Vol 1 Issue 21
Peace and Love Were Not Slogans
Woodstock wasn’t even at Woodstock; it was held on a farm in nearby Bethel. Which is a good way to picture the entire affair: it came so close.
Fifty years ago–that’s a scary thought for one who hails from that time. But imagine being surrounded by so many laid back people, any of whom if you approached them smiling would be smiling in return–or if you were frowning would ask if they could help. Hitchhiking was an honorable means of travel. A friend and I, heading to Boston from New Haven for the weekend, were given a lift by a cute young girl, and she got us down the road apiece and went on her own way. True that.
I can’t claim to have been at Woodstock, but I was at the Watkins Glen music festival where the same happening was repeated four years later. The ‘counterculture’ was the only movement I ever identified with so closely. Passions of youth, yeah, no doubt, but–
peace and love were not slogans.
The ones gathered around their campfires welcoming others who hadn’t prepared for the pouring rain and cold at Woodstock later returned to Watkins Glen. They came in laughing caravans. The ones sitting atop the porta-johns passing pipes and teasing folks trudging in the mud below. Bearded hippies and beaded girls in long rainbow dresses, shaved head Hari-Krishnas, and soldiers returning from Vietnam. Dropouts and college kids, war protesters and bikers. The NY state troopers who watched the flood of kids streaming in then wandering out again after it was over standing by peaceably watching this newly sprung society discover itself.
What we held in common was the music–the outpouring of rock and roll that seemed would never cease. Creativity was elevated to a place it hadn’t been in America before rock and roll encompassed the country. The college kid could sit with a street person and we held the music in common. He could sit on the New Haven green with a group of the homeless and listen to their stories.
1969 was a pivotal year in the country’s history, and you could feel it in those currents. The contrast between B-52s napalming Vietnam and those starry-eyed children was startling. Quite possibly the one created the other. It terrified most adults, save for a few ex-beatniks still hanging on. And it wasn’t always a saintly affair, but it was sincerely expressed. Free sex wasn’t a benefit to all participants, nor were the hallucinogens. Some became lost in the freedom and never got out. I was enough of an idealist to cheer for it, and enough of a realist to suspect it might not succeed.
Hope may not be a strategy, as some cynics claim, but it sure beats the alternative.