when you take into account the lack of adequate toilet facilities. The music was mostly grotesque, which is what inevitably happens when musicians take too many drugs and play a totally undisciplined set in front for several hundred thousand people who can’t hear a bum note, having taken too many drugs.
Worst of all though, were the women. From where, exactly, did all these ugly bats swoop? Their hair was all over the place. Indeed, much of it was seeking refuge in their armpits. They were covered in mud. And they all seemed determined to get their tits out for the boys. Now, I am a great fan of breasts and my one-handed brassiere technique was once the talk of the Elephant & Castle. But the great thing about breasts is that they are demure entities, content to suffer long periods of benign imprisonment before spilling forth at the appropriate moment and poking out the eyes of the unwary.
These tits were unfettered by brassieres and their prolonged period of freedom had turned them into dugs. Furthermore, the women who laid claim to them seemed possessed by the odd idea that whirling them around in the manner of a dervish was the acme of desirability. The men on the receiving end of this treatment – most of them bearded and spavined creatures – looked stunned. As you might do after suffering serious pummelling from a bean bag. The idea of anyone having sex at Woodstock has always seemed to me to be preposterous, and, if it did happen, then I don’t want to hear about it.
In due course, I experienced my own Summer of Love. Unfortunately, it coincided with the arrival of punk, probably the most asexual music ever created – Arch-punk Johnny Rotten went on the record to deride sexual intercourse as a brief and unsatisfying interlude of squelching noises. A more effective deterrent was the ubiquity of amphetamine sulphate, a drug which had the unfortunate effect of introducing a chemical form of brewer’s droop to an audience who had never experienced it before. I remember the summers of 1976 and 1977 with a fondness tinged with an almost inexpressible sorrow that so much sexual desire went unconsummated. There was free love to be had in abundance – there almost always is – but the paradox was that one half of the equation simply couldn’t get it up.