1968. Greenwich Village. Coming-of-age hippie baby boomers strolling everywhere. The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical rails against the Viet-Nam War, flaunts drugs, glorifies free love and bisexuality, spews non-stop profanity, and parades nudity—all with an interracial cast. The finale is an audience invitation to join the fun on stage for a “Be-In.”
Hair reached well beyond the young baby boomers. The show runs on Broadway and London for almost 3000 performances. To accommodate the irreverence, Parliament strips the official theatre censor of his historic powers. Even boomer royalty joins in as 18-year-old Princess Anne cavorts on stage for the “Be-In.” Henry Kissinger, no fan of the couunterculture, attends in Washington, DC. and declares he had a good time.
There’s scattered but vocal opposition in the U.S. A few towns in Indiana, Texas, and Tennessee try to ban it. The producers have to wade through litigation to stage Hair in Massachusetts. U.S. Supreme Court decisions clear the way in two other states. A Mexican production opened across the street from a well-known brothel. It was a one-night run. The Government ordered the musical closed and cast members fled the country to avoid arrest. Baby boomers there had little of the influence their northern cousins enjoyed.
The plot, such as it was: a group of long-haired hippie malcontents live in New York City, fighting against conscription into the Viet-Nam war, which was pulling heavily from the baby boomers generation. The musical was an iconoclastic grenade tossed into Middle America. Among the song titles: Ain’t Got No Grass, Black Boys, Hare Krishna, Hippie Life and Sodomy. You’re not in Oklahoma anymore, Dorothy.
The tone is set early. A tourist strolls by the hippies and remarks that kids should “be free, no guilt” and do “whatever you want so long as you don’t hurt anyone.” She opens her coat to reveal that she’s a man in drag. The hippies call her Margaret Mead.
Toward the end of Act II, the “tribal” members sing of free love as they banter about who they’ll sleep with that night. Female white tribe members sing about their attractions to blacks while the female blacks wax poetic for “White Boys.” A chant goes up “Black, white, yellow, red. Copulate in a king-sized bed.”
A totally nude scene at the end of Act I, optional for performers, remained the most controversial part of Hair. The French stripped without hesitation, the Germans and English were more modest, with Americans in between. Melba Moore and Donna Summer had no qualms about baring all but Diane Keaton demurred.
Critics lauded Hair. One said that “nudity was a big part of the baby boomer hippie culture as a rejection of the sexual repression of their parents…They saw their bodies and sexuality as gifts, not as ‘dirty’.”
Hair’s success is symbolic of the baby boomer irony: an unbridled critique of bourgeois capitalistic values turns into financial success.
♦ Ted Lange (Love Boat), Keith Carradine, and Diane Keaton were in the original New York production. Los Angeles hosted it for two years featuring Ben Vereen and Meat Loaf. A movie version of Hair was released in 1979 starring Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo, and John Savage.
♦ Age of Aquarius, theme song of Hair, won Billboard Record of the Year and topped the Pop Singles chart for 6 weeks in 1969.
♦ By the 1980s, the boomer counterculture had calmed down enough for Ford to co-opt the song Aquarius to promote its Aerostar model.
♦ In 2008, there was a successful Broadway revival. Nostalgic baby boomers relive the good old days with their children, even grandchildren.