OPINION: Why is this Woodstock anniversary so different?

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Pete Fornatale is a longtime New York radio personality and author of the new book "Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock."

I've been doing Woodstock anniversary celebrations on the radio since the first one in 1970. Without a doubt, the 40th this weekend is the most powerful and profound for me. What has changed?

The mythology hasn't. That began not long after Woodstock was over. In his audio documentary, "The Sixties," made in 1971, the late, great Walter Cronkite had the following to say about the fabled music festival: "Twenty-seven days after 'Tranquility Base,' on an un-tranquil sea of mud, there was a walk in space that 400,000 long-haired pilgrims in and out of sweatshirts called 'the greatest weekend since the creation.' " The Garden of Eden image has long been used to sanctify Woodstock.

There's always a sense of nostalgia. I have a friend who says, "I love the past, I just don't want to live there." I totally agree. But nostalgia in small doses can be a good thing, a harmless longing for a return to a more youthful time in our lives - a time that was more pleasurable, and optimistic, less burdened by the mundane responsibilities that consume most adults in this first decade of the 21st century.

On Woodstock anniversaries - and this one's no different than earlier ones in this respect - it's easy to take a mental vacation and look back at the magic of those three days and forget the stark horror of everything that led up to them and everything that followed in their wake.

There is one thing that has changed this time, and I can sum it up in one phrase: the awareness of mortality.

The average age of the festival attendees was between 15 and 30. That means that this year the 15-year-olds will be turning 55, and the 30-year-olds will be 70. I myself will be 64 later this summer - an age that seemed incredibly remote and ridiculously far into the future when Paul McCartney sang about it on the "Sgt. Pepper" album in 1967.

We tend to place more significance on the "milestone" anniversaries: the 10th, the 25th, and now the 40th. The off-years get much less attention. In our personal lives, turning 40 is a much bigger deal than turning 39 or 38. So it feels with Woodstock's 40th.

Those of us in this age range don't even know if we'll be around for the 50th anniversary. We look at life in a completely different way now than we did in our teens and 20s. We no longer have the sense of indestructibility we once had and are much more conscious about speeding time, about the paths our lives have taken. For many, including me, Woodstock is still central to that kind of musing.

The more time that passes, the easier it becomes to minimize the inconveniences of that weekend: the mud, the heat, the bad trips. Also, we now look at these events through the lens of our post-9/11 world and know that such an unexpected gathering could never happen again.

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That thought looms especially large when it comes attached to the number 40. I and members of my generation will always celebrate the messages of hope, peace, love and music that were etched into the heart and soul of Woodstock Nation. But it's mortality, more than anything else, that is compelling us this year to get ourselves back to the garden.


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