Richie, Charles & “Sandy”: “Freedom” & the Voices I Love

Richie, Charles & “Sandy”: “Freedom” & the Voices I Love

bcblogrichiehavenshamburgToday, August 19, 2013, I read the ashes of Richie Havens were scattered from a plane across the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. He died on April 22, 2013 (Earth Day) of a heart attack at age 72.  

I was introduced to the music of Richie Havens in 1967 when I was a student at Michigan State University. Scott, a man I was dating, played Havens’ “Mixed Bag” album for me and said one of the songs, “Sandy,” was just for me. I liked Havens’ intense, rhythmic guitar style and his soulful, craggy voice. When he said my name it aroused me. No one had ever written, sung or played a song about me before. I was smitten. With both Richie and Scott!

Sandy made me promise
not to tell, 
not a soul must know
how well we love.

Stars and moons
and galaxies can´t compare
with how I see in her eyes. . .

I give her love
and take her love
gratefully. . .

In August 1969, my last term at Michigan State University, I was immersed in an accelerated French class to complete a requirement for graduation. It had been an intense summer and I was struggling to maintain my grade. One of my classmates said that she heard there was some sort of outdoor concert starting in a few days in upstate New York. She had a ride to Pennsylvania and was going to hitchhike the rest of the way to New York. She asked if I would join her. Oh, how I wanted to go – not only for the escape, but for the adventure and the music.

bcblogwoodstocktrafficjamI checked my finances. No money. Evaluated the risks of hitchhiking. Pretty high. Estimated if I had enough time to complete my French class assignment before going. I didn’t. So, of course I decided to go! Sadly, because of missed connections (no cell phones back then) I never made it to the concert on the dairy farm in Bethel, New York with a half a million strong. I stayed home, studied and listened to the radio reports.

bcblogrichiehavenswoodstockThree days of peace and music, is what the organizers claimed Woodstock would be.  Richie Havens was there and he made musical history on day one – August 15, 1969. He opened the concert because Sweetwater, the scheduled opening band was stuck in traffic. Havens had arrived early with his musicians in a helicopter. His spontaneous and spectacular performance of FREEDOM at Woodstock defined my generation.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” he sang to the children who came in protest of their parents and the chaotic world around them. War. Riots. Racism. They wanted freedom – from tyranny and fear and Havens gave them what they wanted. FREEDOM!

Something stirred deep inside of me when I heard a broadcast of Havens’ performance of FREEDOM on the radio. I mourned the fact I was missing him and missing what would be touted as one of the greatest happenings of all time in music history.

Later, I learned that Havens’ opening tune was “I Can’t Make It Any More,” the song Scott played for me shortly before we broke up

I get too low with no reason
You say it’s the moon or maybe the season
but something’s not the same
and I won’t let my mind believe
Baby, something’s wrong
or the feelings gone
I can’t make it anymore
I can’t make it anymore. . .

Where did we go wrong?
Where do I belong?
Can we find out when
it all began?
Why I’m leaving you
Why our love ain’t true
I can’t make it anymore
I can’t make it anymore. . .

Time passed. My Richie Havens albums were packed away, but not forgotten. I had graduated from college twice and had married and divorced. In 1996, two friends convinced me I should let them match me up with their widower friend, Charles Novacek. Reluctantly, I agreed for them to let him call me.  

When Charles spoke my name on his first phone call, his expressive voice aroused me. I didn’t know who was calling, but I knew I liked him already. I remembered, the only other man who had spoken my name in such a soulful way was Richie Havens and I was sure it wasn’t Richie. Charles introduced himself and I tried to explain his voice reminded me of Richie Havens’, but he was not familiar with his work. I eventually learned that Charles also had a rich baritone singing voice that made me swoon.   

bcblogrichiehavensdia2000Four years later Richie Havens performed in the Diego Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I convinced Charles to go.* Havens had a gentle, compassionate style and a powerful presence with his voice and stature (six and a half feet tall). His deep voice resonated as he struck the guitar strings. He called out to all of us with his enduring message of peace, love, home and FREEDOM and we understood.   

I miss the voices of those two men who spoke so sweetly to “me” and for FREEDOM.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

                                                             ― Edgar Degas


*I recently found myself in a photograph of the event (Three rows back, center, behind man in blue shirt. Charles is obstructed).  

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