Reliving Woodstock

ALL too predictably, the 25th anniversary of Woodstock is generating cultural punditry the way August produces hot air. Inflatable terms like ``myth'' and ``legend'' are being liberally applied to Woodstock.

The '60s exist in the eyes of the beholder. There are the mellow baby boomers who look back to the muddy fields of Bethel, N.Y., and idealize those three days of concerts when 400,000 young people, mostly white and middle-class, formed a Utopian community of flower children. This mix of nostalgia and naivete provokes others to overestimate the event in an opposite direction, making it signal the breakdown of American values, leaving nothing but a culture of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

The confusion besetting the question ``What did Woodstock mean?'' is being compounded by the efforts of sincere revivalists and canny profiteers to organize anniversary concerts for the upcoming weekend. The first concert, attempting to regather the tribe on the original site, had to be canceled last week when only 1,650 of 50,000 tickets were sold.

The second happening will take place in Saugerties, N.Y., 60 miles from Bethel. Billed as Woodstock '94, it is a slick, corporate-funded promotion, targeting Generation X with 250,000 tickets priced at $135.

There is one more alternative - high-tech Woodstock. Last week while the Whitewater hearings were broadcast, a commercial broke in, promising that, for $49.95, the audience could become the Woodstock '94 audience, witnessing on pay-per-view TV ``two days of peace and music.''

As cynics sneer that Woodstock '94 proves you can market anything - even a protest against American materialism - and the optimists murmur, ``Give it a chance,'' the real question may be ignored: Is there less here than meets the eye? Woodstock and the '60s have been analyzed so exhaustively that the only meaning left seems to be the layering of self-scrutiny on top of self-scrutiny.

Journalists label one decade the Age of Aquarius, another the Age of Me, designating inhabitants as hippies, yuppies, and so on. Meanwhile, ordinary people muddle on rather decently, leading ordinary lives.

It may be too much to expect the mainstream to be celebrated. But if Woodstock overkill leads to even a brief moratorium on trends and trend-explainers, the anniversary will not have been celebrated in vain.

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