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Livestock Nation viewed from afar


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001

Let the record show that I was at Livestock 2001.

Let the record show that I was at Livestock 2001.

Okay, let the record show that I drove by Livestock 2001, and that will still make me a more valid attendee than most of the people who claim to have been at Woodstock.

I'm not a total concert wimp. I go to a couple of folk concerts every year where we get quite hot and dusty and sometimes drink too much lemonade. The closest we get to a mosh pit is a little polite bumping in the line for the portable toilets -- and we always say "excuse me" even then.

Concerts like Livestock, which took place near Zephyrhills last weekend, are just the extreme version of the genre -- mud (when it rains) instead of dust, a more lively selection of abusable chemicals and semiorganized mayhem in the name of musical enjoyment where if you don't come away bloody, you didn't have a good time.

It's a rite of passage that I missed.

Concerts weren't part of the teen experience when I was a kid in Miami, and neither were drugs. Bill Haley and the Comets was as close to hard rock as we got, and the only comparable experience was going out in the woods, drinking beer and staring at the lakes left after grave excavations.

All I got out of it was that I grew up thinking lakes were square and thought the first round one I saw was artificial.

We also entertained ourselves by listening to records, including the first generation of comedy albums made by people like Jonathan Winters, Dave Gardner and Shelly Berman.

It didn't have the same effect. Comedy riffs are never sexy and nobody plays air-monologue.

I was still a Republican (I recovered shortly thereafter) when Woodstock occurred and stayed so poor that the first concert I could actually afford to go to was (I'm being painfully honest here) a Rod McKuen event in St. Petersburg.

It's true I was a mid-level Deadhead, which is what followers of the world's greatest-ever band, the Grateful Dead, were called, but I wasn't one of the freaks who camped in the parking lots. I was one of the freaks who camped in nearby hotels and visited the parking lot.

It all stems from a promise I made myself in Vietnam 35 years ago -- to never again be more than 50 feet from foam rubber, ice cubes and air conditioning. It is a vow I have broken very few times and only under great duress.

I didn't realize how ancient my concert tastes had gotten until I turned around one day at a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall and, looking at the rest of the audience, realized I was seeing a sea of white and pastel. White hair and pastel polyester.

At least I was wearing denim.

But I'm not putting Livestock down.

We live in an area where far too little attention is paid to the recreational needs of young people, and anything that counters that trend is okay with me.

I don't pretend to understand today's music any better than my parents understood Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley, and if extreme dress in my day consisted of turning your collar up and wearing your belt buckled on the side, then I can only do what any pioneer does and salute those who push the boundaries outward.

Actually, I got off light. I bleached my hair once (very daring in 1961) but I had to do only one color, no spikes, no Mohawk, and I didn't have to stick anything through my tongue or other soft body parts.

Sex wasn't as scary back then (and happened a lot less often) and we actually thought putting spirits of ammonia in a cola drink was a major chemical experience.

I was perfectly happy viewing Livestock from a distance of about 100 yards. I got enough of the experience to know I was on the right side of the fence and heard enough of the music to know it would have hurt even my decibel-damaged ears.

I came away with one overwhelming desire -- to live long enough to see what these kids' children dream up to gross them out in 15 or 16 years.

I can't wait.

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