1969's Stardust and Moondust.
Two years ago, I was searching for unique and special furniture for a company I had set up, when I stumbled upon this poster on sale at an eclectic furniture and decoration shop in Dubai.
It was a perfect choice for the office entrance. The poster was a flashback to other days, my days of innocence and hope. Hung in my office, it would remind me of this, everyday.
This poster for the 1969 Woodstock concert stirred a sweet nostalgia that came flooding back, about my first year in Canada. I was a 12 year boy immigrant who was crossing cultures, continents and languages, — and a very naive one at that, — who was coming of age with so much of his world changing around him, topsy turvy.
We had landed in Toronto the year before, coming from the secure, very measured and stiff Jesuit French boy’s schools of Alexandria, smack in the middle of a particularly cold and snowy winter, and a school where in the back lot pretty girls were often seen sniffing glue (my thoughts then were “why would such pretty girls sniff glue?”). I couldn’t reconcile the fact that they were pretty and well dressed with the destructive need of drugs. But I had so much to learn about suburbia.
En bref, I learned the language and culture very very quickly, because I had to.
The poster brought two major events from 1969 to my mind: Stardust and Moondust.
The poetic ‘stardust’ in the lyrics of the ballad and counterculture anthem ‘Woodstock”.
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Ironically, these lyrics were written by Joni Mitchell while watching the event on television remotely, in a hotel room in New York City, inspired by what she had been told by then-boyfriend, Graham Nash (Of Crosby, Stills Nash and Young), about the Woodstock Music and Art Festival.
She hadn’t made it to Woodstock, because her manager at the time adivsed her that it would be better for her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show.
Later she would recall that her regret at missing the event is what inspired those words. Graham Nash said that no one who was really there at Woodstock could have written this song.
The ‘moondust’ memory was from that perfectly orchestrated landing and moonwalk by Neil Armstrong on July 21st, 1969, almost a month to the day before ‘Woodstock’.
Televised live on a cozy summer Sunday evening, when all of us were conveniently gathered in front of our televisions, (me crouched on the floor, real close to the black and white television), awe struck and gob smacked that our world had just taken a step off the earth, to the exciting world of space and the ‘ultimate frontier’ of a Star Trek promised future. For one night we forgot about Vietnam. This was happening to and in our generation.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” Neil Armstrong’s first words on touching the surface of the moon.
A common concern at the time was the danger of the rocks and dust that Apollo 11 was carrying back, and what they could contain, what alien life form they hid, — an effect of watching too much Star Trek.
This Woodstock Poster
A poster or photograph can do this. It can magically remind us of sweet moments frozen in our lives, like a CAT scan slice, a four dimensional hologramic memory.
I still remember the strange feeling on my knees as I watched the moon landing, that strange artificial feel of the wall to wall carpeting that was so trendy in Canada at the time, so foreign to us as immigrants from Egypt (“How could they ever clean it, I mean really properly clean it, like we did back home, hanging the carpets out in the balcony every week to be beaten until all the dust escaped, and for the sun to do its’ magic.”)
The other story of the poster is on another level.
It was designed by Arnold Skolnick over a weekend, (he said that the dove on the guitar was actually designed to resemble a catbird, and that it was originally perched on a flute).
Despite the magnificent success of the concert, an event that defined a generation in ways that are difficult to explain in today’s over commercialized world, he only received $ 15. The poster went on to define the Woodstok generation and became an icon of the times, my time.
As I look at the poster now hanging it in my office, I can’t help but notice the timelessness of the design. Today, like 1969, the design is fresh, bold, simple and tells us the same message:
Peace, Love, Music.
This is design that is eternal.