Today is August 15th. It was 40 years ago today in 1969 that a bunch of enterprising hippies started what they thought would be a modest-sized 3-day festival out in the hills of New York state.
I grew up after, being born in 1970, with the Myth of Woodstock permeating the American culture well into today. Having one of the best film documentaries of all time playing every so often on PBS or Bravo or Biography channels (did MTV ever broadcast it? Probably, but I bet VH1 did a few years) didn't hurt.
The Woodstock documentary is pretty long (director's cut on DVD prolly moreso), and let's face it away from showcasing the musical performances it does meander and get self-referential/self-indulgent. But there are images and sounds you can never ignore: Richie Havens' impromptu jam of "Motherless Child" turning into a uniquely brilliant song "Freedom"; nuns flashing peace signs; the mud baths; Wavy Gravy being relatively saner than usual and warning others about the brown acid; Hendrix's Monday morning wake-up call with the bomb-sonic "Star-Spangled Banner," as the movie comes to a close with images of before (the calm rolling hills of farmland) and after (the mounds of trash and mud left behind by indulgent hippies, damn for a bunch of bleeding-heart do-gooders you can't clean up your own pollution?!).
But the bit that stays in my mind was added toward the end, a brief interview with one of the few guys actually working that weekend: the Port-O-San cleaner.
Update: trying to replay the YouTube clip...
Here's this middle-aged guy, doing back-breaking work - and you don't see a crew there it looks like he's doing this solo, cleaning up after all the damn dirty hippies - and there's no anger or bitterness about him, he's just doing his job, and he says "Glad to be doing it for these kids. My son's here too. And I got one over in Vietnam too. Up in the DMZ now, flying helicopters."
Boom. Right there. One of the other things that Woodstock captured was the moment in history America was deep in a war. A war that had become increasingly unpopular, and not just with the hippies. Even by 1969 Vietnam didn't look like it was going to end well, but kids kept going over there as soldiers, families all across the nation had to recognize what the cleaner guy was going through. And there he was, a son in 'Nam, a son at Woodstock...
David Crosby mentioned the Port-O-San guy in an interview quote in Rolling Stone back in August 24th 1989 issue (can't find a full-text link, so check your local library!). Film reviewer Roger Ebert also took note. Crosby and I - and probably a few million others - all had pretty much the same question: What happened to that guy? What happened to his sons? Did his son survive Vietnam? Did his son survive Woodstock (I'm talking metaphorically here)?
Every so often, when this time of year comes around, I took a moment to dig about, try to see if anything available in the libraries - histories, newspaper articles, stuff like that - would provide some light on that question. Finally, someone updated a trivia note on the IMDb entry: the guy had sued the filmmakers "...on the grounds of mental anguish, embarrassment, public ridicule, and invasion of privacy. An appellate court opinion in this lawsuit may be read at Taggart v. Wadleigh-Maurice, Ltd., 489 F.2d 434 (3d Cir. 1973)."
This was kinda heart-breaking. Here he was, one of the real heroes of the Woodstock festival, filing a lawsuit out of what seemed to be anguish. Were people harassing him over his appearance in the film? What happened?
A link here to a copy of the transcripts to that court case.
36. Taggart contends that the sequence in which he was interrogated while performing his necessary though not necessarily pleasant employment was edited into the 'documentary' in such a way as to achieve, at his expense, a comic effect. That this may well have been the intended and actual effect is supported by evidence in the record of the reaction of critics. For example, Kathleen Carroll, the critic, stated 'The funniest scene shows the latrine attendant proudly demonstrating his job.' Craig McGregor, writing in the New York Times, April 19, 1970, stated '. . . and the man who is the real schizophrenic hero of Woodstock, the Port-O-San man, who empties the latrines of the beautiful people and has one son there at Woodstock and another flying a DMZ helicopter in Vietnam.' Taggart contends that while he was engaged in his ordinary work he was without warning, and without consent, drawn into a conversation and photographed so that the sequence could be used as a key part of the theme of the 'documentary' which was being prepared as a commercial enterprise.37. When Taggart learned that he had been included in the commercial film he protested to the defendants, but they refused to delete the scene and proceeded to distribute the film nationwide. As a result, he alleges, he has suffered mental anguish, embarrassment, public ridicule, and invasion of his right to privacy which has detrimentally affected his social and family life and his employment. His deposition supports his contention that such ongoing damaging effects have occurred and are continuing...
Ouch. Well, I have to admit if I had been filmed and ended up in a movie without any compensation or right to say how I get shown in said film, I might be angry as well. The filmmakers contended as the defendants that, basically, they interviewed Taggart as he was part of a "newsworthy event," and as such isn't protected by most if any of the right to privacy laws. I'm not a lawyer, and I'm having a hard time figuring out what the appellate court is actually saying, but it looks like they're ordering the lower court to re-try the case in Taggart's favor. Dunno where it goes from there. Probably got settled out of court. Might need to check the New York court cases...
I'm still concerned though. Was Taggart getting hassled at work or at home by people for being in the movie? For being the Port-O-San guy? I've been scanning the 'Net, there's forums and blog entries here and there, and not one person is saying bad things about him. He makes the movie: some commenters say his part in the movie is the best one, way more than any of the performers. Maybe back then, back in the 70s when everyone was sulking away from the 60s like a bad dream, and people went out of their way to hassle any leftover hippies and anything associated with them even if they weren't hippies themselves. 'Tis the pity of it, if that be the case.
Look, I dunno where Taggart is now, given his age, given that it's 40 years later he might not even be here with us. But his family probably is. Maybe even his sons from Vietnam/Woodstock. I hope they're still not bitter about it. Please don't be (yeah I know, like they'll find this blog, like any of the seven commentators I've ever had ever came back...). Guys, your dad was a hero in that film, one of the good guys just doing his job and doing it well, and like the judge wrote in that appellate ruling "...the latrine sequence apparently makes a significant and memorable contribution to the film's overall impact..."
A toast, people. To Mr. Taggart, the Hero of the Woodstock Festival.
UPDATE (2/2/13): This is one of my most popular articles, and I've discovered some of the links (especially the ones to YouTube) have gone bad, I will try to fix them where I can.
Update (7/4/15): I've hopefully located a replacement YouTube clip of the documentary.
Update (8/14/15): Just sharing this again on Twitter and Facebook, just to share the moment. Hopefully the YouTube clip is still good.