Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical opened on Broadway on this date in 1968. It is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot – a product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. Several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical,” using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.
Hair tells the story of the “tribe”, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to succumb to the pressures of his parents (and conservative America) to serve in Vietnam, compromising his pacifistic principles and risking his life.
After an Off-Broadway debut in October 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and a subsequent run in a midtown discothèque space, the show opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances. Simultaneous productions in cities across the United States and Europe followed shortly thereafter, including a successful London production that ran for 1,997 performances. Since then, numerous productions have been staged around the world, spawning dozens of recordings of the musical, including the 3 million-selling original Broadway cast recording. Some of the songs from its score became Top 10 hits, and a feature film adaptation was released in 1979. A Broadway revival opened on March 31, 2009, earning strong reviews and winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best revival of a musical. Time magazine wrote, “Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.”
Hair explores many of the themes of the hippie movement of the 1960s. Theatre writer Scott Miller described these as follows:
The youth of America, especially those on college campuses, started protesting all the things that they saw wrong with America: racism, environmental destruction, poverty, sexism and sexual repression, violence at home and the war in Vietnam, depersonalization from new technologies, and corruption in politics. … Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again. … [Long] hair was the hippies’ flag – their … symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song “My Conviction”). It symbolized equality between men and women. …The hippies’ chosen clothing also made statements. Drab work clothes (jeans, work shirts, pea coats) were a rejection of materialism. Clothing from other cultures, particularly the Third World and native Americans, represented their awareness of the global community and their rejection of U.S. imperialism and selfishness. Simple cotton dresses and other natural fabrics were a rejection of synthetics, a return to natural things and simpler times. Some hippies wore old World War II or Civil War jackets as way of co-opting the symbols of war into their newfound philosophy of nonviolence.
Extending the precedents set by Show Boat (1927) and Porgy and Bess (1935), Hair opened the Broadway musical to racial integration; fully one-third of the cast was African American. Except for satirically in skits, the roles for the black members of the tribe portrayed them as equals, breaking away from the traditional roles for blacks in entertainment as slaves or servants. An Ebony magazine article declared that the show was the biggest outlet for black actors in the history of the U.S. stage.
Several songs and scenes from the show address racial issues. “Colored Spade”, which introduces the character Hud, a militant black male, is a long list of racial slurs (“jungle bunny… little black sambo”) topped off with the declaration that Hud is the “president of the United States of love”. At the end of his song, he tells the tribe that the “boogie man” will get them, as the tribe pretends to be frightened. “Dead End”, sung by black tribe members, is a list of street signs that symbolize black frustration and alienation. One of the tribe’s protest chants is “What do we think is really great? To bomb, lynch and segregate!” “Black Boys/White Boys” is an exuberant acknowledgement of miscegenation; the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down laws against the practice in 1967. Another of the tribe’s protest chants is “Black, white, yellow, red. Copulate in a king-sized bed.”
“Abie Baby” is part of an Act 2 “trip” sequence: four African “witch doctors”, who have just killed various U.S. historical, cultural, and fictional characters, sing the praises of Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by a black female tribe member, whom they decide not to kill. The first part of the song contains stereotypical language that black characters used in old movies, like “I’s finished … pluckin’ y’all’s chickens” and “I’s free now thanks to y’all, Master Lincoln”. The Lincoln character then recites a modernized version of the Gettysburg Address, while a white female tribe member polishes Lincoln’s shoes with her blond hair.
The many references to Native Americans throughout the script are part of the anti-consumerism, naturalism focus of the hippie movement and of Hair. The characters in the show are referred to as the “tribe”, borrowing the term for Native American communities. The cast of each production chooses a tribal name: “The practice is not just cosmetic … the entire cast must work together, must like each other, and often within the show, must work as a single organism. All the sense of family, of belonging, of responsibility and loyalty inherent in the word “tribe” has to be felt by the cast.” To enhance this feeling, O’Horgan put the cast through sensitivity exercises based on trust, touching, listening and intensive examination that broke down barriers between the cast and crew and encouraged bonding. These exercises were based on techniques developed at the Esalen Institute and Polish Lab Theater. The idea of Claude, Berger, and Sheila living together is another facet of the 1960s concept of tribe.
The brief nude scene at the end of Act I was a subject of controversy and notoriety. Miller writes that “nudity was a big part of the hippie culture, both as a rejection of the sexual repression of their parents and also as a statement about naturalism, spirituality, honesty, openness, and freedom. The naked body was beautiful, something to be celebrated and appreciated, not scorned and hidden. They saw their bodies and their sexuality as gifts, not as ‘dirty’ things.”
Hair glorifies sexual freedom in a variety of ways. In addition to acceptance of miscegenation, mentioned above, the characters’ lifestyle acts as a sexually and politically charged updating of La bohème; as Rado explained, “The love element of the peace movement was palpable.” In the song “Sodomy”, Woof exhorts everyone to “join the holy orgy Kama Sutra”. Toward the end of Act 2, the tribe members reveal their free love tendencies when they banter back and forth about who will sleep with whom that night. Woof has a crush on Mick Jagger, and a three-way embrace between Claude, Berger and Sheila turns into a Claude-Berger kiss.
Various illegal drugs are taken by the characters during the course of the show, most notably a hallucinogen during the trip sequence. The song “Walking in Space” begins the sequence, and the lyrics celebrate the experience declaring “how dare they try to end this beauty … in this dive we rediscover sensation … our eyes are open, wide, wide, wide”. Similarly, in the song “Donna”, Berger sings that “I’m evolving through the drugs that you put down.” At another point, Jeanie smokes marijuana and dismisses the critics of “pot”. Generally, the tribe favors hallucinogenic or “mind expanding” drugs, such as LSD and marijuana, while disapproving of other drugs such as speed and depressants. For example, Jeanie, after revealing that she is pregnant by a “speed freak”, says that “methedrine is a bad scene”. The song “Hashish” provides a list of pharmaceuticals, both illegal and legal, including cocaine, alcohol, LSD, opium and Thorazine, which is used as an antipsychotic.
The theme of opposition to the war that pervades the show is unified by the plot thread that progresses through the book – Claude’s moral dilemma over whether to burn his draft card. Pacifism is explored throughout the extended trip sequence in Act 2. The lyrics to “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, which is sung during that sequence, evoke the horrors of war (“ripped open by metal explosion”). The song is based on Allen Ginsberg’s 1966 poem, “Wichita Vortex Sutra”. In the poem, General Maxwell Taylor proudly reports to the press the number of enemy soldiers killed in one month, repeating it digit by digit, for effect: “Three-Five-Zero-Zero.” The song begins with images of death and dying and turns into a manic dance number, echoing Maxwell’s glee at reporting the enemy casualties, as the tribe chants “Take weapons up and begin to kill”. The song also includes the repeated phrase “Prisoners in niggertown/ It’s a dirty little war”.
“Don’t Put It Down” satirizes the unexamined patriotism of people who are “crazy” for the American flag. “Be In (Hare Krishna)” praises the peace movement and events like the San Francisco and Central Park Be-Ins. Throughout the show, the tribe chants popular protest slogans like “What do we want? Peace! – When do we want it? Now!” and “Do not enter the induction center”. The upbeat song, “Let the Sun Shine In”, is a call to action, to reject the darkness of war and change the world for the better.
Hair also aims its satire at the pollution caused by our civilization. Jeanie appears from a trap door in the stage wearing a gas mask and then sings the song “Air”: “Welcome, sulfur dioxide. Hello carbon monoxide. The air … is everywhere”. She suggests that pollution will eventually kill her, “vapor and fume at the stone of my tomb, breathing like a sullen perfume”. In a comic, pro-green vein, when Woof introduces himself, he explains that he “grows things” like “beets, and corn … and sweet peas” and that he “loves the flowers and the fuzz and the trees”.
Religion, particularly Catholicism, appears both overtly and symbolically throughout the piece, and it is often made the brunt of a joke. Berger sings of looking for “my Donna”, giving it the double meaning of the woman he’s searching for and the Madonna. During “Sodomy”, a hymn-like paean to all that is “dirty” about sex, the cast strikes evocative religious positions: the Pietà and Christ on the cross. Before the song, Woof recites a modified rosary. In Act II, when Berger gives imaginary pills to various famous figures, he offers “a pill for the Pope”. In “Going Down”, after being kicked out of school, Berger compares himself to Lucifer: “Just like the angel that fell / Banished forever to hell / Today have I been expelled / From high school heaven.” Claude becomes a classic Christ figure at various points in the script. In Act I, Claude enters, saying, “I am the Son of God. I shall vanish and be forgotten,” then gives benediction to the tribe and the audience. Claude suffers from indecision, and, in his Gethsemane at the end of Act I, he asks “Where Do I Go?”. There are textual allusions to Claude being on a cross, and, in the end, he is chosen to give his life for the others. Berger has been seen as a John the Baptist figure, preparing the way for Claude.
Songs like “Good Morning, Starshine” and “Aquarius” reflect the 1960s cultural interest in astrological and cosmic concepts. “Aquarius” was the result of Rado’s research into his own astrological sign. The company’s astrologer, Maria Crummere, was consulted about casting: Sheila was usually played by a Libra or Capricorn and Berger by a Leo, although Ragni, the original Berger, was a Virgo. Crummere was also consulted when deciding when the show would open on Broadway and in other cities. The 1971 Broadway Playbill reported that she chose April 29, 1968 for the Broadway premiere. “The 29th was auspicious … because the moon was high, indicating that people would attend in masses. The position of the ‘history makers’ (Pluto, Uranus, Jupiter) in the 10th house made the show unique, powerful and a money-maker. And the fact that Neptune was on the ascendancy foretold that Hair would develop a reputation involving sex.”
In Mexico, where Crummere did not pick the opening date, the show was closed down by the government after one night. She was not pleased with the date of the Boston opening (where the producers were sued over the show’s content) saying, “Jupiter will be in opposition to naughty Saturn, and the show opens the very day of the sun’s eclipse. Terrible.” But there was no astrologically safe time in the near future.
Hair makes many references to Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, and, at times, takes lyrical material directly from Shakespeare. For example, the lyrics to the song “What a Piece of Work Is Man” are from Hamlet (II: scene 2) and portions of “Flesh Failures” (“the rest is silence”) are from Hamlet’s final lines. In “Flesh Failures/Let The Sun Shine In”, the lyrics “Eyes, look your last!/ Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you/ The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss” are from Romeo and Juliet (V: iii, 111–14). According to Miller, the Romeo suicide imagery makes the point that, with our complicity in war, we are killing ourselves.
Symbolically, the running plot of Claude’s indecision, especially his resistance to burning his draft card, which ultimately causes his demise, has been seen as a parallel to Hamlet: “the melancholy hippie”. The symbolism is carried into the last scene, where Claude appears as a ghostly spirit among his friends wearing an army uniform in an ironic echo of an earlier scene, where he says, “I know what I want to be … invisible”. According to Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, “Both [Hair and Hamlet] center on idealistic brilliant men as they struggle to find their place in a world marred by war, violence, and venal politics. They see both the luminous possibilities and the harshest realities of being human. In the end, unable to effectively combat the evil around them, they tragically succumb.”
Other literary references include the song “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, based on Ginsberg’s poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, and, in the psychedelic drug trip sequence, the portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara, from Gone with the Wind, and activist African-American poet LeRoi Jones.
In the 60’s I was overwhelmingly in support of Hair’s message(s) and music; now I am a tad more critical. Then I was a young long-haired hippie (of sorts); now, almost 50 years on, I am a close cropped, retired college professor. I still believe in equality, global sustainability, peace, and so forth, but my views on the musical’s portrayal of sexuality, religion, and astrology are somewhat tempered. On the whole I am happy to let people do what they want without harming others, but I am by no means fully in accord with the values presented of the latter in Hair. Yes, organized Christianity has desperate failings, but this is largely because of its seeming inability to take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to heart; the core values are peace and love, as they are in Hair. 21 years ago I became an ordained Presbyterian minister to try to inject more spirituality into the church from the inside rather than railing at it (largely unthinkingly) from the outside. Sexuality is a complex issue, and “free love” has its pitfalls. I’m ambivalent about astrology
I’ve frequently argued that the tenor of U.S. culture at any one time is linked to the concerns of the Baby Boom generation at that time. In the 1960s they/we were adolescent and post-adolescent teens (and a bit older), grasping for personal values. Many (most?) hippies were attending college (in a lot of cases to avoid the draft), and came from solid middle class families. The famed “Summer of Love” in San Francisco in 1967, for example, came to an end because most participants went back to college in the fall. It was summer vacation for them. In that respect it’s hard not to see their actions as superficial and hedonistic. Nonetheless, a vital thread remains because the issues addressed by Hair remain unresolved – war, poverty, racism, inequality, environmental degradation – and many of us grey hippies still fight the good fight although in a less flamboyant way.
A hippie recipe is easy to come by. I wouldn’t hazard a guess at percentages, but there were hippies who believed in eating healthy foods, and others who lived on fast food. Commitment to the core value of sustainability (plus healthy living) tussled with simple hedonism. Here’s a healthy recipe for tabouli salad, very popular in hippiedom. No need for exact quantities; it would not be a hippie dish if it involved rules. It’s good to make a fair amount because it keeps well refrigerated, and is a good side dish.
The basis of this dish is bulgur wheat. My preference is about 60% bulgur to 40% vegetables (organic, of course). Cook the bulgur by simmering it in water for about 20 minutes (2 cups water:1 cup water) or until softened. Drain and let cool. Cut into small dice seeded tomatoes, green onions, cucumber, and celery. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and chill. Take what you need to serve and dress with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and chopped parsley (or cilantro). Leave the rest chilled, undressed.