Woodstock: Peace, love and rich college kids

If you havenít overdosed on Woodstock memories these past few weeks, youíre lucky. Everyone makes a big deal about the three days of peace and love and harmony and how that, in a crowd of 500,000, itís wonderful that the first 250,000 people didnít pull knives and guns on the second 250,000 to arrive. Not to rain on anyoneís faulty, myth-laden parade, but I donít recall anyone being murdered at the last Hannah Montana concert, either. Does that make her the symbol of a new era where everything changes and everything that happened before she arrived is old, stale and bad?

Is there someone who actually thinks concert violence is a big problem? Other than Altamont, which seemed to be specifically organized to get one guy killed, there hasnít been much violence at rock concerts. If history tells us anything, itís that weíre safer at rock concerts than we are from school gunmen or a disgruntled office workers. To say that Woodstock was peaceful is kind of like saying the grocery store was peaceful this weekend. Who expected it to be anything but? If there was a rumor out there that the Sharks and the Jets were coming to Woodstock, I missed it.

Though I lived many states away, I desperately wanted to go to Woodstock. I had almost everything a person needed to go Ė the bell-bottoms, curly hair down to my shoulders, belted Frye boots. There was only one thing I lacked: the $18 to pay for the three-day ticket. I was working in a steel factory making $59 a week after taxes, which was a whopping $10 a week over minimum wage. Eighteen dollars? Just to see 30 acts? When did ticket prices get so high? For $18, I could put down half the money on one of those new cassette-tape recorders. No more skipping needles, no more scratchy records, and they say they last forever Ė cassettes will never wear out like a record.

And if I went to Woodstock, where would I stay for three days? And how would I get there? Itís on some farm close to New York City. A farm in New York? There must be some mistake. Itís probably the name of a stadium or something.

It wasnít until long after the concert, when the movie came out, that I realized how massive the traffic jam was, all the abandoned cars by the roadside on the way to Bethel. I was amazed at how many kids could afford to pay for the tickets and then to find out they had cars, too! Why is everyone calling them hippies? They must be the richest hippies I ever heard of. While they were driving to rock festivals, I was taking the bus to work, a nice 45 minutes tacked onto the beginning and end of each day. And they had dope, lots of it. An ounce of marijuana cost $20 then Ė 20 bills I didnít have. Of course, I canít afford it now, either, at $500 an ounce.

So these kids had ticket money, car money, gas money, dope money and the first day of Woodstock was a Friday, which they were taking off. Somehow, that doesnít sound like a bunch of jobless, commune-living, unwashed, incense-burning hippies. It sounds like a bunch of college kids who have to go back to class in a few weeks looking for a party. And yes, it proved that there were more longhaired, bell-bottomed kids than any one realized, but even they didnít realize that until they all showed up. They went for the same reason college kids go to on spring break today Ė to get wasted and have fun. Whatís the message in that?

Jim Mullen is the author of ďIt Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple LifeĒ and ďBabyís First Tattoo.Ē You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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