Hair: A Very Short Review

The production I saw this weekend was at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.  I had considered taking it in on Broadway, but I was in New York with my son.  He is both too old and too young for it — whereas I am old enough to remember the first time Hair was on Broadway! 

This is the first time I’ve seen it staged, but like everyone else I know much of the score, songs than aired on the radio or that were sold on 45s  — forty years ago.  Augh!  Let’s focus on something less depressing.  Hair is an almost perfect example of what passes for a plot-free musical — the other one that pops instantly to mind is Company.  There in fact always is some plot in a musical, otherwise it’s a cycle of songs or an operetta or some such.  But nothing much happens for long stretches of Hair.  The show is a showcase of the lifestyle and antics of a ‘tribe’ of hippies — great fun and full of energy, but if you want plot you had better go for Shakespeare or Ibsen.

The only conflict — it’s not really a story — is the decision that Claude (in the picture in the white shirt) has to make, now that he’s been drafted.  Does he continue to bum around smoking dope and being groovy, burning his draft card, or does he join the US Army?  The pros and cons to both paths are clear.  In the Army Claude expects to go to his death in Vietnam, but life with the Tribe is not satisfactory either.  He knows that the hippie life is a dead end.  In the end, obscurely fueled by a bad drug trip, he joins up.

And this allows us to finally see what the musical is about.  We are all familiar with what that question means, right?  The first time you ask, “But what’s it about?”, you are asking about plot. In the previous paragraph I’ve summarized it.  But the second time you ask “But what’s it about?”, you are asking for theme.   And the theme of Hair is the distorting effect of  the Vietnam war and the draft, on young people of that time.  It suggests that the entire hippie/yippie movement was a reaction to it.  If the Vietnam war had been better prosecuted, or aborted earlier, or simply sold more effectively to the American people, there would have  been no ‘youth movement’ in the late ’60’s.

And that thesis makes Hair powerfully relevant for us, today.  I mentioned that my son would not have enjoyed Hair.   This is because he is 21 years old and in ROTC, and is looking forward with what I can only term annoying confidence  to going to Afghanistan.  The world has flipped right over, 180 degrees, since this musical was first staged.  To which an ageing hippie mom can only say, let the sunshine in, son!  Give peace a chance!

A short story has just been added to my Bookshelf:

Or read an entire novel!


Posted in Music, Reviews permalink

About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Hair: A Very Short Review — 4 Comments

  1. the theme of Hair is the distorting effect of the Vietnam war and the draft, on young people of that time

    I think you’re right, Brenda, but I would argue that some other things factor in, including the Civil Rights movement. And it’s hard for anyone who wasn’t growing up in that era to understand how pivotal the War was.
    Twenty five years ago (!!) when I was working a brief stint in admin at an investment bank, I had lunch with one of my co-workers. She was a sweet, marshmallowy little thing, but in the course of the conversation I found out that she was in the Army Reserves. The big cognitive dissonance was: little blonde marshmallowy girl with a gun? But what came out of my child-of-the-sixties mouth was “Why?” I don’t recall what her answer was (still stuck on the little.blonde.marshmallow+gun thing) but eventually we got around to me saying something like, “Wow, no one I knew would have joined the Reserves.” And she opened her large blue eyes very wide and asked why not, and then, before I could answer, said, “Oh, that’s right. You had that war. I never understood about that war.”
    I felt an obscure need to say “honestly, I was no where near the place,” but really what I thinking of was my senior year in high school (which was also, I think, the last year of the draft) when a bunch of friends sat in my living room, holding hands and watching the numbers being called, flinching with each one. It was a very, very strange time.

  2. It would be an utterly alien culture to my son, a child of the 9-11 era. He is now the exact cognate of Claude’s hidebound parents, only they said “The Army will make a man out of you!” while he is saying, “The Army will make corned beef hash out of Osama bin Laden, and serve him on toast points!” Meanwhile I’m left helplessly sticking daisies into the muzzle of his M-16.

  3. Yes, that’s the one. However he’s not as bad as his sister, Osama’s Bane, so one must be grateful for small mercies.