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