Wood­stock re­mains rel­e­vant at 50

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Teenagers were in­vented in the late 1950s.

If that’s an ex­ag­ger­a­tion, it’s not as much of one as you may think. While there had — ob­vi­ously — been teenagers be­fore, it wasn’t un­til the lead­ing edge of the Baby Boom reached that mile­stone that the word took on its mod­ern mean­ing. In the heady pros­per­ity of those first years post-war and post-De­pres­sion, “teenage” came to be seen as a wholly sep­a­rate phase of life, a way sta­tion be­tween child­hood and adult­hood.

Where once it had been com­mon for peo­ple that age to help sup­port the fam­ily or to marry and make fam­i­lies of their own, these new teenagers were more likely to be spared such adult re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. They — the white ones grow­ing up in the new sub­urbs, at least — were flush with cash, brim­ming with mod­ern con­ceits and, ini­tially, in­dulged by par­ents cap­ti­vated by the very new­ness of them.

Their fash­ion, pol­i­tics, mu­sic, movies and mores would blow away the old like cob­webs in a wind tun­nel. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmen­tal ac­tivism and skep­ti­cism to­ward author­ity all came of age at the same time they did. Un­like any gen­er­a­tion be­fore or since, they would be de­fined by the fact of be­ing new, of be­ing young.

Un­til they weren’t.

This week, af­ter all, marks the 50th an­niver­sary — 50th an­niver­sary! — of the Wood­stock Mu­sic & Art Fair, the rain­soaked, mud-splat­tered three-day rock con­cert on a farm in up­state New York that many mark as the cli­mac­tic act of the Boom years. Which raises a ques­tion: When you’ve so long been de­fined by youth, what do you be­come when youth is gone?

Maybe you’ve seen that com­mer­cial where a mil­len­nial is ea­ger to im­prove her credit rat­ing so she can move away from the clue­less nit that is her mom. Maybe you re­mem­ber when peo­ple like you were the ones on TV snick­er­ing at old folks’ old folksi­ness. Now you’re the one be­ing snick­ered at and peo­ple like you are hawk­ing walk-in tubs and adult di­a­pers. But if it’s true the shine has worn off Gen­er­a­tion Boom, that bell-bot­toms and “groovy” have gone the way of rum­ble seats and “23 ski­doo,” it’s also true that much of what that gen­er­a­tion cham­pi­oned seems not just timely, but crit­i­cal.

The new rise in racist rhetoric and vi­o­lence cer­tainly vin­di­cates the Boomers’ fight for civil rights. The #MeToo mo­ment extends their fight for women’s rights. If LGBTQ peo­ple now have the right to be mar­ried, the Supreme Court said last year that they have no right to a wed­ding cake, so that bat­tle con­tin­ues. As the planet burns, environmen­tal ac­tivism has never been more im­por­tant. And when author­ity’s name is Don­ald Trump, who can deny that it needs to be ques­tioned?

Jimi Hendrix fa­mously closed Wood­stock by frac­tur­ing the na­tional an­them, his gui­tar splin­ter­ing the song into jagged, de­fi­antly ugly shards, re­flect­ing the jagged, ugly shards of the na­tion’s di­vi­sion. And that, too, re­mains rel­e­vant 50 years on.

But for all the hard truths Hendrix told through his gui­tar, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that what drew the Wood­stock gen­er­a­tion to­gether was ul­ti­mately not anger, but a hope — ide­al­is­tic, naive and im­pos­si­bly young — that yet tugs at the imag­i­na­tion, the hope of a bet­ter, fairer, cleaner, saner, more peace­ful world.

As Wood­stock vet­eran Gra­ham Nash re­cently told CBS News, “I still be­lieve what we be­lieved then ... that love is bet­ter than ha­tred, that peace is much bet­ter than war, that we have to take care of our fel­low hu­man be­ings, be­cause this is all we have.”

Some­where along the way, Mr. Nash, like many of us, got old. But that hope never did.

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