Boxing Lifer/Woodstock Vet Ponders Peace, Love, The Roads Taken And Bum Trip Detours
Five people, two tents, plenty of gas in the station wagon.
Detroit native Robert Mittleman heard about the NY festival first from a friend who ran a newspaper, an underground rag. So it was him, Steven Dunn, Larry Pecker, Freddie Rosen, and Susan S.
“She was a WASP, lovely girl,” Mittleman reminisced. “I was supposed to get married to her by Valentines Day, I didn't, she slow walked. You don't miss the water till the well runs dry. Two years of a broken heart to get over it.”
But first, there was a whale of a time at the festival to end all fests, regarding lasting cultural impact.
Mittleman had finished teaching in 1968, so by 1969's calendar turn he was in the next phase of life. Lousy grades in chem, but I was a real good street chemist, he joked to me.
He smoked reefer aplenty, as we learned in part one, but wasn't in the know when a guy said, Pssss wanna try something?
“What is it?”
“I didn't know what that was, really,” he admitted.
It was dropped into a sugar cube. “A half hour later I said, ‘this is nothing.' We go to the park, in a car, 15 minutes later, I knew what it was. It broadened my horizons, it was great for listening to music, watching films, “Yellow Submarine,” “2001 Space Odyssey.” Sex on psychedelics was incredible. It changed my whole life.”
It was with that frame of mind they hopped into Dunn's brothers' Mercury, and went to Yasgur's farm, in Bethel, NY. 43 miles from Woodstock, in actuality. “Even though I was holding maybe 5,000 hits of acid, in those days, they didn't search you. I think we went to Niagara Falls, first, on LSD. When we got there, we knew what it was, what it would be. ‘This is gonna be a movie,' I said.
He wasn't being a trippy philosopher, he meant literally; he saw cameras and climbing rigs to get camera angles, Mittleman saw that producers were going to tape the hell out of the show.
The crew knew there'd be food for sale, so they brought some sandwiches, and such, but other essentials were deemed of more import. “I had Tuinals in case I wanted to sleep. On acid sometimes you're up 48 hours straight, sometimes you wanna crash. You heard of Seconals? Put a red in her head? It was a prelude to Qualuudes. Tuinals were twice as strong as Seconals.”
And no, it wasn't just about partying and kissing that sky and then grogging out, to recharge…Mittleman was amped to see performers. “I was a big Joe Cocker fan, Creedence…Anyway, the vibe was fabulous. 400,000 people, I don't remember seeing one fight!”
A highlight…Mittleman found a sort of secluded spot, to sell some doses. A helicopter was descending, then, nudging him over. It was John Fogerty and company. “I couldn't believe it, they couldn't believe it. They looked around, I don't know if they were high, but they sure were in a daze.”
The tunes were good, the weather up and down…but his sales were off the charts.
“I had gotten a tabbing machine,” Mittleman recalls. They weren't doing sugar cubes, they were doing it on paper. A contact had a contact who made vitamins. A rotary press machine, weighing like 2,000 pounds, was for sale. Mittleman snagged it for like $2,000, and he and some peeps moved it to a Michigan farm, out in nowheresville. It would take like three hours to drop the acid into paper tabs, make 2,000 hits. The machine could do like 5,000 in an hour. They'd render the acid into an almost powdery form, make it solid almost, then break it off, grind it down. “Nobody ever complained…It wasn't the bad brown acid! We used orange and pink. A hit was sold for maybe $5, cost me like .50 cents. It would last 12-14 hours. It was very good shit. Acid was like this.. if you had mental problems it exacerbated them..I had a good head.”
Mittleman and Susan would wiggle their way close to the stage, he said, so he had a good view of the acts he wanted to see. Like, he could see Pete Townshend very much looked to connect with his guitar, on the head of Abbie Hoffman, when Hoffman, cocky and misjudging the mood, thinking that more activism was needed. “He whacked him on purpose! ‘Not on my time!”'
He pondered more.
When did they leave? Monday morning, right?
Oh, and him and his lady didn't do it one time the whole time. “Didn't have sex…I think we were overcome by the vibe, the weirdness. Anyway, she did have more than our share. But anyway, Pecker and Rosen wanted to stay, help clean up, but Dunn had the car. ‘You want a ride to Detroit?' We all went back.”
More skipping down memory lane, taking a pitstop here and there. Studio 54, Xenon, those were some scenes, Mittleman said. Did I ever hear of Disco Aspirin?
He had a place, Madison, between 37th and 38th, back when he was managing P Funk. The Serta got workouts.
“You know the Beatles song, ‘There are places I'll remember…” He was thinking about Susan…”I will never lose the affection I had for her, it will always be part of my life, and how much of my life is left I don't know. Bob Arum is like my hero, my idol, we're both Sagittarius, he's 87, goes to all these fights, if he can do it why can't I? If you make it past 75 there's a good chance you make it to 85.”
He stared down cancer, 10, 12 years ago, he told me. “The same kind Michael Douglas had, throat cancer, both got it the same way, sex. My doctor told me when he diagnosed me, ‘We can beat this. You didn't get it drinking or smoking, that's harder to beat than from (oral) sex. So far, he's right.”
The boxing business has helped keep him alive, lively, interested, invested. Him and Gerry Cooney co-managed Frankie Randall, did I know that? Then Frankie got popped, sold some junk to an undercover, went to jail. “He got out, Don King grabbed him. Then he beat Julio Cesar Chavez (in 1994). I saw Gerry, Gerry asked if I still had Frankie. I told him, if I did, I'd still have him with you!”
There are parallels, the music and boxing biz. If he was shopping a record project, he'd start high on the chain, then make his way down the list. Same repping a boxer, bring him to the top promoter, if he hears no, work down the ladder.
So…the 50th anniversary of Woodstock came and went. You maybe heard, the plans for a 50th anniversary fest, run by Michael Lang, flamed out, it was a bad acid trip of poor planning, and, maybe, trying to do too much, in too short of a span of time, in a way that would have worked when people were 20, but don't work at age 70.
It's OK, actually, probably, maybe better to let the Yasgur farm event have more space. No direct comparison needed, because the 2019 version wouldn't measure up. Brown acid vibes are everywhere..and the mythology would destroy the reality, intermingled with the omni-present ennui and depression stemming from a planetary slow-slide to nervous breakdown.
Mittleman allowed himself time to drift back in our chats for this piece, to the three-four days of peace and love and music and acid and all that. He smiled at the thoughts of the joyous vibe, and his brow furrowed at roads taken and not, from 1969 till now. There is some Hoffman in him, in a good way. Facebook just banned him, for being too pointed with his language, in railing against this administration's excesses.
Friends, and lovers from that era, they no longer use the groovy lingo, speak of peace and love. Mittleman has taken some to task, for becoming Trumpers. Some people, and some places, he remember, some forever, not for better, then. But, he finishes, “At the end of our days we have our experiences and memories and Woodstock is a hard one to top.”