My fiancee and I saw a production of “Hair” today at the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset. I was very surprised at how talented the entire cast was and how well it was produced. We had seen “Hair in Concert” at the Patchogue Theater a while back, and not only had we been disappointed that it was presented as a concert rather than a coherent play, but the performances were not nearly as good or authentic. But there was one thing I hadn’t realized.
The movie, which I had previously seen, a couple of times actually, and which I just watched again tonight, is completely different from the stage play. I had known the character of Claude Bukowski as an innocent Oklahoma farm boy who was on his way to volunteering in the Vietnam Era army when he met a band of hippies and was changed by their lifestyle. I hadn’t known, when I criticized the Patchogue production, that in the original version he was one of the hippies and was drafted. I’m still considering which is more effective, but that’s not the point of writing this.
I realize “Hair” is superficial, but it always affects me emotionally. Each version in its own way could have sent a bolder anti-war message, but each did, nonetheless, send that message. What they also all implied is that the youth are the ones who can save us. In the time of “Hair” I was one of those youth. It was an era when we fought against an illegal war and virulent racism. Youth mobilized and effected change, a lot of its values, opposing war, violence, bigotry, materialism, etc., becoming mainstream in the culture… for a while.
Today, the U.S. is involved in 134 wars at last count. Some are outsourced to private or secret armies, and most are hidden from the American public, so as to not fuel another massive anti-war movement. The U.S. has been at war 224 out of its 242 years. And tens of thousands more bodies of young Americans, and hundreds of thousands of civilians of other countries have piled up since “Hair.” Meanwhile, racism has been on the rise again as well. In many ways, from the mainstreaming of White Nationalists to increases in racial inequalities and re-segregation to the tolerated level of bigotry among the populace, we are back in “Great” pre-1968 America. So, ultimately, our generation failed. And it IS up to the youth. Many of us from my generation, including me I’m afraid, are too worn to keep carrying the fight anymore. The world we fucked up is theirs now.
So I do choke up seeing a group of young people passionately singing “Let the Sun Shine In” at the end of the performance, just as I have been inspired to see millions of young people at the rallies against guns, bigotry, misogyny, anti-immigrant policies, war, attacks on the environment, oligarchy and Trump. History seems to move in twenty year cycles. A youth movement got started in the 1980’s but died out. And then an apathy bred of overload and hopelessness overran the natural idealism that society needs from its young people. It looks like that has finally changed, but will it last?
In some very real ways we sit on the precipice of fascism, with the electoral process, a free press, an independent judiciary, checks and balances over executive power, civil and equal rights, separation of church and state, marginalization of hate groups and truth all under attack. I hope when those performers I saw today so passionately singing and chanting and waving peace signs and clenched fists took off their wigs and sixties costumes, they went home, watched the news, and prepared to do it for real. Our “dying nation,” as the song says, desperately needs them.