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60's Craze TODAY?
I N FALL 1962, with his Harvard teaching contract about to expire, Timothy Leary set up the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFF), a commune based on one of Aldous Huxley’s novels, Island, about a druggy utopia. At IFF, LSD was being served far more than science. Trouble loomed. In spring 1963, the first adverse reactions to the stuff were reported. People never came down, had their personalities shattered. A new anti-amphetamine law had just given the FDA control of experimental drugs, and it began cutting off the supply of LSD. But Leary had his own supply and agenda: to turn on America. On Good Friday 1963, he gave students LSD in Boston University’s chapel. The publicity—in the Harvard Crimson and then in the national press—was explosively negative. Harvard fired Alpert on May 27, 1963. Leary was relieved of his dues.
In 1969, the bacchanal of 400,000 people was front-page news. “HIPPIES MIRED IN SEA OF MUD,” sneered New York’s then-conservative Daily News. Perhaps we were. But we were also enjoying the biggest coming-out party ever for America’s biggest generation ever, the Baby Boomers. And everyone wanted to be there.
Our youngest member was about four and a half that day. The oldest participants were gray-haired bohemian-era precursors and young-at-heart boomer pretenders. We were all caught up in the excitement of the moment when a window of opportunity—for drugs, for sex, for “liberation”—opened up and about 76 million of us scampered through before it slammed shut. It’s no wonder the generation that followed resents us. Youth ruled, and if it still seems to, that’s largely because we cannily repackage our youth and sell it over and again. But there’s a lot of gray hair at Woodstock 1998, on stage and off.
Don Henley (b. 1947) of the 1970s band The Eagles is playing an age-appropriate, elegiac song, “The Boys of Summer,” as I park my car and wade into the crowd past concession stands emblazoned with peace symbols. “Everybody knows the war is over,” Henley sings. “Everybody knows the good guys lost.” But did they? Here they are, grown up into wrinkled, happy people, in neat rows of beach chairs, lawn furniture, Mayan cherry-wood chairs ($20 a day, $120 if you want to take one home), and Indian-print bedspreads scattered with Beanie Babies for their brood.
It’s a generational Rorschach. You can see what you want here.
HIPPIES? Woodstock ‘98’s got ‘em, even if some are a little shopworn. Head shops still line the road, and beatific teenage girls with daisies in their hair dance waving tinsel in the hay fields. Everywhere are tie-dye, suede, and patchwork clothes that look as if they just emerged from rucksacks circa Woodstock ‘69.
DRUGS? Occasional wisps tell you marijuana is still around, but far harder to find (and of far better quality) than it used to be. “We went hmmm,” says young mother Susan Kaufer, eyeing her three kids, six, eight, and eleven, at the cloud of pot above their heads. “They haven’t said anything, thank god [sic].”
YUPPIES? There’s a BMW 733i passing a Jaguar with a vanity plate that says INTRNET on Hurd Road. The only psychedelic Volkswagen in sight is a New Beetle painted with the logo of a local radio station. The satellite ATM van is as busy as the Port-a-sans. The concession stands offer pasta caprese, focaccia, mixed baby green salads, and cappuccino alongside the burgers and beer. Henley launches into a song called “The End of Innocence.” There are Woodstock ‘69 and Woodstock ‘98 T-shirts for sale, Woodstock license plate frames, Woodstock mouse pads, even Yasgur’s Farm Ice Cream.
At the first Woodstock, drugs were in everyone’s eyes and the scent of sex was in the air. “You can get away with a lot of things in a cornfield,” Don Henley is saying on stage. NOT ANYMORE, THOUGH, NOT IN THIS CORNFIELD. Overnight camping is banned. There are no drug dealers in sight. Visible skinny bra straps have replaced visible bralessness as the women’s fashion. The lake where people skinny-dipped is fenced and posted PRIVATE LAND.
On day two, one of the performers, Joni Mitchell (b. 1943), will note another change. “Free love?” she asks from the stage. “There’s no such thing now.” She lets out a high, wild laugh. “Pay later,” she adds wryly before hitting the first notes of “Woodstock,” the song that gave this day in the garden its name.
Woodstock ‘98 is aimed at two separate audiences. Friday and Saturday are for baby boomers. Sunday will be Generation X day; it will feature a much bigger crowd of much younger people, traffic jams, an all-day mosh pit, more than a dozen drug arrests, the sudden appearance of designer labels like CK, lots more piercings, tattoos, and dog collars, a much- remarked-on beer ban, and newer musicians such as Janis Joplin-style belter Joan Osborne and several pop bands: Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, and Marcy Playground. That last band’s lead singer mentions LSD—indeed, he admits taking it. Hardly anyone cheers.
Acid flashes aside, Day Two is the real nostalgia day, starring three Woodstock ‘69 veterans: Melanie (b. Melanie Safka, 1947), Richie Havens (b. 1941) and Pete Townshend [b. 1945), along with Donovan [b. 1946) and Mitchell, who wrote “Woodstock,” even though she wasn’t there. Lou Reed (b. 1942)—the former Velvet Underground leader who probably wouldn’t have been caught dead at Woodstock ‘69, is the swizzle stick in the day’s mixed drink.
By this time in 1969, the first Woodstock’s fences had been torn down and the concert officially acknowledged to be free.
THE GENERATION THAT lived the Who lyric “Hope I die before I get old”—sung at the first Woodstock—has on the whole opted to do neither. And let people jokingly refer to the event as Geezer Woodstock; boomers are the backbone of this production, running not only the 1960s-style rock show, but also the very 1990s live Internet broadcast. Now that they finally control the culture they once merely dominated, boomers are determined to stay on top of it. Educated, worldly, raised on breached barricades, broken rules and new paradigms, they—we—are uniquely qualified to deal with the new global society we were instrumental in creating. So we’ve become the aging rulers of a culture of youth.
When the first demographic boomers turned fifty in 1996, FAR CLOSER TO THEIR SIXTIES THAN TO THE 1960S, as many have said, the media portrayed a generation still dancing away from maturity, and mortality, as fast as it could. “Sales of skin creams, suntan lotions, hair coloring, cosmetics, vitamins, and nutritional supplements are surging as millions of boomers join the battle against aging.”
THIS IS THE story of the Baby Boom generation, the 900-pound gorilla of twentieth-century America—of how it grew up, and of its profound impact on the culture, and history of its times. The Boom is usually defined as the 75 million-odd people born during the American fertility explosion from January 1, 1946, to December 31, 1964. That strict demographic excludes Americans born in the second trimester of the 1940s, after Pearl Harbor but before V-J Day, those members of the Silent or Swing generation whose beliefs, experiences, and cultural references formed the cutting edge of the Baby Boom. And that definition also includes early 1960s babies closer culturally to the next generation—the spiky-haired kids snickering in the back of the Boom room—the so-called Generation X.
WE ARE NOT what you think. Although often referred to interchangeably, the Baby Boom is not the self-styled counterculture that flowered in the 1960s. The groupings do overlap, often to the detriment of the boom in general, which is more diverse and accomplished than the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll-driven counterculture it ushered in. Conventional wisdom has it that the Baby Boom peaked as a social force in summer 1969 with Woodstock, and began a descent into drug-induced paralysis and irrelevancy that winter, after the famously murderous Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, California. In fact, it was only the counterculture alliance of anti-establishment radicals and freaks that ended in those eventful months. And radical youth were a tiny—if highly visible— minority.
At the close of the century most of the counter-culturalists’ revolutionary pipe-dreams have been overturned or co-opted. The agents of that overthrow, it now appears, were the generational majority, who turned out to be vastly different than anyone expected. Like First Baby Boomer Bill Clinton (b. 1946), we are not so much committed moralists as morally flexible, ambition-driven pragmatists FAR MORE LIKE THE PARENTS WE REBELLED AGAINST THAN WE MAY CARE TO ADMIT.