Thursday, October 27, 2011


I recently took a musical time machine back to the late 1960s by attending the Tony-winning revival of the ultimate sixties musical, HAIR. I first saw the show with its original Broadway cast, including co-creator Gerome Ragni in the lead role of Burger, in LA in 1968. It was fun to hear the title song, plus Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine, Let The Sun Shine In and other familiar melodies. They handed out fresh flowers to audience members, and at the end of the show, the audience was invited up to dance on stage with the cast. It definitely had the flavor of a counter culture be-in--almost.

In 1968, I imagine I wore a jacket and tie to the show. I was a broadcast journalist at the time, and definitely not even a pseudo-hippie. That came later for me, in the 1970s in Miami, where I wore my tie dye, and loincloths and dashikis, and had hair longer than most of those cast members in the new version of the show.

Several things occurred to me during this performance. One is that we seem to be less a nation of open-minded risk takers now than forty-three years ago. I think that this was epitomized by the fact that they eliminated the famous scene in the original production where the entire cast strips down completely.

But perhaps it's just that California is more uptight than its reputation. I remember being shocked when I came out here in the early 1980s from Florida and was invited to climb into a hot tub with several friends and they all wore bathing suits. This had never happened in hot tub experiences in Miami, or New York, or anywhere that I could recall. (Now I wonder if the New York production of this revival had the nude segment.)

Later that same year in which I saw the original HAIR, I also covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago for the all-news radio station I worked for in Philadelphia, and for our sister stations in LA, New York and several other cities. I was brought in at the last minute because of the riots triggered by Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and other members of the Chicago Seven. There were now two sites to cover, but I got to work the less interesting one at the convention itself, so never got to see or meet Jerry Rubin.

Oddly enough, he and I became friends in the 1970s, when he went out of his way to look me up and praise my book on relationships. We even did a few lectures together in the 1980s about future trends and prosperity, titled The Two Jerrys (I'm embarrassed to admit I came up with that title.) Jerry became a very successful entrepreneur and human potential guru George Leonard's son-in-law. He was killed when a car hit him as he was jaywalking across Wilshire Boulevard in LA in 1994 at the age of fifty-six.

So while I thoroughly enjoyed HAIR, I also felt a sense of sadness that we have lost a lot of that sense of innocence, and that feeling that we could actually change the world. Maybe this is what the Occupy Wall St. movement will eventual evolve into.

When HAIR was originally created, it actually was depicting very real events that were happening in the news every day. It would be hard to duplicate that authenticity today--we are so much more jaded and cynical. You could sense that in the shy embarrassment with which most of the audience members accepted their flowers as they entered the theatre. My fantasy is that back in 1968, the people would have immediately and spontaneously responded to this gift by making a peace sign with their fingers, or maybe even hugging the cast members handing out the flowers.

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