Flashback to a brief moment when love steered the stars

'Hair' revival is a nostalgia trip for those who were there

November 22, 2010|Susan Reimer

Children don't believe their parents had a life of their own before they were born, just as children don't believe their parents actually did anything to bring them into being.

So I purchased a pair of tickets to the revival of "Hair" at the Kennedy Center Opera House in order to prove both points to my 20-something daughter.

She bailed on me. She was sweet about it, but she had a work commitment and — what irony here — I could not argue that seeing "Hair" trumped a job.

So I went with my friend Betsy who, coincidentally, had a role in the Paris production of "Hair" while studying abroad during her sophomore year of college. She spent most of that year not in a classroom but bumming around Europe. Remember when it was safe to bum around Europe?

The audience in the Opera House was filled with people like me, people who were 20-something when "Hair" first appeared in 1967 and, like the musical, are 40 years older now. The musical is perfectly preserved. The audience? Not so much.

Many of those in the audience were there with their 20-something children. "See? This is how it was. This is how we were. This is what it was like." I imagined those messages being passed silently back and forth between the generations in the Opera House.

"Hair" is the story of a group of New York City hippies who are terrified that they, or the boys they care about, will be drafted to fight and die in a distant and unpopular war, but who also believe that the bomber jet planes will turn into butterflies through the purity and the power of their love.

The rock-musical arrived on Broadway before the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 and before Kent State in 1970 — when the peace movement stopped being quite so peaceful.

Seeing it again reminded me of how innocent we all were. Young and brimming with hope. The lyrics we sang were, "It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius." Not yet of "four dead in Ohio."

"Hair" is probably remembered most for the on-stage nudity at the end of Act I. My daughter was under the impression that was the hair referenced in the title.

"No," I said, laughing. "The title comes from the fact that, back then, the guys were growing their hair long as an act of defiance, an act of rebellion."

She looked confused.

"The female equivalent rock musical might have been "Bra," I told her, "because we stopped wearing them. "It was all about making our parents crazy."

All these years later, the clothes-shedding that comes at the conclusion of the love-in in the park is almost charming. The lyrics to "Sodomy," that catalog all the X-rated sex acts, is not all that shocking, and the list of African-American epithets in "Colored Spade" sound dated. The worried parents who appear in several scenes are almost more familiar to us now than the kids in bell-bottoms and fringed vests: "Go to college and get a good job."

"Hair" will forever be snapshot of a moment that did not last long.

We went quickly from slipping flowers into the rifle barrels of National Guardsmen to throwing rocks at them. We kissed and cradled our boyfriends when their draft numbers were called, but cursed the soldiers they became.

We traded "Love the one you're with" for "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." We traded hash brownies for Scotch and cocaine.

Life got cynical. No more adorable flakes like Jeanie, carrying a baby and a torch and OK about both. No more earnest protestors like Sheila who believe in the power of the pamphlet. Berger's sexual magnetism would be pathological now. Claude's indecision and his conflict would bore us.

"Hair" is to the 1960s what "Rent" was to the 1990s: a musical celebration of youth, love and hope in a world of war or of AIDS.

It is the kind of story than can only survive inside the golden proscenium.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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