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Living in the Shadow of Woodstock

I was 4 when Woodstock happened. And I haven't stopped hearing about it since.

Really, ever since Time magazine declared the Baby Boom Generation its "Man of the Year" in 1967, I haven't been able to escape this demographic bulge that keeps reminding me what a great time they had, how special they are, how fearless, how impressive, how trend-setting…

How meaningless life is for those born after 1964.

As a January 1965 baby, I was one month shy of catching the love train. Instead, I've been relegated to hand-me-down Generation X, more often referred to as "slackers," "whiners" and "the doom generation."

And the first thing I have to whine about is how oppressive it's been to live under the Baby Boomer Tyranny of 50 million teenagers who have refused to grow up.

It's bad enough that we will never be able to party harder than the crowd at Woodstock, which we've been reminded of time and again this past month. It's been 40 years since a half-million hippies did drugs and each other on a New York dairy farm set to loud music. The anniversary has been marked with a movie, a postage stamp, peace sign mania and more nostalgia stories and TV shows than you will ever have time to consume. (We get it, it was a cool party.)

And, of course, there's the music, which I admit was pretty groovy and revolutionary in some cases. But since I've been forced to listen to '60s music on every classic rock, rock lite and oldies radio station (not to mention the aisles of Publix) every day of my life, I'm kinda over the whole musical tribute thing.

Why the 40th? Is it because most boomers don't expect to live to see the 50th? Or will we be subject to another round of hippie folklore in 10 years, when we'll be reminded, once again, that Woodstock happened?

Of course, one person's peaceful idyll is another's state disaster area. For me, I realized the Me Generation didn't have much to offer once I reached adulthood. By then, all the boomers had turned into yuppies. Free love promised to kill you. The Space Race was over. And the 20th century's primary champions of idealism and youth empowerment really didn't want to hear what people younger than them had to say. What did we expect from the generation that won the right to vote, then turned around and voted for Nixon?

Yes, we have a lot to thank Big Chillers for: women's equality, some pretty good drugs, racial harmony, rock-n-roll, social consciousness, Earth Day, gay rights, some pretty good drugs.

But, thanks to them, we also saw the Age of Aquarius turn into the Age of Acquisitions. We have a lot to blame them for, too: a divorce rate triple that of their parents, STDs, Viagra, out-of-control drug and alcohol consumption, Charlie Manson and self-help books, not to mention selling out (epitomized recently by the news that Bob Dylan is recording a Christmas album).

Post-boomers are going to be picking up the pieces of this four-decade party for a long time. I've read a string of self-indulgent stories lately about boomers. There are stories about how boomers are changing retirement (retire already); stories that offer a look inside boomer bedrooms (ah, no thanks) and stories about boomers who refuse to accept old age and insist their grandchildren call them "Boo-Boo," "Poo Poo," "Gigi," "Mima," "Duke" – anything other than grandma and grandpa. There are stories about how boomers invest; how much they like good food and wine; how much sex they're having in retirement communities; how they like to read big type in their newspapers and how they've abandoned formal religion. But, in all these stories, I never hear anybody ask any real questions.

Have boomers collectively betrayed their youthful idealism? Have they been self-centered to the point of shortchanging their children? Is the have-it-all generation going to leave anything behind?

Instead of answers, prepare yourself for a cultural boom of the geriatric genre. There's going to be a slew of books, movies, songs and art devoted to boomers discovering old age. We've already been given a peek with Olive Kitteridge, this year's Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, a book about an aging seventh-grade math teacher as she grows lonely, grows bitter, drives her son into therapy and witnesses her husband's mental and physical demise. Or this year's Disney-Pixar movie Up about a grouchy, old geezer trying to live up to a promise he made to his dead wife.

Yep, that's right, they're going to make us follow them right into the grave. Boomers show no signs of passing the torch. We're going to have to pry it from their lifeless, bony fingers.

Last month, a Zogby Interactive poll of 4,811 adults conducted for the Aspen Institute asked about the historic legacy of the baby boom generation. The results: 42% said the baby boom legacy would be consumerism and self-indulgence; 27% said changing values and ending a war. The rest, 32%, were closely split among those who chose "nothing at all," some other legacy or just weren't sure.

I was going to call this blog "Die Boomer Die" or, more cleverly, "Dye Boomer Dye." (Tie-dye, get it?) But I decided that was too mean. I actually like some of them. I'm not like those boomer backlash types at BoomerDeathCounter.com who keep a running count of how many boomers are dead and how many are still alive (although it's a quick way for Generation Xers to find good real estate).

No, I believe there is one last valuable gift the Me Generation can give us. The best thing to come out of Woodstock was the realization that a large group of people can get together and not fight, scream, riot and kill each other. I'd love to see that mentality carried over to all the town hall meetings being held this summer on healthcare reform. Instead of becoming hysterical about being marginalized or brought before one of those imaginary "death boards," I'd like to see the boomers deal with this healthcare issue rationally, intelligently, cooperatively. It seems to me that the last lesson boomers can teach us is probably the most important: how to die gracefully.

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