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Book Review: After Woodstock



You may know Elliot Tiber from Ang Lee's 2009 movie based on Tiber's tender coming-of-age story, Taking Woodstock. His new memoir, After Woodstock, starts after the festival, and thoroughly, exuberantly, and exhaustively tracks Tiber through every high, low, and high again of his prodigiously creative life. Young and gay, painfully stifled by his family, and knowing there was more in store, Tiber was indeed a son of Woodstock. His family ran the El Monaco, a dump of a hotel in Bethel that wound up housing many of the festival's movers and shakers.

Inhaling the freedom the festival brought to the very air along Route 17B, Tiber escapes by dumping a duffel bag of cash (from the motel's profits) into his Cadillac and taking to the highway, heading into his future. On the road, he tosses away the trappings of his trap of a life: the food (dry rye bread sandwiches and schmaltzy chicken soup his parents had packed for him) and the guilt trip (sharp maternal admonishments that please, the first thing he must do is find a nice Jewish girl and start a family). And with a combination of raucous chutzpah and endearing self-sensitivity, he begins the tale of the rest of his life.

Rest of his life indeed: this is a mammoth memoir. It's like spending a week with an endlessly fascinating man who is so filled with the meat and adrenaline of his experiences that he can't stop talking. Through most of its 461 pages, you don't want him to. He's part sybarite: He has dangerous sex with a lunk named Thor—"rough and fiery"—and smokes hash (lots) in Amsterdam with his paramour, the Belgian playwright and director André Ernotte, a "cold-hot blast of serenity." And he's part tender-hearted workaholic: His long relationship with Ernotte is marked by intense collaboration, camaraderie, and profound successes, such as his bestselling novel (in Belgium) Rue Haute and the film adaptation Ernotte then directed. But Tiber's recollections of the decades spent with his great love are also poignant: In the midst of a career high, he's struck by the sight of Ernotte still plagued by creative anxieties, a hint of more tumult to come. One gets a clear, if sometimes overdetailed, picture of the creative union of two restless souls: endlessly pursuing their own ambitions, they made valiant efforts to ease each other's minds.

Tiber the man loves deeply, lives frenetically, watches intently, and seems to remember every single moment in his life; there's no holding back. Tiber the writer is just as unchecked: there are lots of adrenaline-packed journeys (he's an enthusiastic traveler) and heart palpitations, lots of tears, profound losses as AIDS hits near and dear, strong ties to family that evolve and thankfully deepen. In lieu of singular, representative moments, he creates long, complete scenes: this is a maximalist narrative. But the end result is visceral and pleasurable, and the fact that it does not reflect the surgical hand of some careful editor is liberating. An artist and a storyteller all his life, Tiber is nearing the end of a long and fruitful road, and deserves the floor. Read this for the sake of following a life well lived, a reminder that the old Woodstock spirit is alive and well in many forms.

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