WANT TO BE THE STUFF OF HISTORY? JUST LIVE LONG ENOUGH

Burlington County Times, April 1, 2002

It’s finally happened. My life has become the subject of history.

Okay, not my specific life. But I certainly hadn’t expected that events I lived through, events I experienced, events I’d rather not remember – or mention to my teenaged son – would be studied in school.

My son is in the eighth grade at the DeMasi Middle School. He came home one day and told us that his Language Arts teacher had played them parts of the Woodstock sound track as an introduction to a unit they would be doing on Vietnam. One assignment included protest songs of the Sixties. As he named each song, I knew not only who had recorded it, but sang it off-key and reminisced about where and when I’d first seen the musician. He tried hard not to look bored as I waxed rhapsodic about seeing Richie Havens at Club 47 in Harvard Square in January, 1967.

The teacher had designed these lessons to give the class the background they needed for the main subject of study, the book Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers, winner of the 1989 Coretta Scott King Book Award.

Looking at my son’s homework made me nostalgic, so I dug out my cassette tape of Woodstock, and played it in the car when the kids weren’t around. (As I said, there are certain things they don’t need to know about their mother.) I would have played the vinyl version, but we stored the turntable in the attic when I tried to buy a new stylus and the kids working in the electronics stores had no idea what I was talking about.

Shortly afterwards, I went to a costume party as a Sixties protester. I didn’t even need to buy anything – the jeans, tie-dyed t-shirt, and sandals were in my closet. I couldn’t find my button that reads “Question Authority” – I have a vague sense that I hid it after my son started to read – but I did find one that said “Uhura for Captain.”

In the 1983 movie The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum’s character says to Kevin Klein’s character, “You know, there’s been some pretty good music in the last decade.” Klein’s character responds, “Not in this house.” I understand that sentiment completely. I listen only to “classic rock” stations (and Woodstock tapes); the most recent concerts I’ve attended have been by Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie. and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Joan Baez, who’s 61, joked about memory loss. The opening act for a grey and grizzled Arlo Guthrie, 55, was of one his sons; a daughter was in his band. Mary Travers, the youngest of the trio, talked about applying for Social Security, while Noel Paul Stookey sang his paean to maturity, “Old Enough to Be Your Father.”

And I used to criticize my parents for listening to old Frank Sinatra records.

Then there are the “hair wars.” I really don’t understand why my son insists on wearing his hair short and spiked instead of letting it grow to his shoulders.

Okay, so maybe I am just an old hippie, as my son claims. And perhaps it is just a Baby Boomer obsession. And it definitely is an experience that was shared only by a certain class – white, college-educated, middle class. But there was a certain aura and charm about the Sixties that no other era can reproduce. It was a time when everything – the elimination of poverty and racism and sexism and war – seemed possible. Maybe we were politically naive, maybe we were just young, but we really did believe we would succeed.

What struck me, though, was running the math. When I was in the middle of eighth grade, in 1962, it was only 17 years after the end of World War II, and only ten years after the Korean conflict. Babies born in 1945 or in 1952 were still in school in 1962.

Now, in 2002, it’s almost 33 years since Woodstock, and almost 27 years since the fall of Saigon. Babies born in 1969 or in 1975 have school-aged children of their own.

My mother used to say about my friends and me, “There’s nothing wrong with teenagers that 20 years won’t cure.” It’s taken me a bit longer than 20 years, but I’ve finally gotten some perspective on her generation. I may still disagree with those who supported the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but I understand why they did. To them, the “just war” was still current events.

And now my current events have become the new generation’s ancient history.

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