Broadway Review
by William F. Buckley
The National Review - May 21, 1968

New York, May 8 - "This folks, is the Psychedelic Stone Age" says Claude, in the Broadway musical production, Hair.  Claude opens the show by declaring that  "...I'm a genius genius/ I believe in Gawd/ And I believe that Gawd/ Believes in Claude/ That's me that's me".  of course, Claude doesn't believe in Gawd - nobody does in the cast of Hair, because they are far too sophisticated, provided that one understands that paganism is sophistication.

The stage notes are explicit.  Hair, which is called an "American tribal love rock musical", is about "what's happening now.  The tribes are forming, establishing their own way of life, their own morality, ideologies, their own mode of dress, behavior, and the use of drugs, by the way, has a distinct parallel in ancient cultures, in tribal spiritual tradition, both east and West."

And so a great deal of energy - and talent - go into the production of this psychedelic extravaganza.  It serves up everything from the shock-counter:  boys love boys, American flags are desecrated, all those tired old four-letter words are used, there is male and female nudity, a leavening of sacrilege.  The music and action are engagingly energetic, without having that frenetic feel which, like when Jimmy Durante starts breaking the piano, is a snakebite substitute for entertainment.  The obscenities fail to shock.  The nudity is less remarkable by far than the posturings at the stripper joints.  There are a few very false notes, as though an IBM programmer calculating a continuous shock, had accidentally blipped into normalcy, disturbing the evenness of the iconoclasm.  But in the end, the experience is saddening.  "Now that I've dropped out/ Why is life dreary dreary/ Answer query/ Timothy Leary, dearie" (sic), Claude comments.  But Dr. Leary never answers the weary query; and never will.

How could he?  Or anybody else?  The hot blood of youth today begins tired.  "Hey lady, can you spare a handout, something for a poor, young psychedelic teddy-bear like me? To keep my chromosomes dancing?"  Quite impossible.  The chromosomes react only to narcotic transfusions of drugs and iconoclasm, and even in Hair, the iconoclasm begins to cloy.  And the uplift is, well, somehow just a little square.  "I'm/  Uncle Tom and Aunt Jemima/  Voodoo zombie little black Sambo/  Resident of Harlem/  and President of/  the United States of Love". (sic)

The fun stuff here and there turns you on, with such oxymoronic posters as "Ronald Reagan is a Lesbian".  The ideological exhortations are pretty dreary, out of the poetry section of The Worker: "What do we think is really great/  To bomb lynch and segregate".  There is an element of self-doubt, as though the young authors know intuitively that the hocus-pocus is, somehow, done by rote.  "Hair hair/  Hair hair hair/  Hair hair hair/  Flow it/  Show it/  Long as God can grow it/  My hair/  let it fly in the breeze/  And get caught in the trees/  Give a home to the fleas/  In my hair".

The moralizing is, well, embarrassing.  One is here and there breathcatchingly suspicious that in spite of the occasional spoofing, there is a hint of self-seriousness.  "Oooooo, these boys love to dress up like this....I love them....I love all of you....I wish every mother and father would make a speech to their teenagers: 'Be whoever you whatever you want...just so you don't hurt anyone.'"

But the trouble, of course, is that you do hurt someone.  You hurt yourself, just to begin with.  Andre Malraux once put an end to a hectic discussion about the shortcomings of modern art by saying simply: "But that's the way our painters paint."

In a sense Malraux was quite right: if that is the way the painters paint, and this is the way a creative section of our youth writes musicals, then we must necessarily take them seriously.  What is interesting is less what comes out of the misdirection of their talents, than that they should choose so to utilize them.  Youth is very mixed-up, so what else is new?  Adults are very mixed up too, which is one of the reasons why the youth are as they are.  Let them be.  But the responsibility of the adult world is to hang on to one's sanity.  Seeing Hair makes one just a little prouder of middle class establishmentarian standards.

Copyright The National Review.

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