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Hair (The Musical)

May 6, 2010

Hello my loyal readers, another week down in this 2010 of ours.  Pretty big week too: huge ass oil spill that’s getting worse by the hour; primary elections in a few states; a hideous Arizona law that refuses to leave the front burner; another anti-gay mouthpiece caught with a male prostitute, although allegedly not because he wanted to put his mouth on the prostitute’s piece; and a fairly big story coming out of New York City.  My better half and I were celebrating our two-year anniversary in the City this past weekend.  We stayed in a swank hotel in the Upper East Side (The Surrey Hotel—I’m shamelessly plugging them because they were awesome), about half a block from Central Park.  Our dog was over the moon, grass as far as his admittedly low level eyes could see.  And ironies of ironies, we went to see Hair on Saturday night.  The theater was at 45th and 8th, and that same evening a shoddy car bomb was found at 45th and 7th.  Yup.  One long block from the action and we were tapping our toes to Let The Sun Shine In.  When we left the theater, there were police cars, fire trucks, uniformed folks with bullhorns giving muffled directions, and piles and piles of people.  Just a Saturday night in Times Square we thought.  The next morning we were sitting with our wonderful dog at a bench by the park and were approached by a reporter who told us what had happened the night before.

And the thing was, I wasn’t really worried at all.  Possibly because the bomb would have turned the car into a fire ball instead of leveling a city block or two, or possibly because nothing happened.  We have had the underwear bomber and the failed car bomber, and the “hawks” are crying out for . . . what, exactly?  Both of these guys started talking, without waterboarding, torture, or Guantanamo.  Because they have both been Mirandized we can try them in an American court of law.  The Times Square wanna-be started giving out information almost immediately.  We get what we need, indict him, try him, convict him, imprison him, The End. 

The Rule of Law is a tricky thing folks.  It’s not easy, and it’s even more important when it’s hard as hell.  The First Amendment, the Constitution, our beloved Bill of Rights, and our justice system, all these things have gotten us through 230 years of growing and now is not the time to abandon them.  Joe-go-away I’m looking at you.  Following the Rule of Law gives a society stability, and stability is critical.

When I think about all of these events, it strikes me that the musical Hair continues to be relevant in ways that perhaps weren’t even intended when it was being written in 1964.  For those of you that have not yet seen it, I highly recommend the theater version first.  The movie is not bad, but the theater is something else.

Hair takes place in 1967 in New York City and concerns a group called “the tribe.”  They are nominally long-haired hippies but they’re politically active and concerned about Vietnam, sexual revolution, race relations, and the transition from their parent’s generation into one they create for themselves.  One of the members of the tribe, Claude, has his draft number called and the story surrounds his decision-making process as to whether to burn his card or go into the army.  I will not give away the end, but the finale song, “Let the Sun Shine In” (the link is a two-fer with Aquarius) is in my top 5 songs of all time.

Hair was revived on Broadway last year, and it’s great.  I saw in in 1994, and it’s just as good as I remember (which is saying something, how many of us went to awesome things as kids that turned out to be less than satisfying as adults?  This cartoon notwithstanding.).  But the messages of Hair are still relevant today, in some completely new ways.  Race, like it or not, is still an incredibly strong theme in today’s world, as is war, and the power of group-think.  The tribe, while a peace-loving group, definitely pushes Claude to burn his card, move to Canada, whatever it takes to get away from Vietnam and its horrors.  But there is also the larger society, including Claude’s parents, pushing him to fulfill his responsibility to join the army.  And Claude spends most of the show torn between the two sides.

This push to abandon our Constitution because of political expediency is incredibly disheartening to me.  Preying on people’s fears is unjustified.  We are struggling with an undertoe of people that want to have racial profiling, military tribunals, citizens stripped of their citizenship so that they don’t get due process (never mind the due process required before we strip them), and a host of other “justified” laws and actions that, at the end of the day, only remove us from our humanity.  We must do better.

The wikipedia entry for Hair is comprehensive in a way that this blog is not, so I highly recommend checking it out.  Lots of footnotes, which makes me feel a lot better about the entry as well.  But I also urge you to go see Hair, and let the message in the music wash over you.  It really is quite an experience.

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