I should have written this in 2009 but didn't. Things come to mind when they will. I did write it during November, 2010 and put it on my Facebook page where it was roundly ignored. I suspect it went to that place where all good electrons go . . . except stuff on the web endures forever or at least until Jesus returns. Anyway. . .
My whole life I have walked to the beat of a different bongo player. I don't care who wins, loses or even is on Dancing with the Stars. The current craze about vampires strikes me as silly, (where are the shows about zombies?). In fact I watch very little TV. I prefer being online, chatting with friends and family, having obscure dialogues about theology or reading. I am, in short as my daughter regularly tells me, a dork. I can curse you out in both ancient Hebrew and Greek but find that no one cares.
Thus it will not surprise anyone that I did not hear about Woodstock 1969 until it was all over. If one of the slogans of our generation was tune in, turn on and drop out, I was rarely tuned in, didn't turn on until I was safely away at college and dropped out sometime around the time I was born. I would have gone if I had known about it if my parents let me (which tells you volumes about me). My big event that summer occurred during July on top of a mesa in New Mexico (yes I was still a Boy Scout the summer between my junior and senior years in high school). On top of that mesa God told me I was going to be a pastor. My classmates at our recent high school reunion were surprised. That order from God put me into shock from July, 1969 through spring, 1973.
Looking back from the perspective of being 57 I see some good things that happened at Woodstock 1969. 500,000 people managed not to kill each other for 3 days despite the lack of water and food, amidst downpours of rain and seas of mud. That has to be some kind of record. (Philadelphia averages more than a murder a day every year.) People shared food and water. There were announcements from the stage about bad acid. But let's face it those who planned it and those who went were not prepared for the experience. They weren't all brave because they lived through it. They failed the intelligence test for not having enough food, shelter or water. And if you saw the films of the garbage left behind it is very clear that the environmental movement had not begun.
I, on the top of that Mesa sat in the rain in my poncho and waterproofed boots, had my tent pitched down below the mesa and my comrades and I had plenty of food for the next few days. We also were intelligent enough to travel in a small group. While we did not even think about the possibility we probably would have known if asked that there was not enough food or room on the trail for 500,000 people. And while the music wasn't as good (the only music we had was our own singing which wasn't all that good) the view was amazing. There is nothing quite like seeing a herd of deer at sunrise in the mist on a meadow at 10,000 feet above sea level.
If Woodstock 1969 was an experience of bad planning and peace Woodstock 1999 was an experience of the entrepreneurial talent run amok and violence. I might not have heard about Woodstock 1999 except for the fact that it occurred 16 miles from my front yard. There was plenty of parking, plenty of food and water and most brought their tents. There was a lack of shade which was a real problem but who thought it wouldn't rain?
My 15 year old daughter wanted to go. Her argument was "what could happen to me among 250,000 people?" I thought that failed the experience with humanity test and didn't let her go. My decision was wiser than I knew. Girls were raped at Woodstock 1999 in front of people who watched and didn't do anything. While walking around topless or naked is not an invitation to rape it also is not intelligent. Yet girls got naked in front of hundreds of people at Woodstock 1969 and no one got raped.
There was plenty of food and water available in 1999 – for a price. Water cost $4.00 a bottle and the cost of food was sky high. People didn't share and no one gave out food or water for free. So on the last day of the concert there was a riot, encouraged by the performers on stage. ATM machines were broken open and robbed. Portapotties were tipped and burned. To be fair this was one area of poor planning at both Woodstocks. Neither had enough places available when one had to answer the call of nature. But no one burned them in 1969. I haven't even heard that anyone tipped one in 1969!
The peaceful, free spirit of the Woodstock Generation disappeared sometime between 1972 and 1980. Hippies turned into bankers, Wall Street giants and lawyers. A few stayed true to the cause. Curiously you can find a bunch of hippies in Woodstock, NY! But we lost our ideals. We stopped giving money to the bums on the streets sometime before 1980. Tragically many of those on the streets didn't have our advantages. We went to college and they went to Vietnam. We bragged about our generation, sneered at our parents and dreamed about how we would make things different. Remember the songs?
Hope I die before I get old. . .
Why don't you all just f-fade away.
And don't try to dig what we all s-say."
(The Who, "My Generation.")
"We want the world and we want it now!"
(The Doors "We Want the World and We Want It Now!")
And that perennial favorite that wasn't in any song that I know of "Don't trust anyone over thirty." Somehow it pales a bit when I look back from my late 50's.
I'm not sure what to say about all of this. We clearly didn't learn to skip stupid wars. George W. Bush is a member of our generation and he launched a pretty stupid war in Iraq. You can argue about the necessity (I personally don't think it fits the Just War standards) but he didn't listen to the Powell doctrine or learn anything from Vietnam. We can also argue about Afghanistan but any student of history knows that fighting a war in Afghanistan is doomed to failure. Even the Macedonians and the Mongols failed to hold it more than one generation. The British lost there and the Soviet Union fell apart partially because of their failed war in Afghanistan. So what are we doing there? I suspect that Osama bin Laden left town around the time we arrived and is somewhere in Pakistan or Yemen. If our intention is to catch him we are probably in the wrong place.
Curiously there were some things we should have learned from those over 30 in 1969. Save your money. What a great idea! Don't buy too much stuff on your credit cards or get a home equity loan on your overpriced house. Stuff like that can cause a fairly significant recession. Have dinner together. Turn off the radio in the car and talk or sing stupid songs together. To be fair to our generation there just weren't all that many stations you could get on an AM radio when you got into the mountains of PA or NY. And yes, learning to diagram sentences and learning the parts of speech was good for us.
There are also some things we should have learned from childhood. The best toys are the ones that require imagination. A sheet and a table make a much better fort than one made out of plastic, looks like a real fort and has to be put together by an adult. Pick up baseball games are a lot more fun than having adults run the game and yell from the sidelines at the coaches. A ride on bicycles for an afternoon with friends is a whole lot more fun (gasp, choke) than watching TV or playing video games. And big cardboard boxes can often be more fun than the things that come in them.
But we did invent or continue some good things. Women's liberation, the Environmental movement, Gay liberation and the continuation of the civil rights movement were good ideas. My wife is sudden death on failing to recycle anything. We may not always go about them in the right way but they were still good ideas.
So maybe we of the Woodstock Generation during our final years could remember and put into practice the good things that our parents taught us and the good ideas from the late 60's and the early 70's. It's worth a try.
And if anyone tries to get all those groups together that sang and played at Woodstock 1969 (the ones who are still alive) would someone please tell me ahead of time?