Sure, a number of eras and events define our baby boomer generation, but is there anything that defines us better than Woodstock? That’s really where we jumped out of our parents’ shoes into our own. Even many boomers who didn’t try to get there at the time have said, today they wish they had. Retired editor Alan Paul of Hawthorne, New Jersey, did. And now, on its half-century anniversary, Alan looks back at Woodstock Fifty Years Later: Still Stardust, Still Golden.
For the past few months or so, my wife Jan has been saying to just about anyone who will listen, “Alan went to Woodstock fifty years ago and never left.” She says this, I think, with more or less equal parts pride and disbelief, and just a pinch of tender sarcasm sprinkled in for good measure.
It’s true that I went to Woodstock, the concert, fifty years ago. I went with my two cousins Joe and John; it was the summer before Joe’s senior year at college, and John’s and my junior years. We weren’t hippies; not really. The three of us had been athletes and, at the time, there was very little chance that you could be a both a hippie and an athlete.
But we were, at the very least, “closet hippie sympathizers.” We agreed in principle with much of what Hippie Nation stood for and loved the music of the day with equal passion. How could you not agree, back then, that we all should be making love instead of war?
The fact that my wife is confusing— perhaps purposely— Woodstock the Place with Woodstock the Concert, is really beside the point. Or maybe it is exactly the point.
There are two Woodstocks, and as many people are aware, the concert was actually held in Bethel, New York, not Woodstock, New York. Bethel was the town that spawned the concert’s purpose and was, to many of us as young adults, the origin of our belief system. Most of us were not yet aware that there even was a town called Woodstock, let alone where it was located or what it represented. But the concert which bore its name changed the whole world a little bit, and an entire generation willingly went along for the wild ride.
This was an era of change, and that change is reflected in what was going on in popular music at the time. If you listen to the two major versions of the song “Woodstock”— writer Joni Mitchell’s version and the more popular version by Crosby, Stills and Nash— you can hear the transition for yourself. The world of pop music was shifting from a love affair with folk music (Joni’s version) to an eager acceptance of rock music (CS&N’s version). Bob Dylan, who lived in Woodstock, was going through this same musical and philosophical transition.
Most of my friends and contemporaries from the Woodstock era were also closet hippie sympathizers, if not outright hippies. But a lot of those guys went on after college to law school or graduate school, either because they hadn’t yet figured out what to do with their lives or because they were putting off going to Viet Nam for as long as they possibly could.
I moved on to pursue a career in journalism, and somehow never really shed the basic credo that I had cobbled together while in college. My friends graduated law school and became… Republicans. I’m not disparaging Republicans; some of my best friends are Republicans. It’s just funny where life will lead you while you’re not really paying attention. One of my formerly-hippie-now-Republican friends explained it to me thusly: “You just never grew up!” Maybe he was right. Maybe Jan is right, too.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Woodstock! You’ve aged better than most of us. Keep on truckin’!
[Editor’s note: There had been an attempt to stage a commemorative mega-event on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock but it failed. Here’s a New York Times story on “What went wrong.”]
You can buy Alan’s book “Surviving the Frog Bog: Life, Love and Laughter in the Age of Aquarius” here.