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PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE : Woodstock '94: How I Was Baptised in Mud and Became a Convert

August 21, 1994|AMY WU | Amy Wu is a journalist and a student at New York University.

SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — I went to Woodstock '94 and inhaled--the mud and the spirit, that is. I went a cynic, returned home a convert. The three-day celebration was a triumph for my generation.

My girlfriend and I, two neurotic New Yorkers, screamed, laughed, stomped and splashed each other with mud. We were transformed from civilized suburbanites into hippie look-alikes. Woodstock '94 had set us free.

For months, I had been cynical about the revival of the Woodstock Nation. My friends and I rolled our eyes and made faces when we read about the metal detectors, the hoards of security people and the overpriced tickets. Our dread of the police state was reinforced when we received the list of Woodstock restrictions: no pets, no pot, no axes, no alcohol. In other words--no fun.

Still, we bought tickets because we clung to the dream that we would experience something like what happened in 1969--the sense of community, the love, the peace and the freedom from worry about expectations and the rain--a world without consequences.

That dream came true. When the downpour started early Saturday after-noon, a young woman threw her arms in the air and screamed: "Yeah, yeah! It's like 1969!" The party began; and the possibility of a police state died. Within minutes, the fields of a grassy knoll became a chocolate-colored mess.

It was a weekend without newspapers, the evening news, Bosnia, Rwanda, Bill Clinton's faltering crime bill and the health-care debate. In a day when most people lock everything lockable, and women carry mace for fear of being raped, no one seemed to worry about their unzipped tents.

Those who didn't have tents had no trouble finding a place to crash. Hands were readily extended to those slipping in the mud. People trusted that no one would step on them while sleeping. A man who stayed nude after he lost his clothes said that everyone was accepting of his nakedness. "In the real world, people would call me a faggot," he said.

The muddy city, created overnight, was all about tolerance and acceptance. Even when the Port-o-Sans overflowed and the concert site began to smell of fertilizer, young people danced, sang and waved their arms in triumph. They greeted each other with the peace sign, instead of the middle finger. Whether from California or Canada, Austria or Alabama, everyone sat up late into the night, bonfires illuminating their smiles, laughing, drinking beer, getting high, swaying and stomping to the sounds of Aerosmith and Bob Dylan.

The sense of community at my generation's Woodstock was real. We are the generation brought up in a world of gangs, violence, unemployment, McJobs, AIDS and an ever-rising national debt. We are used to being told that we'll experience the American dream at a much later date. For a few short days, the giant "X" that haunts us was lifted.

But Woodstock '94 wasn't about the music, the money or even the mayhem; it was the unity created from all of these elements. It was an event my generation badly needed. It gave us hope that we can conquer the challenges we face. If we had survived three days of a muddy hell, surely we can survive the shrinking job market, increasing costs of college, AIDS and the national debt.

It was a turning point for me. Never in my life had I screamed, splashed in the mud, been so dirty and carefree. The world we had grown up in had taught us to be wary, to not talk to strangers, to "just say no." Woodstock changed all of this in the best way.

Yet, like every great moment, the new Woodstock Nation had to come to an end. The decline began late Sunday morning, when a group of young hippies complained about the smelly mud, the leaky tents and the $11 pizzas. I knew it was over when I had a dream about my hair dryer and color TV.

My girlfriend and I had gotten up at dawn, rolled down the muddy knolls once more, stood on the bleachers and stared at the mess of feet, hot dog buns, pizza boxes, deflated beach balls, Pepsi cups, beer cans and colorful tents. I remember feeling terribly sad; everything felt like a hangover. Monday morning, we would return to paying off college loans, looking for a job, taking out the garbage, and listening to the "as long as you live under my roof young lady" speech.

"Don't worry," my girlfriend urged. "We'll be back 25 years from now."

But we both knew it would never be the same again. In a few days, the mud, the music, and the madness would be a memory of our youth.*

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