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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   November 2009


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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Who can forget when the Archies played "Sugar, Sugar" at Woodstock?


Among the many things I'm thankful for in this season of thanksgiving is the approaching end of the 40th anniversary reminiscences of Woodstock. All year long, in documentaries, nightly news segments, Entertainment Weekly spreads and newspaper features, Baby Boomers have been waxing nostalgically over the 1969 music festival at Woodstock. If all the Boomers now fondly remembering their peace, love and rock-and-roll bliss-out at Woodstock had really attended the famous fest, the extra weight of human bodies concentrated in New York State in August 1969 would have tilted the Earth off its axis.

Enough already. Between 40th-anniversary Woodstock retrospectives and the Jack Black caveman comedy Year One, we've been treated to more images of muddy, semi-naked people with long hair than I, frankly, care to see in a year.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a proud Baby Boomer, too, happily willing to hog the attention of the media and siphon the resources of Gen Xers and Generation Google (or whatever the younger set is being dubbed these days) until our grandchildren kick us under the sod with a "Finally!" gasp of relief. But some of us Baby Boomers simply don't relate to Woodstock.

I take great pleasure in saying this, given my advancing age and graying locks: We're too young.

I was, after all, only 13 years old the year that Woodstock imprinted itself forever on America's pop consciousness. Somehow, I don't think my parents would have approved of my hitch-hiking to New York State to rock out to the likes of Janis Joplin and the Who. In any case, there's no way I could have made it back to South Dakota every night in time for my 9 p.m. curfew.

That's right: While our older siblings were groovin' in the mud at Woodstock, some of us were spending that memorable summer of 1969 where we belonged — at home, glued to the TV set.

There, mere weeks after Woodstock, while older Baby Boomers were still trying to get the mud out from certain bodily orifices, we discovered real classic rock- and-roll, performed not by sweaty, long-haired ruffians but by clean-cut cartoon characters.

For four weeks in September and October 1969, the song (and I use that term loosely) "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Even today, it ranks number 63 on Billboard's list of "Greatest Songs of All Time." (The music-industry publication is presumably moved more by sales than, shall we say, artistic merit.)

And what song, oh muddy older Boomers, was the number-one single of 1969, the year of Woodstock? Not a tune by anyone who played at Woodstock, no. Sorry, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker and Melanie. (Yes, Melanie, who would later go on to fame of a sort with the cloyingly unforgettable "Brand New Key," performed at Woodstock.) Not even a single by the Rolling Stones or the Beatles.

No, the top single of 1969 was "Sugar, Sugar," by the Archies. Why we have yet to see a documentary chronicling the cartoon careers of Archie, Reggie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica and the 40th anniversary of their breakthrough hit, I cannot understand.



As the eldest of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age (though nowhere near getting their hands out of your pockets, Gen Xers, sorry), it's worth recalling that those nearer the middle of that great population pig-in-the-anaconda were (and here I get to use and savor that word again) too young to join them in most of the hijinks of the 1960s. While older Boomers were burning their draft cards, I was (thank goodness) burning the 9 o'clock oil mastering eighth-grade algebra. Instead of "Hell, no, we won't go!," I was chanting, "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!" The only part of Timothy Leary's counterculture admonition to "Turn on, tune in, drop out" that I and my friends followed was to turn on the TV and tune in to the "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel."

So, yes, I can sympathize with Gen-Xers who are already sick to death of the relentless march of Baby Boomer anniversaries and retrospectives: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the "Summer of Love," the 1968 year of protests, Woodstock. . . . Most of the 1960s I watched on TV, rather than experiencing first-hand. To be fair, it was a lot less muddy and dangerous that way.

Sure, I liked the Beatles, though I could never really get "into" the Rolling Stones, who were a tad too unkempt and loud for a well-behaved Midwestern pre-teenager. The awful truth, however, is that the 1960s rock-and-roll band I really "dug" — prior to the advent of the Archies, at least — was the Monkees.

During their brief stint on the airwaves, from 1966 to 1968, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones were the perfect "Beatles lite." Even as the original Fab Four began to get edgier and move away from being those nice boys from Liverpool (albeit with those shockingly long haircuts!), the made-for-TV Monkees stepped into the wholesome void. As "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" gave way to the Beatles' "Revolver" album in 1966, the Monkees arrived. They were, well, nice. Harmless, even. Not the worst thing in the world for a 10-year-old to idolize.

Inspired by the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, the Monkees interspersed the goofily imagined life of pop idols with "bubble-gum" tunes like "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer." Most of their on-screen time was spent running from screaming female fans. My friends and I played at being the Monkees, sprinting through backyards and climbing trees to avoid imaginary mobs of girls; we certainly had no interest yet in being caught by girls, imaginary or otherwise.

"I'm a Believer," by the way, was the top single of 1967 according to the "Happenin' Hit Parade," and spent eight weeks atop the Billboard charts.

Years later, my wife — who also grew up a Monkees fan — and I finally got to see Davy, Peter and Micky, minus Mike, on a reunion tour. I confess, we had a great time. We sang along to songs of our childhood like "Daydream Believer," unashamedly.

Woodstock? What was that? ("Oh, what can it mean / To a daydream believer. . .")



Now, I'm not arguing that the pop confections we loved growing up were superior musically to the classic compositions of, say, the Beatles. You can weigh for yourself the merits of the Monkees' "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone" against hits by such Woodstock bands as Creedence Clearwater Revival, like "Proud Mary" or "Bad Moon Rising." (But Melanie? Give me a break.) I'd still rather look at the Archies than Joe Cocker, though — ugh.

The point is that, no matter what they might "remember" 40 years later, not everyone was at Woodstock. Not even everybody in the Baby Boom generation burned their draft card or their bra. Some of us spent the "Summer of Love" watching summer reruns of the "Batman" TV series ("BIFF! POW!").

I can only imagine what it must be like for those born after the Baby Boom, who better remember Paul McCartney fronting Wings than as a Beatle. How sick must they be of us Baby Boomers still monopolizing the pop-culture spotlight after all these years? Move on, old man. Get over it. Isn't it enough that we'll be paying for your Social Security for the rest of our working lives?

So, when the 50th anniversaries of the peak moments of the 1960s roll around, heaven help us, maybe we could cool it a little. Let Haight-Ashbury rest in peace, and leave the psychedelic posters rolled up in the attic where they belong. Commemorate the 50th anniversary of your wild fling at Woodstock by finally, after all these years, getting the mud out of you-know-where. Let Keith Richards turn 70 in 2013 with nothing more raucous than a quiet marveling at the miracle that he's still alive at all.

On the other hand, 2017 will bring the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie, the year I turned 21. Now that's a milestone worth celebrating! You can keep your Woodstock, old timers — we've got The Force.



When not tuning his lightsaber, David A. Fryxell edits Desert Exposure.

 

 



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