Fifty years ago, our nation almost dissolved, when thousands of our young hippy people flocked to Woodstock on a farm in New York state. I didn’t go there, because I had a mission to do. I was a high school principal in the farmland of Kentucky, a highly moral state, and I was charged with protecting, educating and enhancing the morality of those farm kids.
Back then, their parents laid down the law to them. “If you get a whippin’ at school, you’ll get another one when you get home.” But it wasn’t easy educating them when Woodstock shocked the nation in 1969. Young people had begun rebelling and asking too many “why” questions. Boys asked why their hair couldn’t grow below their shirt collars, and girls asked why their skirts had to cover their knees. There’s nothing more distracting to the educational process than an exposed female thigh. When two of my best students asked why their hair couldn’t grow longer, I had no sensible answer.
Then right there before our TV eyes, a once peaceful farm had turned into a shocking display of what those loving Woodstock kids said was gathering to promote peace and love. It was summarized in a recent New York Times report by John Pareles:
“Overwhelmed and underprepared, the promoters declared that Woodstock was a free festival and welcomed the hordes. And as hundreds of thousands continued to arrive, the music and mythologizing began, along with the rain, the mud, the giddy sensation of being a part of an unexpected multitude, the forecasts of disaster, the helicopter overflights to get musicians and food in and medical emergencies out, the random and most friendly encounters, the waves of euphoria and discomfort, the sheer implausibility of the whole event.”
It was the music — Santana, Sha Na Na, The Grateful Dead, The Who and many others. My music was restricted to hearing our choir practice hymns and our band play the national anthem without loud acoustical instruments.
After two world wars, Korea and Vietnam, it became an era of rebellion and protest. Students began marching and carrying signs — Let It All Hang Out and Make Love, Not War. Instead of war, it is much better to extend love to other people. But with flowers in your hair and fueled with “pot,” making love stark-naked in the mud with Joan Baez on stage is carrying love too far. I certainly didn’t want my students under the influence.
Whatever it did, Woodstock turned our world upside down, and maybe we could use a re-run. Imagine Janis Joplin singing a seductive, “Hail to the Chief” at the White House or Jimi Hendrix playing his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Washington Monument or Bob Dylan pleading for justice at the Supreme Court Building. And how about Arlo Guthrie’s “Amazing Grace?”
Times do change and we have no choice other than to change along with them. The last time I paddled a kid for driving a teacher nuts went like this: Johnny, what would your mother think? My mother’s dead, he said. Okay, your father? My father’s dead, too. (They were.) I gently tapped him on the rear, and Johnny and I became buddies after that. Educating the young is not fighting a war.
What did Woodstock teach us during that turbulent time? One was to take time to smell the flowers. And that leads to kindness, sharing and caring for the human race, as diverse as it can get. And if it leads to love out in the open, doing it modestly will get the point across.
I969 was an eventful year, a turning point. One giant leap for mankind took place in July. And then in August, thousands hung out at Woodstock. To the experienced older people, who had called all shots, Woodstock was the pits of degradation. We knew that children-type hippies could never lead us. The best way to keep peace is to threaten war or fight another one. Don’t put tariffs on Russia; export rock bands.
Admittedly, Woodstock changed me. I learned that younger generations will determine what our future will be. From "this is the law" to "what do you think." Older people, especially Congress, are set in their stone-age ways.
If I had it to do over, I’d accompanied my daughter, with a flower in my hair, to the Carlos Santana concert last weekend. She’s so peaceful, lovable and loving.
— Contact Terry Cummins at TLCTLC@AOL.com