I was older than those who flocked to Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, NY, not far outside the village of Woodstock 40 years ago this weekend. Being just ahead of the baby boomers, I have been observing their behavior all my life, and here was the seminal event for them, a gathering of thousands in a peaceful, chaotic, scary, sexy, drug-enhanced weekend of the music and musicians that resonated to their very souls. I saw ads for the upcoming concert in the New York Times, and thought it seemed like an amazing event.
In those days I loved the protest rock music of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, and the many like them. Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and Joe Cocker were beyond me. I have been a square since before it was cool not to be and I've never quite shaken it. As to music, although there were many performers I would have love to have heard, the venue of a huge outdoor concert didn't appeal to me. (If you don't know what "square" means, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.) I was old enough to think about my creature comforts.
But thousands weren't. They were the boomers--the engaged, the sincere, the aching kids distraught at the prospect of the quicksand of Viet Nam and the injustices they saw all around them in the world of grownups--and they outnumbered my own silent generation by a long shot. Many of them went to Woodstock '69 as innocents just wanting to hear the music and be with their friends and significant others; many returned transformed into to young men and women who would take us all on. We on the outside read news reports and heard on the broadcast media and were impressed and relieved that, despite the lack of facilities or bedrooms, in spite of the rain, mobs, and mud, and even though there was some use of controlled substances, a mood of controlled peace and love prevailed.
That generation wore their hair longer than we did. All the girls bore the same hairstyle--long, parted in the middle and straight as a poker. Now their boyfriends did too, although some of them had curl in their hair and they would not iron it as the girls did. After Woodstock, this "look" was with us for a decade. It was a Woodstock look, a "hippie" look, a defiant look that clashed with any that was different. In a way, it was at least as conformist as the look it seemed to protest.
Woodstock was the crystallization of many things for this country. Because it was about music, primarily, and because much of the music was political, a generation was politicized as none had been before. Many who were not hippies before Woodstock became so after it. All of us had to take notice; the world was upside down and parents were forced to listen to their children. Those who hadn't been to Woodstock behaved as if they had. The upheavals and protests on college campuses took on a different tone, and life in these United States would not be the same.
Was it good? On balance, probably so. What really happened was that the rest of us had to accept the dominance of this generation of post-war babies, like it or not. Now that we've had enough time, I would say I like it. But I'm glad I'm still square.