Saturday, November 10, 2018

Once Again On The Cultural Front of The 1960s Uprising-The 50th Anniversary Of The Musical “Hair” On Broadway-A Few Thoughts

Once Again On The Cultural Front of The 1960s Uprising-The 50th Anniversary Of The Musical “Hair” On Broadway-A Few Thoughts 

A link to an National Public Radio On Point program featuring the 50th anniversary of the musical and it meaning then, and now: 

By Si Lannon

The first time I heard that Seth Garth was going to preempt political aficionado Frank Jackman and do the 200th anniversary of the birth of Communist Manifesto writer Karl Marx was upon publication under the former’s name. Which pisses me off since I have been squeezed out apparently of getting any assignments around the incredible number of 1968 events which are having their 50th anniversary commemorations. (The Marx 200th birthday anniversary thing intersects 1968 via a then growing interest in his theories among students and young radicals once the old tactics and strategy around Democratic Party takeover politics went asunder.) Upon privately complaining to site manager Greg Green he gave me this assignment to make a few comments of the 50th anniversary of the musical Hair, on Broadway at least although it had been off-Broadway the year before, one of the few musicals that could have possibly captured some of the pathos, bathos and essence of what was going on in all its messy splendor in that year.

Hair represented that trend away from goodie two shoes formula entertainment like song and dance musicals and thinly pitched family dramatic productions. That represented what the audiences of the 1950s were interested in and still had, have a place in the Great White Way scheme of things. But the unacknowledged (at the time not so now once the cultural critics took their long look at the subject) effect of the vanguard work that was being done in little theaters for little money for little audiences finally took root. Artaud’s Theater of the Absurd, Brecht’s didactic efforts and the like finally found a more receptive general audience. So Hair in 1967-68 did not raise as many hairs (no pun intended among the theater going public as it might have earlier in the decade when it would have been treated as an end of run “beat” saga. That is no to say the subject of intense profanity, vivid sexual reference, an interracial cast and endless paeans to drugs of all sorts didn’t raise hackles, didn’t have members of the audience walking out shaking their heads but as word got out that this was a generational sage for the agents of the Age of Aquarius the thing couldn’t be stopped. And as one voice in the above-mentioned link noted she was still playing in, albeit in Vermont one of the last real refuses of the survivors of the Generation of ’68 along with the Oregon woods and maybe Seattle now that nobody with any left-over hippie aspiration could afford to live in any part of San Francisco except maybe the streets, is still being produced someplace in this wild wicked old land.         

In a funny sort of way the saga of Hair almost accidently traced the line of the 1960s explosion but more importantly in one place stamped “youth nation” as a tribal village like it had never been before, although you could have seen around the edges of it all the way back to the wild boys of the West Coast in their souped up jalopies and hot rods with a “don’t give fuck” about the golden age of American prosperity aborning, the bad boys offspring of the Okie migration that said the more menacing “fuck you up” of the outlaw bikers with their big “hogs” and larcenous hearts, the alienated teen angst misunderstood “please don’t fuck with my head” rebel without a cause types who cooled on James Dean, and the “fuck, fuck, fuck” beat boys talking a blue streak about junkies, negro streets and jailbreaks. And you wonder why youth nation jumped right in the middle of all this when the social situation ran up against racial segregation, sexual uptightness, the fucking war in Vietnam which formed on the corners that Hair hung its hat on since every single guy, and it was all guys then, from the most gung ho Green Beret film watcher to the most ardent draft resister had to deal with the draft and the generational question-go or resist-and the weird queer drag queen fag baiting and women’s liberation.

That draft issue, that each and every guy and by extension their lovers, caught between a rock and a hard place was no joke. Was centrally why Hair spoke to a generation struggling with that very issue-to go or resist- a question that the parents’ generation had almost no conception of since they had fought, or waited anxiously at the door, in their “good war” and could not understand their kids and their idea that maybe going off to kill people, poor people, who they had no quarrel had to be thought about. Claude, a lead character had plenty to think about doped up to the gills or not. The other stuff about race, sex, dope, the signs of the Zodiac, karma, mediation, oneness with the world flow from that central concern.

It wasn’t all beautiful by any means and the threads that hung “youth nation” together came asunder readily enough once the counter-offensive by the night-takers began in earnest (and as Seth Garth and Frank Jackman have said we have been fighting a forty plus year cultural rearguard action against the bastards ever since with no letup in sight). Even in the halcyon days of the Summer of Love in 1967 which is the framework a lot of us had from my town under the guidance of the one and only Scribe, the late Peter Paul Markin who in the end fell under the bus himself, there was plenty of bad stuff going with people ripping people off for drugs, food, anything that was not nailed down. But that was a side issue like many things when something new is trying to breakout and not everybody is as pure as the driven snow and who knows who will show up.

The Captain Crunch-led converted yellow brick road bus we ran up and down the Pacific Coast Highway on picking up vagrant travelers and the wanderers of the youth nation world mostly were seekers, ranters, good people to have on your side when you are trying create a newer world out of what late capitalism and its social norms had left us to pick up the pieces with.

Like I said not everybody, not the Scribe in the end, could go the distance and once that critical mass which sustained the youth nation lost it love of plainsong, of seeking for the mysteries of the universe in a million different ways from tarot cards to LSD and everything in between, and the sense that we could win the drift went against us as people headed back to the confines of late capitalist bourgeois society. Headed back from that youthful detour, except of course those small enclaves mentioned earlier still existing in places like Vermont and Oregon if you ever get up that way. Everybody has some timeline for when the whole thing ebbed, after the hellish 1968 year of events being the prime candidate but that was/is for academics to ferret out. As Frank Jackman has said repeating what the Scribe said before he fell off the world-Wasn’t that a time, yeah, wasn’t that a time.

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