“Mom, can I go to Woodstock? I can hitchhike.”
I said that to her in August 1969.
“Three days of peace and music, Mom.”
“It’s only 600 miles away.”
Of course, I was only 13 at the time, but what I saw on the news, heard on the radio, made it clear that there was something special going on in the rain. I wanted to be part of it.
I’d wanted to be part of what was happening for a long time. I was a protected Catholic schoolboy, but I paid attention. I had watched the ’60s begin when John Kennedy was killed. I was a fourth-grader when I put a National Geographic map of Vietnam on my bedroom wall. When Mom objected, I told her I’d take it down when the war was over. I had no idea I’d return from college to do that.
Haight-Ashbury, marijuana, acid, the 1968 Democratic Convention, rock and roll, hair, underground newspapers, the East Village, Abraham, Martin and John – and Bobby, gold star mothers, Peter Max … I felt as if I was missing it.
My parents were aghast, horrified, their world falling apart. My father and my uncle had had their guns loaded and ready since Detroit burned the summer before. And half a million drug-addled kids descended on some farm in New York, and their son, my parents' only surviving child, thought it was beautiful.
Adolescents rebel, but this was different, more intense, more political. The world was changing, and rock and roll was the agent. That fall, I would go to a public school for the first time in my life, surrounded by girls in miniskirts. By the time I graduated, I would work for an underground newspaper, discover my life’s work with the school paper, listen to Led Zeppelin and the Doors and the Who and Pink Floyd, the MC5, Dick Wagner before and after he joined Alice Cooper, Bob Seger and Jefferson Airplane. Underground music made its way to the airwaves, I’d smoke weed with a cop’s kid and wonder when the revolution would arrive.
It was a battle, yes, a battle against all that was old and unenlightened and outmoded, a battle for the future.
As a child, every adult I knew was sad, duty-bound, stressed, angry, bound by invisible chains of their own making. Thus it had been for generations. Like every generation before us, we wanted no part of that, but finally, there were enough of us to make it happen.
We would be different. Tomorrow would be different. We were, and it was. We couldn’t imagine how different the next 40 years would be.
The culture did, indeed shift, in ways big and small. No metropolitan area has been incinerated in anger since my parents’ generation. But I really noticed it the first time I heard Steely Dan played as elevator music. I couldn’t help but think, “Damn. We won.”
We’ve all had our tragedies. One of my best friends from grade school came out of the closet, went to New York, and died in the first AIDS epidemic. We’ve all seen too much of the dark side, but it’s given us wisdom. There’s still a lot wrong, but there’s so much that is right.
And we’ve given rock and roll to the generations.
My kid’s high school band has performed tightly disciplined shows with music from “Hair,” Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Queen – and won. There’s a Beatles song in this year’s show. A Pew Research poll recently found the Beatles were the favorite group of every generation since they played. I didn’t object when Cadillac used Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” to sell luxury cars. It was luxury for us, and we’d won.
We’ve grown fat and comfortable, cut our hair long ago, and worked just as hard as, maybe harder than, our parents. We turned capitalist and reaped the benefits. Our children are grown or nearly so, and many of us look like our parents and grandparents. But we aren’t them.
I’ve spent the weekend reveling in the music and the memories. “Baby boomers love their nostalgia,” it is said, and it’s true. But it’s still now. A lot of the music was delivered via satellite on an XM-Sirius channel that's Katherine's favorite. I’ve been listening to Buffalo Springfield, Seger, Mitch Ryder, the Dead, Zeppelin and Airplane on Internet radio as I write this.
We embraced the future and it is still ours. Rock and roll.