August 26th, 2009

New Tilley Hat

Placing Woodstock in historical context

In an earlier entry My parents were at Woodstock while I went to Disneyland, I told my Woodstock story, an expansion of the article printed in the Times Herald-Record, the paper my father edited and which I delivered for 5 years as a teen: In His Own Words, how I happen to go to Disneyland the weekend my parents were at Woodstock as reporters. I've been telling this story ever since, and finally put it in print. I ran it by my mother, who was there, and my brother Joe urged her to write up her reminiscences for Huffington Post: Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N Roll in Redneck Country. These articles, and the many more that have accompanied the 40th anniversary, prompted a backlash from those who don't want to hear about it anymore.

I've responded in a few places, and might as well try to cover many of the points here.

Culturally, "the 60s" was that period of time from Kennedy's Assassination to Nixon's resignation; from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols; from Twister to Dungeons and Dragons. The beginning and end points are fairly easy, though they are not sharp dividing lines. The highlights and lowlights are harder.

One of the major driving forces of the 60s was the Baby Boomers. At the time, it was the largest number of babies born in the US. By a lot. 76 million post-war children, all growing up. The Census Bureau defines the demographic as babies born between 1946 and 1964, though some (including 1961 baby Barack Obama) cut it off in 1960.

1955 is squarely in the middle, the year of Disneyland, McDonalds, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and me.
more on the Boomers and WoodstockCollapse )
Woodstock was the last gasp of innocence, where half a million people could just show up and police themselves. Compare the security a few months later at Altamont. At Woodstock, despite the rain, no one was electrocuted; the techies did their job. Despite the lack of sanitation facilities, toilets and water, with kids running barefoot through cow pastures, there was no infection reported, nor cholera or related illness; the engineers (especially family friend Ed Silvers who dug the wells and poured chlorine everywhere) did their job. Despite the unrestricted drug use, there was only one reported (but unconfirmed) death from drug overdose (though there were other drug-related problems); Wavy Gravy and his crew did their job The largest rock concert in history was the most disorganized... and the most peaceful.

Woodstock was also one of the last major events without extensive television coverage. A huge number of people just arrived and were left more-or-less alone. The movie covered some ground, but wasn't on tv screens for the 6 O'clock news. Within a few years, almost any event from anywhere in the world had live or taped tv coverage. Television news was not going to miss out on another big story, no sirree.

In retrospect, Woodstock was a prime example of a flash crowd, what we would now call a DoS attack. It had nothing to do with politics, it had to do with getting away from your parents (which I did by going to Disneyland while my parents were at Woodstock). Woodstock was the last gasp of Flower Child innocence. After that, it was Real World (tm) laissez faire capitalism for the underground drugs and slogging in the grassroots for political power.

After flexing its muscle at Woodstock, many entered political power still playing songs from the concert. We cleaned up the water and air, got us out of Vietnam, almost passed the ERA, invented the personal computer and used the internet in ways that hadn't been imagined by its developers. Some put away the beads for a suit jacket and tie, switching from marijuana to cocaine. Some stayed children, away from the world ala Thoreau. But most simply grew up. The world was changing and finally we were part of it.

It's an odometer year. Let us have our fun. If you think the 40th anniversary is waxing nostalgic, wait until the 50th.