A Tale of Two Towns

A Tale of Two Towns

August 16, 2009

Woodstock bellowing in the tunnels of time…

This weekend marked the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the music fest that helped define a generation – peace, love, drugs, sex, rock and roll. All of that was present at Woodstock.

Thinking on it over this anniversary weekend, I am glad I wasn’t there. I hate crowds. In a field? No in-door plumbing? My sister will tell you that camping, to me, has always meant a Holiday Inn. Music? I’m tone deaf. It was not an event made for me, personally. Yet, it is one of the iconic moments of a generation. It was instantly romanticized and remains so today. It became a symbol for what baby boomers hoped they would be and, unfortunately, on many levels, not what we turned out to be.

Once the threat of service in Viet Nam disappeared, the boomers [I am one of them] turned their energies away from creating a better society towards the golden calf of consumerism. Many of my friends post-college started their professional careers in social services which they soon left for real estate, law school, corporate careers that paid well. Hippies became Yuppies. Instead of trading lines of poetry, a generation turned to trading tips on the newest gadgets.

Timothy Leary gave a speech in 1966 that included the catch phrase: turn on, tune in, drop out. By 1976, turning on, tuning in and dropping out was passé. Corporate careers were the next new big thing. A movement that promised a better mankind came and went in a decade. Boomers surrendered to their bread and circuses, gadgets, careers, bigger homes, flashier cars, accumulating experiences as some other group would collect postage stamps.

Lessons learned in psychedelic trances, in the muddy fields of Woodstock, in the solidarity of opposing war, coupled with the intoxicating possibility of changing society, all slipped away in the responsibilities of being “grown up.” And out of danger.

As boomers face the final acts of their lives, I am wondering if others of my generation are wondering if we let opportunities slip by – that our choices may not have been the best in the long run, that the wonderful youthful innocence with which we once faced the world was replaced by a veneer of worldly sophistication, the ennui of “been there, done that.”

I am asking these questions of myself as I face the third act of my life. My contemporaries are doing the same I suspect. It is interesting to watch the results of the current economic malaise upon the boomers I personally know. Many have been put out of good jobs and find themselves “on the beach” looking for the next gig. There is not one I know personally who is not asking themselves what they want to do next and there is not one who has not articulated to me a desire to do something now that will “make a difference – the feeling it is time, again, to do something to make a difference.” Admittedly this is non-scientific and I am extrapolating this to many in my generation, yet it is universal among the individuals with whom I have spoken.

I don’t know the entire motivation behind these impulses. Is it that we desire to make amends for profligate ways, that facing mortality there is a desire to go eventually into that good night with some more good deeds under our belts. Is it that we feel life has given us a chance to “do-over,” to actually do a bit of paying it forward? I do not know a boomer who is not asking hard questions of themselves and about their time on earth. Is it that we, as a generation, are asking ourselves if we did not allow ourselves to be seduced by the very culture we were repudiating? That once Johnson had given us “the Great Society” our obligations had ended?

Part is confrontation with economic reality, part is facing mortality, part is being reminded by anniversaries like Woodstock that there was another time and another consciousness in our lives and that perhaps we have failed to pay as good attention to that time and consciousness as we – perhaps – should have?

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One Response to “A Tale of Two Towns”

  1. Twitter is Sacred Says:

    […] wrote that in a blog about Woodstock, the cultural touchstone that happened forty years ago this month.  […]

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