How did it feel to walk out in front of hundreds of thousands of people and open the Woodstock festival? What kind of life journey led from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to that celebrated concert stage? And how can a man preserve the legacy of Woodstock and his own deeply held beliefs in an age of computers and instant communication? In this warm, highly personal narrative, Richie Havens answers those questions and more.
Richie Havens was one of the artists who helped bring lush poetry and a social conscience to popular music in the sixties. From his unique vantage point, we watch the emerging careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, and Lou Gossett Jr. (who cowrote one of Richie's most famous songs) and revisit underappreciated singer-songwriters, among them Fred Nell, Judy Henske, Tim Hardin, Dino Valenti, and Bruce Murdoch. From his unusual guitar style to the process of writing and interpreting songs, Richie relates both the triumphs and frustrations of the music business and invites you into the recording studio and on memorable backstage visits with the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
But music is only one side of Richie Havens. He also describes his nonprofit organization for marine study and conservation, the song that sent him on a Middle East peace mission, his work mobilizing schoolchildren as environmental activists, and the true legacy of the Woodstock generation. Here is a candid, compelling, exhilarating visit with a remarkable artist whose joy in living and faith in the human spirit are contagious.
It's clear from reading this memoir by folksinger and social activist Richie Havens that this is one '60s survivor who hasn't become jaded. They Can't Hide Us Anymore (the title comes from a remark Havens made when he opened the Woodstock festival) traces Havens's journey from Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant district (where his musical skills aided him in staving off unwanted gang attention) to Greenwich Village at the cusp of the early-'60s folk boom. There, the positive-thinking artist/gadfly/aspiring entertainer crossed paths with everyone from Bob Dylan to Wilt Chamberlain. Then it was on to Woodstock and international (if fairly fleeting) fame. As befits an unapologetic counterculture adherent, Havens's memoir/life guide doesn't adhere to a tight structure. One minute he's offering a hasty guitar lesson, the next he's making passing reference to an encounter with the ghost of Aaron Burr at New York's Cafe Bizarre. He devotes as many words to unknown pals who've made a positive impression on him as he does to encounters with the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Some may find the fanciful flow of Havens's narrative disconcerting, but it's clearly the way the man has lived his life. It makes sense that he'd chronicle his experiences that way, too. --Steven Stolder