Outside the Gates of Eden preview

Friday morning, August 15, 1969, JFK airport. A guy in a beard and mirrored sunglasses met them when they got off the redeye from San Francisco, holding a sign that said QUIRQ. When Cole asked him if he was their limo driver, the guy laughed as if it was the funniest thing he'd heard in days. He hustled them into a golf cart and drove them to a helipad at the far end of the airport.

Once they were in the air, Cole got the joke. The main freeway headed north from New York City was a parking lot, and when they banked to the left and followed a smaller road, it was also at a standstill. Soon Cole saw cars abandoned by the side of the road and a continuous stream of human beings trudging northwest on foot.

The scene was eerily familiar, and Cole flashed on a nightmare from his childhood, refugees from a nuclear war lining the roads as they fled their irradiated cities. That thought, in turn, made him realize that everything he had assumed about the festival was wrong. Even the most wild-eyed predictions of a hundred thousand people were clearly and hopelessly low. Something that had been building since the Beatles set fire to the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 had reached critical mass, and if it wasn't an atom bomb, it looked to be nearly as devastating.

At the Holiday Inn in Liberty, Cole slept for a few hours, then caught a ride to the festival site. Unlike the copter he'd ridden in that morning, this one had a spherical glass front, like the one in the WhirlybirdsTV show from Cole's youth. The seat next to the pilot was open. Country Joe sat in back, wearing a sergeant's green military fatigues, his dark, shoulder-length hair held by a headband.

The combination of Joe's uniform and the sound of the idling rotors gave Cole a jolt of Vietnam terror at the base of his spine. He strapped in and set his guitar case on end in front of him. It blocked at least part of the disorienting view through the Plexiglas floor.

"Hey, Cole," Country Joe said, and Cole reached through the gap between the seats to shake his hand, movement style. Most of the musicians that Cole knew were searching for something. Joe seemed to have found it and tired of it and given it away a long time ago. He'd been a red-diaper baby, had spent three years in the Navy, was highly literate and political and always kept a level head, even when he was tripping, which was a good deal of the time. He had the best deadpan comic delivery of anyone Cole had ever met, and as with so many truly funny people, the humor was fed by a wellspring of bitterness.

Joe gestured vaguely at their surroundings. "It's like being in the fucking USO, isn't it?"

"Luckily," Cole said, "you're already dressed for the part."

The helicopter lurched and lifted off and Cole watched the motel and the city fall away, replaced by a landscape of rolling hills, lakes, and trees. Straight lines and pale olive colors where the land was cultivated, a darker, textured green for the woods. Narrow roads cut the abstract canvas into interlocking pieces. These were working farms with tractors that needed to be moved around and produce that needed to get to market. Even from hundreds of feet in the air, Cole sensed something peaceful that emanated from the countryside itself.

The helicopter banked downward and Cole felt a rush of excitement. In a matter of seconds they began to see barns and fences and abandoned cars and then, all at once, throngs of people. In the distance a half-finished stage, a giant framework of raw white pine and a flapping sail of white canvas strung above it. Everywhere else it was a pointillist painting in daubs of pink and white and tan that Cole understood to be a continuous sea of human flesh.

"Incredible," Country Joe said. "They're saying three hundred thousand by tonight."

The number was meaningless to Cole. What he saw was an area the size of a small town that consisted of nothing but one person sitting or standing next to another, and another, and another, in all directions. When he thought there couldn't be any more, thousands more rolled into view, and thousands after that.

The helicopter circled the site. Pale green canvas tents clustered at the far end of the field, next to a board fence that extended from both sides of the stage. Half a dozen towers of metal scaffolding held spotlights and speakers. A row of portable toilets, not nearly enough. Behind the stage, trailers and a giant tepee. Mostly he saw kids, mostly male, mostly white, mostly teenaged.

Cole remembered the crowds at the Haight two years before. At least three times that many kids had come for the fair, all at once instead of over a period of months. His earlier vision of refugees was wrong. They were here as an affirmation, not a denial. He thought of the way Dylan's songs, more than anyone else's, had created an "us" and a "them," and that he was looking at the culmination of all the songs like them. Hundreds of thousands of kids who saw themselves as part of that "us" had answered the call that they read between the lines of the festival posters. The revolution had happened, invisibly and bloodlessly, in the endlessly repeated acts of packing a knapsack or grabbing a sleeping bag and hitting the road.

"Joe?" Cole said. "I think we just won."

"You think? That would be nice. We've still got a war to end and a few details like that."

"Look at all those people," Cole said. "They can't ignore us now."


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