I did not make it to Woodstock. I mean, I did not make it to Woodstock last weekend, not the music and art fair in August 1969, though it’s true that I didn’t make that Woodstock either.
I did not make it to Woodstock, where I could have seen Trigger Hippy, a reconstituted jam band that rocks, or rock band that jams, perform at Levon Helm Studios. It was just too far.
There was another, even more compelling reason to have made the 200-mile trek, though. Some years ago, a Tibetan astrologer in Dharamsala, India, prepared my detailed birth chart, and from the beginning of this year I’ve lived with a dull sense of dread.
Because, you see, since January, “during the rule of planet Ketu, sudden change or obstacle may take place. Wishes hardly fulfilled especially if you don’t concentrate well enough. Avoid making huge expenses and keeping hostile relations with those of the unrefined females.”
In order to avoid “all the negativity,” do the right thing, the astrologer continued, in so many words. “Of course, you should put prayer flags on high mountains.”
Finally, I thought, I will go to Woodstock and revisit Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery, at the long, sweeping crest of Meads Mountain Road, where the Overlook Mountain Trail begins. There, I would hang the Tibetan lung-ta (“wind horse”) prayer flags I’d bought many months earlier, the better to be protected, perhaps, during the five-year influence of Ketu, the “shadow planet” deity said to have an outsize impact on human lives and all of creation.
But no, the trek was fraught with logistical problems. Instead, under Sunday’s magnificent autumn sunshine, a long string of the colorful rectangular flags was unfurled between two trees on the highest hill I could find between East and West 72rd Street.
M. and I could not make a Woodstock rendezvous happen, but she had business in Manhattan on Sunday morning and took an early bus into the city. We met in the midafternoon at Tanner Smith’s on West 55th, the brunch crowd boisterous. A small combo played jazz over the noisy thrum as she happily sipped a cocktail called a Pretty Pants Bandit and I took great pleasure in a velvety Cotes du Rhone.
Earlier, I’d arrived on the Jitney and set out for Central Park. Sunday was Marathon Day, and the entire southern half of the park was overflowing
with humanity. From the north, runners streamed inexorably into the park and wound their way to the finish line as the city-within-a-city swelled and I thought might soon burst, all of us propelled like exploding confetti to one or another outer-borough neighborhood. It looked, almost, like Woodstock — the festival, that is.
Police barricades lined many of the park’s winding roads, and entire sections were walled off. With everyone distracted, I could carry out my important work.
But soon after the prayer flags had unfurled to the autumn gust, it seemed less good deed than pitiful cop-out. A real devotee would have made the small sacrifice and traveled to Woodstock, climbed to the mountaintop, and hung the prayer flags between the highest trees, elevation 3,000 feet. Instead, they were midway between East and West 72nd Street, elevation 60 feet.
But maybe, maybe their printed prayers and mantras would be carried on these winds, too. Maybe they are needed here.
It was so nice to be back in the Capital of the World, now that the summer’s heat had finally dissipated. M. and I had a wonderful time and talked of getting together again. Leaving her at the Port Authority bus terminal, I walked downtown and within minutes was staring at 584 Eighth Avenue, the grungy “Music Building” housing scores of rehearsal and recording studios and where, in 2001, I gathered my recently defunct band so that we might make one last recording.
I really liked “Sweet,” the song I had written with Meg, the band’s frontwoman, and wanted very much to document it before the group’s inevitable scattering. Seventeen years after its recording, that final session began, improbably, to pay material dividends
in the form of royalties for many thousands of streams on Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and elsewhere in cyberspace. It’s not a Grammy Award, but as co-author and publisher, “Sweet” has brought a few hundred dollars to date, and recent quarterly statements from BMI, the performance-rights organization, suggest an upward trajectory.
Unrelated and even more improbable, I may soon be a homeowner, an eventuality I’m processing with some difficulty.
What gives? I wonder. I’ve been expectantly, impatiently awaiting the material-plane troubles associated with Ketu, as set forth in my birth chart, and my sole effort to preclude or mitigate them was at best inauspicious, yet here I am, as before, and perhaps poised to reap, finally, the fruits of so much labor.
So I consult Wikipedia, according to which Ketu represents good as well as bad karmic collections, and can even help one achieve the height of fame, under the right conditions. As a rule, though, it is said to force a more spiritual outlook by causing material loss.
The country and world may be on the verge of political chaos and climate catastrophe. Stoics and Buddhists agree: Now is the time not to worry about the future, but to stay focused, overcome desire and aversion, stay balanced, and accept one’s fate.
Christopher Walsh is a senior writer at The Star.