Splitting “Hair”

My boyfriend and I saw the rock musical “Hair” in London in 1972.  Well, “saw” is a bit of an exaggeration.  We were sitting uneasily in the worst seats in the house — wooden bleachers a few miles from the stage.  Occasionally, we could hear a bar or two of music.  When the famous get-naked scene happened, we couldn’t tell.  We had to wait till whispers and rumors of nudity made their way back to us.

Thirty-eight years later, we’re long married and in New York and our seats are far better, even if our vision and hearing aren’t.  This week, we saw — really saw — the revival of “Hair.”  It’s wonderful and exhilarating — full of so much raw talent and exuberance and contagious music you can feel the years and worries slip away from you as you levitate.

But — it’s not just any musical.  It’s the musical of our generation, seething with rebellion, high spirits, great dreams and the looming specter of the Vietnam War.  In 2010, it’s being performed by young people we call kids who were born in the eighties, actors the age of our own grown children.  What do they know of us?

“I wonder if they understand,” my husband said during intermission, “really understand the time we lived in.  How our parents were such a rigid and authoritarian generation — and how we were rebelling against them.”

We sat there talking with minds and perspectives I can only call split.  As parents ourselves, we now understand our own mothers and fathers and the generational pulls so well.  Just think, we said to each other, our parents grew up during the Great Depression and lived through the Second World War, which both our fathers served in.  They were upstanding and frugal, with my own parents struggling mightily to cling to their middle-class status, always fretting about money.  Then, we Baby Boomers came along, coddled (the story goes) and concerned with something beyond pure survival.  In our parents’ view, we did nothing but spit in their faces and scorn their values.

Watching the rest of the musical, I kept wondering about it.  Was “Hair” the story of our generation — or was it simply the story of youth doing what youth always does, rebelling and dreaming outsized dreams, sure they are special and destined for something better than their parents’ staid and boring lives?  Almost 40 years later, how different from our bourgeois parents — whom we lived, dressed and grew hair to shock — are we, really?

Then the music swelled at the end of the performance and a good number of the audience ended up on the stage singing and swaying to “Let the Sun Shine.”  My husband and I stayed in our places, singing and clapping.  Let everybody else take the stage.  We’d already been there and now, it was somebody else’s turn.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about staying on my feet, like it or not

8 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    Going to put “Hair” on the top of my list when I visit NYC!

    I don’t think there will ever be another era quite like that, although we might be having something like it if a draft had been pursued for the Iraq-Afghan-whatever-comes-next wars.  Also, back then, I don’t even remember herpes being a problem, much less AIDS.  And heroine and LSD were considered mind-opening instead of life-shattering.

    My son is a born-again Republican.  So guess that’s his little rebellion. There are worse ways for him to rebel.  Can’t think of any off hand, though.  🙂

  • I can’t wait to see HAIR.  As Cindy notes above….it’s “on my list” to do when I come to NYC. I’m hoping to be there for Blogher this summer.  Glad you enjoyed the show.  The music must have been fabulous. Hard not to love it.

  • Winston Link

    Hair, 1972, tug-o- wars with political ideologies and generation gaps.  Turn-on!  Tune-in!  Drop-out!  Sit-in!  March!  Heady times for us youth.  I understood my contemporaries , yet also understood and appreciated the values of my parents and their contemporaries.  I only clashed once with my father:  When he threatened to yank me out of college when that institution hosted a lecture by “Hanoi Jane” Fonda.  But I patiently  explained to him the educational value of being exposed to and studying both sides of every issue.  The 1930s had gotten in the way of my father’s road to higher learning, yet he grasped what I meant, and thereafter backed my right, against his own Southern cronies, to discover, analyze and hold any viewpoint I chose rather than just blindly follow his.  And he was willing to learn.
    What I miss most about those times is the loud, active participation of college students across the land about current issues and events in the world in which we were preparing to live.  Campuses have been silent so long, it frightens me.

  • My parents, and indeed grandparents, were actually quite badly behaved and had rather interesting lives, though my father did serve in WWII. 

    I imagine that young people acting in Hair now see it as some historic artifact.  That feels odd to me. 

  • Gungadun Link

    I saw HAIR at the National Theatre in DC.  It was my first really big show.  I’ve been telling people forever that I saw it in 1969, but after reading your piece, I did a little research and found that my memory was wrong–try 1971.  But!  HAIR was a defining moment in my life.  I’m not sure what that means, but it was.  One of its characters said something like this:  Go where you want to go and do whatever you want to do… just don’t hurt anybody.  I like that.

  • I fell in love with Hair as a pre-pre teen – the music anyway. Then as a teenager I saw the movie and fell in love with the story. Recently, one of my friends took her young adult children to see the show recently. The kids didn’t get it – they couldn’t relate, the mom told me.  They couldn’t see beyond, somehow, their own experiences. Weird.

  • I took my mother to see a local performance of Hair  about 12 years ago, when she was well into her 90’s.  She was excitedly anticipating the nude bit.  When it ended she looked puzzled and disappointed.  “I thought they were going to be naked,” she said.  Alas, I think she nodded off at the crucial moment.

  • I think each generation has its own angst.  That was ours.  I’m surprised to read Winston’s comment about the quietude on campus.  The youth involvement in the Obama campaign was pretty active and very inspiring.  I like to think our issues were bigger and more important but I suspect they only were more important to us.

Leave a Comment