“With A Little Help”

Mark Berger’s memoir of the 1960s and its climactic event, the Woodstock Music Festival, is so richly evocative in its detail and presence, you’ll swear you were there. T.C. Boyle

Howl! is happy to present this short excerpt, “With A Little Help”, from Mark Berger’s memoir Something’s Happening Here: A Sixties Odyssey from Brooklyn to Woodstock. Join us on Saturday, May 11th at 7 PM, to celebrate the publication of the book with a reading, and a performance by singer-songwriter Olivia Quillio.

We stop at the crest overlooking the stage. While I could probably finesse our way back into the press section like I did last night, it doesn’t feel right. Once is enough. Moving through the crowd, we sit down maybe a football field away.

Onstage, the band is finishing up a song. The lead singer has on a long-sleeve tie-dyed T-shirt.

“Who’s playing?” I ask a girl seated next to us.

“Joe Cocker.”

We shrug our shoulders.

“He’s English,” the girl continues and passes us a joint.

The band starts playing “Just Like a Woman.” Cocker sings the opening line “Nobody feels any pain” and he sounds like he’s an alumni of the Ray Charles School of Singing, and like Brother Ray, he sings behind the beat. While Dylan’s original is a scornful picture of a former lover, Cocker’s full-bodied voice tells a tale of a heart filled with anguish. The music takes him away. Us too.

Joanie and I exchanges smiles, she leans against my chest. I put my arms around her shoulders, drawing her head alongside mine, tousling her hair.

The organ starts the next song and a murmur undulates through the crowd. We all know this one. It’s “With A Little Help from My Friends” from Sergeant Pepper, a record I bet every single person here owns and knows by heart.

Unlike the little ditty that Ringo croons, Cocker sings as if his life depends on it. He wails the lyrics incoherently, whirling his right arm playing an invisible guitar, staggering, vibrating, almost collapsing, then resurrecting himself. He’s testifying, telling it like it is: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

A little help from my friends? I’m hip. Cocker’s turning the Beatles’ song into an anthem. It’s about all of us here at Woodstock. How has everyone gotten through all the bummers—the chaos, traffic jams, thunderstorms, the hunger, the heat, all the rotten conditions? How? With a little help from our friends—a shared sandwich here, a laugh, a sip of water there, a toke, a free meal, a smile, a kiss, a hug.

When Joe Cocker finishes, people rise to their feet and pump their fists in the air. And, as if on cue, the skies go from gray to black. Storm clouds rush in. One upon another, lightning bolts flash like strobes—freezing the crowd’s upturned heads, open mouths, outstretched arms, and then, thunderclaps explode and torrential rain renders our bowl-shaped metropolis once more a flooded city.

“Here we go again,” I say, grabbing Joanie’s hand. “Let’s move quick.”

Caption: T.C. Boyle and Mark Berger