The sounds and colors by her side

Susie V Kaufman with the Senegal parrot named Mazi Wamu Kota. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Susie V Kaufman feels her whole life has been tangled with the arts in one way or another, which is reflected in the bright colors with which she surrounds herself — the bright blues inside her Santa Clarita apartment to her shock of red hair.

She’s lived a life heavily influenced by the arts spanning different media, and she vividly remembers the colors in her parents’ living room as they invited working class artists to their small home in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, she said.

Her mother, Kaufman said, connected right away with artist Frida Kahlo, whose husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera, was commissioned to paint a mural at the Rockefeller Center in 1933-34.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her expressive self-portraits, as well as her use of “bold, vibrant colors,” according to FridaKahlo.org. Her paintings now sell for millions of dollars, and are considered influential to a number of different artistic movements.

“I don’t know why, (Kahlo) just liked my mother,” she said. “My mother was very simple.”

Kaufman herself was born in Morristown, N.J., in 1947. Music entered her life as she was rocked to sleep, she said, music’s evolution impacted her more than any piano or violin lesson.

“I was going through stages of music because music was going through stages, and I would start going into (Greenwich) Village,” she said. “New York City was amazing anyway. There was jazz, of course, which my uncle was bringing me up with. But I loved going into the village and I loved folk music.”

By the early 1960s, musicians were “plugging in” and she caught the “Brit sound” as rock ‘n’ roll burgeoned across the globe. Kaufman fell in with musicians kicking off their careers, working as an assistant, or “percie,” for smaller rock groups. By 1968, she heard rumors of a massive concert happening the next year.

“A couple of guys were trying to put together some kind of rock concert that will be about music and poetry,” she said.

Woodstock, with its particular lineup of musicians, became a defining moment in Kaufman’s life. Growing up shy about her personality and her appearance, she felt she was free at last.

“For me, maybe that one moment (I felt I) was free,” she said. “I became comfortable and I felt I can be happy about being exactly how I am and how I look and it’s OK. I’m not going to be envious (of anyone).”

Though the reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was a thrill, it was Jimi Hendrix taking the stage that stood out the most. Kaufman laughed as she recalled the people who left before the third day, when Hendrix appeared. Everyone froze in amazement as the guitarist took to the stage.

But when Max Yasgur appeared, who was the owner of the dairy farm where Woodstock took place, it gave everyone a solemn moment of thankfulness.

“We all owed him,” she said. “Everyone, we all felt complete gratitude that this one human being would give us his land. It was such pretty land, too — it was like a natural bowl.”

Though Kaufman was invited for subsequent anniversaries, she said it wouldn’t be same. Without Jimi Hendrix the Grateful Dead, Sha Na Na and others as the way they were, and in a changed country, it would not be the same.

In the decades since, Kaufman has shared her experience at Woodstock with CNN, on ABC’s “Turning Point” for the 25th anniversary and as a subject of journalist Jack Curry’s book “Woodstock: The Summer of Our Lives.” She continued working with musicians across the country throughout the 1970s, eventually making her way to California.

With the start of the 1980s, Kaufman’s artistic focus shifted to film and television in the years following the birth of her son Jarrett Lennon Kaufman.

Starting as a young actor in shows like “Cheers” and the Ben Stiller movie “Highway to Hell,” Kaufman said he would learn everyone’s lines by heart. Now working in improv, Jarrett is married and has two children.

When considering whether or not to go to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock in August 2019, she floated the idea of perhaps going with Jarrett.

“It would have to be someone so dear who could hold my hand and maybe cry with me,” she said.

Kaufman said due to her strict fixed income, she’s unable to travel as frequently as she’d like, but she’s still moved by the music she grew up with through the help of satellite radio. She finds herself reading more, as the walls of her home are adorned with books from across the ages, from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” to Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.”

For now, music and books have helped her carry her love of the arts forward.
“I wish I could live it over again have more time to think,” she said, “have a better education, but still have Jarrett, still have the music, have more road trips and know more about what I saw.”

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