Unlike many of my friends (one of whom still has the tickets he bought and never had to use), I did not go to the Woodstock Music Festival, August 15-17, 1969. That was the summer I was 17 and I spent it in England, primarily London. I watched the televised moon landing in a local pub, where, as Neil Armstrong set down his famous foot for man and mankind, the bartender said to me, “Well, you Yanks have made it!” and gave me a free beer. I left England before the fairly-as-famous Isle of Wight festival (which Bob Dylan did participate in, unlike Woodstock), thereby missing the two key pop-culture events of my generation. But even if I’d been here (or there), I wouldn’t have attended, because I was a hippie in spirit only, not in the physical sleep-on-the-ground, frolic-in-the-rain-and-mud kind of way. I loved the creed and music of the 60s, but I saw no reason to give up my bed and air conditioner in their name.
I did, however, get to visit The Beatles’ Apple Records and meet Derek Taylor, their longtime publicist, to whom I’d been given entrée by a popular young folksinger who was a close friend at the time. The Beatles were in the process of breaking up like a bad marriage and the Apple offices looked like they were under siege, with lots of boxes being packed and young assistants literally running around in a dizzy panic. The tall, slim Derek sat serenely cross-legged in his tall, round-backed Panama chair and said calmly, “This is what the end looks like.” I never got to meet a Beatle, but Derek gave me a 45 of “Give Peace a Chance” autographed by John and Yoko, the first joint I’d smoked in weeks, and a pass to a recording session at Abbey Road Studios (it was either Johnny Mathis or a symphony, I don’t remember which).
When I think of Woodstock now – the festival, not the town – I think of it as the last gasp of 60s sensibility, which struggled to be seen and heard through the Disco 70s and truly died with John Lennon in 1980. The 60s were the original days of “yes we can,” audacious hope, and change we not only believed in, but genuinely made. We kinda changed the world, but not in the ongoing way we thought we would. My generation – now aging, preoccupied with its waning health and wealth and doting on its grandchildren – has come to be reviled for our youthful excess and envied for the fact that we got to have loose, crazy sex in the last era before AIDS. We had faith and we had fun and we took action, and we were cool and looked cool before what we were got mainstreamed and diluted.