'Hair' today ... and a columnist's nonpharmacological trip down memory lane
April 30, 2009
Michael Elkin, Arts & Entertainment Editor
You ask me why I'm just a hairy guy.
Go ahead. Ask me.
Oh, that picture -- an old photo from my college days in the 1960s,
when I had long beautiful hair: shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen.
Now it's more "Grey Gardens" than straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy,
shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, knotted, polka-dotted,
twisted, beaded, braided powdered, flowered -- and confettied.
But that's okay, because I think I just discovered and uncovered the
musical muse of Minoxidil.
No need to be at the pharmacy counter for Rogaine anymore; just drop
by the Broadway box office for "Hair," where transplants from the
'60s have their own rooting section for a wonderful revival that
draws a bead on the love beads of those summers of love.
Somehow, some way, the Gerome Ragni/James Rado/Galt MacDermot moment
in the sun has got the gestalt just right, not only back then, but
today, too. Ironically retrofitted into the confines of the Al
Hirschfeld Theatre, this generation so long caricatured gets a
bright, psychedelic, psychologically uplifting revival for its
Of course, free love is gonna cost ya these days; tickets top out at $120.
But some benefits come in the most unexploited, unexpected ways.
During one of the musical's more intimate moments -- there are many,
as actors clamber over and among the crowd -- one of the performers
came to my seat and handed me a daisy to wear in my hair, a piece of
love kiddingly accepted but, inwardly, rejected by someone who more
than once has asked himself, cynically exploring the everyday world's
listlessness, where have all the flowers gone?
In a wonderful way, I felt like I was floating through space back to
those college days when, after the Six-Day War, "Jewish Power"
buttons magically popped up on campus (okay, so instead of the
straight-arm salute associated with the "black power" clip-ons, these
showed shrugged shoulders).
But now, 42 years after originally brought to Broadway by Joseph
Papp's Public Theater, the sun shines in with a flash that
illuminates the past, and the present even more so.
Those Jewish strands soaked in social justice are rewoven into a
broader tapestry of tzedakah here.
But then, there is the ultimate irony to reconsider -- of reaching
out to help a stranger, as expressed so lyrically with: "especially
people/Who care about strangers/Who say they care about social
injustice/Do you only/Care about the bleeding crowd/How about a
"Hair" was never afraid of ripping its own generation's love genes
even as it celebrated its free-form unfettered friendship with the
unanchored. The hyped Haight-Ashbury hypocrisy of friendship in the
abstract while ignorance of the concrete gets a beautiful burnish
here with a song at once cynical and hopeful.
Easy to be hard, indeed.
No other '60s' show -- Tom O'Horgan directed the original Broadway
version of "Hair"; sadly, the iconoclastic director is pushing up
daisies these days instead of handing them out, having died earlier
this year -- rocked Broadway standards as "Hair" once did.
And nothing has since in the same way.
On stage is the revolutionary rainbow coalition that so coolly burst
upon us long before Jesse Jackson jacked up the clouds and found a
spectrum of spirit he claimed his own. Here in the new millennium, a
musical about a lost tribe of Jews ... and gentiles ... and blacks
... and whites ... searches outwards for inner peace.
Somehow, the show seems fresher with the defining distance of time.
Were those protests and boycotts of the 1960s emboldened more by a
need to impress others than the real soulful drive to steer change
this way? Maybe it was a combination of both.
For it was an era of introspection and irritating "selflessness,"
when day-tripping may have been a means of self-discovery or, maybe,
self-delusion. But if LSD and what it stood for now stands for Long
Since Debunked, why is Mary Jane assembled in a brand-new white dress
courted by state legislators? Weed out history and -- maybe it's just
being puckish -- but suddenly they find some petals worthy of
When I first saw "Hair" 42 years ago -- zipping up to New York in a
car so hot, its wheels barely touched the turnpike -- a moon in its
seventh house could easily have meant a Jewish teenager's vision of a
prank held at every frat house on campus rather than a star-crossed
accommodation of heaven.
But is my vision still the same -- and I don't mean making sure I had
my glasses now for the Act One finale?
(What? There was nudity? It was a bigger deal in 20-20 hindsight, but
I still found myself damming the current dim lighting.)
Good morning, Starshine? If you lead us along -- my love and me as we
sing our early morning singing song -- why is it that that song is so
saturated in mumbles now, and why, if asking myself, "Where do I go?"
it's not the the gulls I'm fearful of following but those leading the
Or is it, Good Mourning, Starshine?
But then, as I leave the theater, if that's really so -- dreams
ripped as ragged as those tickets tie-dyeing the carpeted theater
floor -- if I really had the offbeat viewpoint of my youth offed by
single-vision lenses ... why am I still wearing that flower in my hair?