Woog’s World: Much has happened in 50 years
Note to Generation X-ers, millennials and Gen Z-ers, plus generations yet unborn: If you’re not sick of baby boomers today, by the end of this weekend you sure will be.
This is, as everyone with a smartphone or cable connection — in other words, everyone — knows, the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of just about every other significant event that ever happened to anyone, anywhere. At least, according to the baby boomers who still control much of the media, and thus direct most of the national conversation.
Woodstock — the “music and art fair,” minus the art and any real food, but with plenty of mud, drugs and traffic, held not in Woodstock but rather Bethel, 43 miles further — retains a hold on our cultural imagination, half a century after Jimi Hendrix’s final “Star-Spangled Banner” notes faded over Max Yasgur’s farm.
Dozens of Westporters were there. Most had left by that Monday morning — they had jobs to return to, their parents needed the family car, whatever — but that was the least important part of the weekend. What mattered was that so many Staples High School students and graduates found their way there.
Some planned to go and bought $18 tickets. Some headed up on a whim. Some hitchhiked. Some drove. Some went for the music. Some went for the adventure. All went because, hey, it was 1969, and when you’re a Westport kid and you heard about something like this, that was what you did.
A few other Westporters were unable to attend. They were otherwise occupied in a place called Vietnam. Some were there because they’d volunteered. Most others were there because their numbers had, quite literally, come up.
If we’re marking 50th anniversaries, we should be talking about the Battle of Hamburger Hill, the bombing of Cambodia and the death of Ho Chi Minh, too. But war is a lot less sexy than rock ‘n’ roll.
Our look back at Woodstock follows, by less than a month, the half-century mark of man’s first step on the moon. That was a different anniversary entirely.
It was at once celebratory (our country sent men to the moon, and brought them back safely to Earth!) and contemplative (our country sent men to the moon, and we haven’t been back in 46 years).
The Apollo 11 crew, we were reminded often last month, embarked on an event that the entire world watched together, in real time. Sure, the image was black and white, hard to see, and available only on three channels, but it riveted human beings everywhere. Wherever we were, the next time we stepped outside at night we looked at the moon and our planet in a different way.
We looked at baseball differently too in 1969, at least from midsummer on, once the New York Mets began their amazing run to the World Series championship. A team that had never finished higher than ninth place suddenly did things like win both games of a doubleheader 1-0, with the winning runs being driven in, both times, by the starting pitcher.
There were inevitable comparisons between two events long thought impossible: sending a man to the moon, and the Mets to the World Series. But no one was joking about a fourth major event in the summer of 1969. Yet it’s one that has not drawn much attention this anniversary year.
Two days before Neil Armstrong’s small, giant step, Ted Kennedy drove his Oldsmobile off a tiny bridge. His “companion,” Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. The Massachusetts senator/presidential brother swam free, returned to his hotel and did not report the accident until 10 hours later.
The incident was front-page news, even during the moon landing. It probably torpedoed any chance Kennedy had of becoming president. Had the 50th anniversary of Chappaquiddick gotten as much press as Apollo 11 or Woodstock, I’m sure there would have been some robust conversations about the differences between what we expect of politicians’ behaviors yesterday and today.
My iPhone has 100,000 times the computing power of the computer that brought Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon and back. The 400,000 folks at Woodstock had no cellphones, no connection with the outside world. Mets fans had to watch the World Series in real time; there was no streaming, no instant replay, nothing beyond TV. Americans read about Chappaquiddick in the newspaper; Twitter was not around to provide instant updates, memes, and a chance for everyone to weigh in on Teddy Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopechne, and what it all meant for America.
Much has happened in the past 50 years. I wonder what inspiring, amazing and troubling stories we’ll be talking about in 2069.
If we’re still here.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.