Woodstock – 40
I have watched and listened, this week, to all the 40th anniversary reflection, commentary and postulation about the meaning of Woodstock, and the effect it has on the participants and the world, but I have yet to be convinced that it was pivotal in any global sense.
Vietnam was pivotal. The assassinations were pivotal. Watergate was pivotal. Four hundred thousand people coming together more or less extemporaneously is certainly noteworthy, but that it changed anything or was some kind of turning point of history is at least debatable if not completely off the mark.
Gail Collins writing in the NYT, August 15, ’09, did, I m convinced, put her nimble finger on the pulse of the event for thousands of the participants when she said that she didn’t remember the music so much as the search for food for herself and her companions. But she was there and she can say that, and that is about it. I has a young friend once a number of years ago who was there and who acknowledged much the same thing: that being there was enough to change his life. He wasn’t close enough to the music to really have that experience but he was cheek by jowl to hundreds of thousands of people just like him. He said it changed him. He said it changed the world. He was enthusiastic about it. He got married, got fat and lives in a gated community with a club house and pool. (wisecrack here)
I do think that for a crowd the size of a medium class big city to gather for anything is quite an accomplishment, but given the common language, hymnody and more or less spiritual leanings of the group, it, or something like it seems in retrospect to have been inevitable. The angst of the age had just about reached complete gestation and a birthing of common hope or hopelessness needed some midwirery assistance and Woodstock filled the bill.
Frankly, I wish I’d been there. I found within myself great empathy for that generation but I was not of that generation. When Woodstock happened, I felt it was a true ingathering of kindred sprits – in the churchy parlance with which I was, at the time, quite familiar. A mountain top experience. A revival meeting with “bands” of prophets, spiritual rites of passage, sacred dance, and at least in Ms. Collins’ case, a yearning for a saltine cracker.
Jerry Henderson

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