In 1969 I still needed a paycheck to stay in school

“Remember, this was an era where you were defined by the music you listened to and the clothes you wore.” ― Karl Wiggins, humorist, satirist and Indie author writing about Woodstock

“Know what today is,” I asked a co-worker last Thursday? Watching “the wheels turn” while she searched for an answer told me that I had done it again. I keep forgetting that “younger than me” is a legitimate polling population including just about everyone these days.

My question was in reference to Woodstock. For those of you in that polling group defined above, Woodstock was the 1969 music festival that brought half a million people together at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York to celebrate the 60s “peace, music and love” movement. It got underway August 15, 1969, concluded four days later and has since been regarded by history as a pivotal moment in pop music history legitimizing the counterculture generation. So much so that in 2017 the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Intrigued by the epiphany created by asking Jennie if she knew what today was before stopping to think that the trees used to make the paper for her birth certificate were still saplings in ‘69, I henceforth decided to conduct an informal poll around the office noting the variety of answers. The answers differed all right, and as might be expected, were along the lines of birth dates and musical interests. However, not one soul responded, “What’s Woodstock?”

I was 21 years old the summer of Woodstock. Honestly, I was not a huge fan of popular music at the time but have come to appreciate it in its “oldies” status. While performers like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Grateful Dead were getting all the radio airplay, I was still clinging to “my music;” Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and Buddy Holly before “Golden Oldie” was ever a historical reference.

Church on Sunday, Boy Scouts during the week, and knowing that half the teachers at MPHS had a paddle in his or her bottom desk drawer every day instilled an allegiance in me toward God, country, and respect for authority. Despite that upbringing still shaping my life today, I’ll admit the 60s hippie culture appealed to some rebel tendencies I may have been relating to.

My definitive moment with that relationship occurred in 1969 when I was an art and psychology major at then East Texas State University in Commerce (Texas A&M at Commerce today). Cruising the circular drive in front of the Education Building with a group of guys hoping we could provide transportation for girls needing a lift across the highway to the dorms just because we were nice like that, we found a confrontation near the flagpole. A group of jeans and cowboy boot wearing ag majors were challenging bell-bottom and tie-dye wearing hippies attempting to take down the American flag.

Despite my art major inspired “chukka” boot footwear and hair over my ears and shirt collar, I felt compelled to side with the ag majors. Campus police soon broke up the gathering and returned the flag to its spot atop the flagpole. Hippies went one direction flashing peace signs and singing John Lennon’s, “Give Peace a Chance” while the ag majors went the other most likely humming a few bars of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”

After classes that afternoon, I drove to Mount Pleasant listening to Patsy Cline’s “Faded Love” on WBAP in Fort Worth stopping by Chris Durant’s “Artistic Barber Shop” for a haircut before reporting to my part-time job at Sandlin Chevrolet and Olds.

Regardless of what anyone wore, the music we listened to, or who would remember what when polled about Woodstock in 50 years, in 1969 I still needed a paycheck to stay in school.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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