In late August of 1969, many of my friends, including several war vets recently home from Vietnam, hitched their way up from the city to the music festival at Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, N.Y. Some danced naked in the rain and smoked pot, a few dropped acid, all were absorbed in the music and exhilarated by the revelry, unaffected by the wet weather and muddy terrain.
Upwards of half a million traveled to Woodstock that weekend, many representing the countercultural, anti-war movement of that time. The open display of free love, drugs, and irreverence toward the flag were a direct challenge to the predominately conservative social views prevalent during that era.
It was wartime, and my vet college buddies and I were attending City College, one of the most liberal universities in the country, on the GI Bill. We all seemed cut from the same cloth; we yearned for a more open, classless society and we attended anti-war marches and demonstrations, enthusiastically voicing the “make-love-not-war” refrains of the day.
However, I was not at Woodstock on that famous weekend. I only heard about it. Instead, I was driving my old, beat-up Triumph down to Memphis, Tenn., with a redheaded beauty from the Bronx at my side. I was asked to be the best man at my childhood buddy’s wedding, a major affair at the George Peabody Hotel - and I had no intention of disappointing him.
We struck out for Memphis, on Friday morning, but no matter how hard I pressed down on that gas pedal, I couldn’t get the damn car—which was in sore need of a tune-up I couldn’t afford—to go over 50. Worried that we’d miss the rehearsal dinner on Saturday night, we drove straight through, stopping for a few catnaps here and there. Some 30 hours later, we pulled into a ramshackle motel just off Beale Street, a few blocks from the Peabody. Arriving at the hotel in time for dessert, we quickly said our hellos, made our apologies and promised to be on time for the ceremony the next day.
The wedding was majestic (way out of my league), and we thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening. Overcome by the aura and sentiment of the day, later that night, in a motel room that was in dire need of fresh paint and a new mattress, I proposed to that enigmatic young woman who drove those many miles with me. A week later, she accepted.
This past August marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. It spurred a flood of recollections and an overarching question: What, culturally, has changed in the past half-century?
In her recent article, “Ten Major Social Changes in the 50 Years Since Woodstock, Lydia Saad cites Gallup’s rundown of changing U.S. cultural norms since Woodstock. According to Saad, “In 1969, the majority of Americans were very religious, disapproved of premarital sex and frowned on interracial marriage. Half opposed first-trimester abortions, and many thought gay relations should be illegal. Bias against women and blacks who might run for president was pervasive, and a majority of women preferred to be homemakers rather than work outside the home.”
Today, according to Gallup, American culture has changed radically:
Our affinity for religion is waning. The percentage of Americans saying religion is very important to them, as well as church attendance, has dropped precipitously since the Woodstock era and, especially in the last 15 years.
Premarital sex is no longer taboo. What had once been a fixed, narrow-minded ide—that women must wait until marriage to consummate a relationship—is no longer the case. Seventy-one percent of Americans now support the idea of having sex relations before marriage.
Seventy-three percent of Americans say gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal. Over 60 percent of Americans now approve of gay marriage.
Interracial marriage has become widely accepted. Americans’ approval of marriage between blacks and whites has risen to 87 percent.
On the topic of abortion, 60 percent of Americans think it should be legal within the first three months. And, in circumstances in which the mother’s health would be endangered or when the child would be born with serious medical problems, most Americans support legalized abortion, as well.
Being a homemaker is no longer a woman’s preferred vocation. The study found most American women, today, prefer to work outside the home.
Smaller family size is now valued. In 1967, 70 percent of Americans reported that three or more children per family was ideal. Today, the preference for large families is 41 percent.
Willingness to support a woman for president is nearly universal; ninety-four of Americans say they would vote for a woman to be president.
Lastly, despite the unbound smoking of pot at Woodstock, in 1969, it’s taken half a century for Americans to support the legalization of marijuana. Interestingly, smoking pot is far more popular today— a 66 percent approval rating—than Donald Trump is as president, with a 40 percent approval rating.
The cultural changes roiling in this country, back in ’69 seem to now be moving in a steadily progressive direction.
The times they are a-changin’.