Golis: The baby boomers, from Woodstock to Donald Trump

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“The New York State Thruway is closed, man. Far out!”

— Singer Arlo Guthrie, reveling in the presence of more than 400,000 people at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival

Even with the mud and cold and chaos, the music shined through.

Only a partial list of performers at Woodstock includes Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, the Band, Ten Years After and Jimi Hendrix (who is remembered for his iconic and mournful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”)

Here was the soundtrack for a generation that imagined it would change the world. Peace and love, baby.

Later, it would become known as the generation eager to celebrate itself, even if that sometimes required ignoring all the ways that its ideals got lost along the way.

This month we celebrate yet another boomers’ anniversary. Aug.15-18 marks the 50th anniversary of the music festival we call Woodstock. As usual, we are awash in nostalgia for what people imagine about the past.

Never mind that the New York State Thruway wasn’t closed — or that Woodstock wasn’t even held in Woodstock (a town with a vibe you might recognize in western Sonoma County).

Max Yasgur’s dairy farm was located near Bethel, New York, 40 miles from Woodstock.

The New York Times last week was moved to report the myths that have grown up around Woodstock — the legends that have turned out not to be true.

Joni Mitchell wrote the song “Woodstock” (later recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).

“We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden”

But Mitchell did not perform at Woodstock. She was stuck in New York City that weekend, preparing for an appearance on national TV.

Reading today about another boomers’ anniversary, the children (and grandchildren) of baby boomers are thinking: Oh, God, not again. Can’t these people get over themelves? Are they paying attention at all?

It’s true that the baby boomers best aspirations went awry.

Undeclared wars have become a fact of life. The middle class is declining. Schools and highways are falling apart. The country is up to its eyeballs in debt. And the national government has become a daily exercise in dysfunction.

So much for peace and understanding.

Once upon a time, Americans believed better days were ahead for everybody. Fifty years after Woodstock, not so much. The country is angry, disillusioned and divided.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

Whatever you think of Trump, we can at least agree that he did not ascend to the White House with promises of peace and love. If you don’t share his views, he would just as soon call you a loser. He likes to call people names.

Yet Trump — born June 14, 1946 — belongs to the first wave of baby boomers. You might even call him a child of the ’60s (but he might call you a loser if you do).

Trump would not have been elected without the votes of baby boomers, folks now between 55 and 73 years old. According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, the president only won majorities in categories of voters over 45 years old.

The boomers aren’t to blame for all of the country’s ills.

Technology and globalization have changed the game, leaving behind workers in old-fashioned industries. No one until Donald Trump made a point of promising to bring back those industries. (There’s no sign of progress so far.)

Meanwhile, Americans sit by while the wealthy get wealthier, and the gap between the wealthy and everyone else moves toward becoming a chasm.

Whatever peace and harmony was achieved at Woodstock, darker times would soon follow.

Within four months, violence halted the music festival at Altamont in the East Bay. Four people died.

Within 14 months, both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were dead, having overdosed on drugs. (They would join what came to be known as the 27 club — the long list of famous musicians who died at the age of 27.)

Here in Sonoma County, signposts from the 1960s remain in plain view. Going back to the first communes, Morningstar Ranch and Wheeler Ranch, there has always been a persistent devotion to the ideals and the artifacts that defined the counterculture.

Still, we are long past the time that we could pretend that the Woodstock generation transformed the world.

Recall the lyrics from “Hair,” the musical:

“Harmony and understanding

Sympathy and trust abounding

No more falsehoods or derisions

Golden living dreams of visions

Mystic crystal revelation

And the mind’s true liberation

Aquarius

Aquarius”

We could wish.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com.

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