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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hair: Facing A Dying Nation.

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Hair was an anti-war musical which originally opened in a small theatre off-Broadway in New York City in 1967. The main story revolved around a young man who had been drafted, and did not want to go to Vietnam to fight in the U.S. War Against Vietnam.

The characters in the play were all "hippies," who smoked dope and had sex outside of marriage, wore long hair (the name) and cotton tie-dyed clothing. They were tree-huggers and earth-lovers, recycled before anyone knew what that meant, environmentalists who believed we should consume less, waste less, live more simply. The hippies, and those represented in this play, were both horrifying and fascinating to the rest of society because they represented such a radical break with the buttoned-down Dick Nixon 1950s suburban America which these young people were rejecting.

The show rejected and ridiculed the mindless patriotism of those who come to attention everytime they see a flag, which is exactly what has again taken hold of this country with the Flag-Lapel controversy about which we've heard way too much. Some young people at the time burned American flags to show their disgust with this nation's wars of aggression, and the right-wing to this day always wants more laws passed making it criminal for anyone to burn a flag. When is the last time you heard about somebody burning a flag?

But the main theme of Hair was anti-war. Although the U.S. War Against Vietnam would not end for many years, Hair helped to bring anti-war views into the mainstream, helped lay the groundwork for what eventually would turn the public against that war.


In the 1950s and 1960s in America, hairstyles for men were usually pretty limited to the military cut (like a flat top) and kept short. "Real" men had short hair. Longer hair, and that's just a tad longer, like Elvis Presley, for example, was something for the pretty boys, the lover boys, but not for normal men. But for the young men who joined the counter-culture, became hippies or just adopted some of the lifestyle, wearing their hair long became a symbol to the entire world that they were against the U.S. War Against Vietnam, and were against the typical limited role for men in this country.

That's why you get a song like "Almost Cut My Hair" by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Young men with long hair at that time were verbally assaulted by other men, could be physically assaulted, and were often called queer, or faggot, or other derogatory names for homosexuals. When they were drafted, and their heads shaved, it was a double wound, one which reflected the loss of their individual choices and their recruitment into a brutal war where they would be sent to kill and die, like gladiators being set out to the slaughter. Hair, on young people's heads, took on enormous significance.




By the time Hair opened on Broadway, it also included nudity, something unheard of in legitimate theatre in the U.S. The show also contained "strong" language which led its performance to be banned in some countries. The show opened on Broadway in 1968 with a fully integrated cast, which also was rare in theatre, but fascinating to Americans who had been educated by the Civil Rights struggles, but still mostly lived and worked in segregated communities.

For women, the image and fashion of the hippies, and as portrayed in Hair, was a radical rejection of mainstream society dictates. In the 1950s and 1960s in the U.S., women's style and fashion was strictly dictated by men who ran the clothing industry, and who shared the Protestant view that women's bodies were evil, that sexuality was bad and women were bad unless restrained. Women's hair, for example, was permed, curled, "styled," teased or back-combed, then sprayed with tons of hairspray designed to keep the hair from moving. Because we all know how slutty it looks for a woman's hair to move.


Undergarments for women were harsh, starting with girdles made of stretchy canvas and worn very tight from the waist to the lower theigh, to make sure nothing on the woman "jiggles." Bras were also sturdy and big garments to prevent breasts from jiggling, although oddly enough, they were cone-shaped and sharply pointed at the end to make sure that men knew that yes indeed, this female specimen has a pair.

The female hippie fashion style, therefore, was almost the equivalent of a girl saying "Look at me, I'm a slut." The hair was not cut or permed or colored or curled. It was allowed to grow and grow, was never cut, and simply flowed around the head with no hairspray or artificial products. Hippie women did not wear bras or girdles, so they did jiggle, and they felt just fine about it. It was shocking.

After the New York Broadway version had taken hold, another theatre opened the show in Los Angeles. After that, nine other groups opened in cities around the nation, many of them travelling to additional places. By 1968, Hair was also showing on stage in London, followed by France, Germany, and Mexico.

By the early 1970s, Hair was an international success with productions in many nations including productions in Europe, South America, Japan, and Israel. The show was also an enormous financial success. The music has been recorded by many different artists, and some of the songs are now a well-established part of American popular music.


The music was written by Galt MacDermot, lyrics and book by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Among the hit songs from Hair are the title song "Hair," "Let The Sunshine In," and "The Age Of Aquarius." After opening off-broadway in 1967, it moved to Broadway in 1968 and to London that same year, then to numerous productions throughout the U.S. and the world. It has been revived at least 3 times, most recently in 2009 in New York City and in 2010 in London. It was also made into a movie.

As the music and the play became more popular, and the songs played on the radio, so did much of the fashion and other views of the hippies become part of mainstream. The right-wing was opposed to everything represented by the Hippies, and by the anti-war youth of this country. The movie forrest Gump is an example of a right-wing revisionist propaganda piece that distorts everything that happened in this country in the 1960s and 1970s, and is an interesting contrast to the play Hair. In Hair, the young people supported peace and opposed war. In Forrest Gump, the protagonist and his friend support war, and go to war to kill, because they are "good" Americans.

In Hair, the women own and control their own bodies, and are comfortable with their own bodies, decide with whom and when to have sex. In Forrest Gump, the pretty young woman has sex outside of marriage then immediately gets Aids and dies (even though there was no Aids back in the 1970s). And so on.

Those battles continue today, and are commonly called the culture wars. Crew-cuts versus natural hair, burkas vs. cut-offs, the same underlying beliefs fuel both sides. One group (the heirs to the hippies) are anti-war and believe people should live simply, cooperatively, contribute to community, and take care of the earth. The other group, the Republicans and tea-baggers, believe in neverending war, that greed is good and people should acquire and consume as much as possible, live in gated communities separate and apart from others, and rape the earth, stealing everything from it.



Hair certainly did not end the war or, ultimately, control the obsessive greed of the people who run this country. But it did briefly present a different world view. It's a shame that the right fought back so hard. For example, if we had followed the direction of the hippies, there would be a lot more bicycles and fewer cars. People would work fewer hours and have smaller homes, develop their communities instead of their egos, be cooperative instead of competitive, re-use and re-cycle, wear old clothes, and when they're too old to wear, sew on a colorful patch and wear them anyway.

If we had made a national commitment to end wars and to live in harmony with nature, we would have so much money that we could have spent to help others, bring other people up to a good level with housing, medical, education, food, and we could have avoided all those wars, all those dead people.

It was a great story.



Let The Sunshine In
We starve, look at one another, short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes

Somewhere, inside something there is a rush of
Greatness, who knows what stands in front of
Our lives, I fashion my future on films in space
Silence tells me secretly
Everything
Everything

Manchester, England, England
Manchester, England, England
Across the Atlantic Sea
And I'm a genius, genius
I believe in God
And I believe that God believes in Claude
That's me, that's me, that's me

We starve, look at one another, short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes

Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar
Life is around you and in you
Answer for Timothy Leary, dearie

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in
The sunshine in



2 comments:

  1. Oh, thanks
    ..dying nation

    ReplyDelete
  2. As valid then as it is nowadays...

    ReplyDelete