By Richard Cirulli – Writing from a personal and nostalgic point of view, with a bit of sarcasm for your reading pleasure with regard to my telling of my “Woodstock” days, I will debunk some myths of the Baby Boom ethos of the 1960s.
The macro Woodstock culture of legend we nostalgically embrace is a far cry from the micro world of the many wannabe hippies – author included – who grew up during the sixties.
The Hippie myth, when viewed historically, actually clashed with the everyday realities of growing up in suburbia during the Woodstock era. I was raised in a solid middle class family during the height of our nations’ economic boom as a child of the Greatest Generation. My family was complete with traditional old world traditions, strong patriotism, and a father who was a proud World War II veteran.
The sixties for many of us were primarily an emotional conflict and watershed between the old world of our parents and the new age of youth. This was a challenge for me, as it was for many of my contemporaries, caught between the rebellious spirit of youth and respect for one’s parents and traditions. I was reared in Westchester by a family who were old world, intelligent, educated, well read and active in civic affairs, which seemed to complicate the peer pressure to rebel.
For the most part, my hippie days were at best a fashion statement.
Change came quick in the mid-sixties as Americans surrendered without a fight to the English music invasion and Mod fashion statements, the genesis of our youthful rebellion. Soon we exchanged our cardigan sweaters, neatly pressed trousers, and penny loafers, complete with butch wax to slick back our short hair, for the hip and cool faded bell bottoms, tank tops, moccasins, and long hair.
In my eyes it all seemed quite innocent and harmless, though it clashed with my father’s military view of discipline. For father it was an all out attack and war on his moral system. Despite my parents’ fear that I would become a social dropout, I did manage to head home after school, do my home work and break bread at the table with the family. Although a dress code that forbade the wearing of bandanas at the dinner table was a real bummer, it provided a lesson on the values of negotiation. Despite it all we still somewhat functioned as a family. Depending on one’s view of functional.
Of course there were many turf wars fought between my parents and I, as I switched the AM radio dial away from the music of Frank Sinatra in favor of the FM stations playing The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. I never did admit to my parents that I was a closet Frank Sinatra fan. That would be a sign of defeat, and the bandana did not come off for this negotiation. While rock music always sounds better when driving in your car – one must pick their battles wisely – at home Old Blue Eyes won out.
When the Woodstock concert was announced, my generation viewed it as our sacred obligation to plan a Hajj to the Mecca of Rockdom. I was expecting the final battle of Armageddon with my parents. To my surprise my father gave me his blessing along with a few dollars to ease my pilgrimage. This must be some kind of trap, I thought. I know reverse psychology when I see it, a head game played out by manipulating parents. “You just can’t trust anyone over 30!”
In true youthful rebellion I refused. I said to my father: “Are you kidding me? There are no facilities, no private rooms and air conditioning. You know how much I hate the heat. I am not going. I am going to wait till it comes out in the movies and watch it in an air conditioned theater.” Well, my parents were slick and reverse psychology worked. Besides, how would it look if I drove to Woodstock in a restored 1957 Chevy Belair with a corvette engine, complete with shoulder length hair and sandals? I would be more credible showing up in penny loafers and a cardigan.
To my parents’ surprise I did not run off to a communist commune, wear a Che Guevara tee shirt, join the SDS, or become a Hari Krishna. I did learn to play the guitar and spent many a night as a romantic troubadour trying to win the affections of sweet girls – well, long enough until their parents came home. It was the era of sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll.
Youth is but a short daydream that ends with the nightmare of reality. Within a few short years I completed my first undergraduate degree and awoke one morning on the express train heading to my corner office on Wall Street, complete with blue pinstripe suit and power tie. My morning read became The Wall Street Journal.
Truly I thought as I reflected on my new life, those capitalist pigs and fascists don’t seem so bad after all. Maybe I should begin to trust people over 30. Hell, it’s only five years away. I hope I don’t die before I get old. Maybe Roger Daltry was wrong. Maybe it was just a myth. After all, I now had a mortgage to pay, a family to support, orthodontist bills, MBA student loans, BMW payments, and of course alimony. So much for free love.
Now in retirement as I drive my sports car with my unruly long gray hair blowing in the wind, I raise the convertible top, turn on the A.C. and slip in the Woodstock CD, with my Stratocaster ever in arms reach. What a strange trip this has been. Well so much for sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll. Drugs are now mandatory by prescription, and I am too deaf to hear the Rock ‘n Roll.
Dr. Richard Cirulli is a college professor, business consultant, writer and an Innocent Bystander and critic at large. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.