FROM GRATEFUL LIVING TO THE GRATEFUL DEAD
An estimated 600,000 young people showed up at Watkins Glen, N.Y., last weekend for a rock concert. That means there were 1.2 million parents biting their nails and drinking booze to keep from thinking the worst about what was happening to their children.
I speak from personal experience because I donated a daughter to the concert. Actually I didn't give her to the concert. She gave herself. She announced in no uncertain terms that this concert was the most important thing in her life and if she missed it there would be nothing worth living for.
The fact that she had heard the same group, the Grateful Dead, three weeks earlier in R.F.K. Stadium did not enter the picture. She hadn't, she pointed out, heard them at Watkins Glen - and if you didn't hear them at Watkins Glen, then you just couldn't say you had heard them.
After my daughter departed in a Volkswagen with five other people, I had a lot of time to think about Watkins Glen - all night to be exact. Why would 600,000 youths drive hundreds of miles, wallow in the mud, bake in the sun, and do without water and shelter to go to a rock concert that most of them couldn't even hear?
The answer is that all over this great country of ours, there are millions of teen-agers aimlessly wandering around with nothing to do and no place to go.
Everyone needs a goal in life. And when it was announced there was going to be a concert at Watkins Glen, it gave these rootless young people a place to head for.
In India it would have been the Ganges, in the Middle East it would have been Mecca. In the United States this year it was Watkins Glen.
For the first time all summer these 20th-century gypsies had a purpose in their traveling. They all turned and faced New York, some with cars, others with buses, and many with nothing but their thumbs.
With a goal ahead of them, their lethargy left them and their spirits brightened. Now when they called their parents collect, they could say with pride that they were going somewhere.
What started out as a rock concert put on by a couple of smart promoters turned into a religious rite for which no sacrifice was too great to be where it was happening.
All over America bourgeois parents turned on their television sets to watch with trepidation as helicopters hired by the networks filmed the masses of humanity down below. There they were, 600,000 of our children, wall to wall, sitting on the hard ground, zonked out by bearded men screaming into electronic speakers that shattered the eardrums of anyone within 20 miles of the bandstand.
The big question every parent must have asked himself or herself was, "Where did we go wrong? You spent 18 years of your life seeing they got all their vitamins, making sure they did their homework, teaching them to brush their teeth, providing them with a security you never had. And the final result of it all was down below in some pasture land in New York State where they came to blow their minds."
But, as I have been told many times, it isn't for us to judge what our children do. Our only role in the summer of '73 is to accept their collect telephone calls so they can let us know they're still alive.
And so as the sun came up over the Washington Monument, I stood in my bathrobe on the balcony facing New York State and the only thought I had was, "It could have been worse. We could have been living in Watkins Glen."
(by Art Buchwald, from the Los Angeles Times, 5 August 1973 - syndicated column, originally run in the Washington Post)
Thanks to Dave Davis.
See also: Art Buchwald, "A Ticket to Writhe" (6/23/94)