“Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair … shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen. Give me down-to-there hair, shoulder length or longer, flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, hair!”
We’re not talking about my hair actually, even though it’s usually a little long. We’re talking about “Hair,” the musical. It’s back, at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through Thursday — brash, rowdy and, fortunately, as outrageous and funny as ever. The full title is “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”
But for people like me, who are no longer at any risk of being called young, all you need to say is “Hair.” For us, that one word will trigger words and music that were seared into the collective American consciousness 40 years ago and will never fade. For all the 1970-or-later babies, a little context might be useful.
Yes, it’s true, these are troubled times, with two wars, an economy on life-support and people around the world who are dying to blow themselves up. But those of us who experienced the 1960s in their full-on, tie-dyed bloom may be a little less worried than those who didn’t. It’s not that the issues then were more important or serious or scary than the issues now, but the protests surrounding them were much louder — and way wilder. America’s social seams were being ripped apart over a gender revolution, drugs, huge demonstrations against the Vietnam War and in support of civil rights. There were also riots in cities across the country, the likes of which haven’t been seen since, including post-Rodney King.
Everything we thought we knew about who we were and how we were supposed to act was turned on its head and shaken real hard. No one had a clue what sexual revolution or LSD or hippie meant in 1964, but we were totally clear in 1968. By 1969, if you saw a crowd around an open fire in the middle of the street, you didn’t bother calling anyone. You just walked or drove around it. It had to be either draft cards, American flags or bras going up in smoke, and if you stopped for every demonstration you saw, you’d never get anywhere.
In April 1968, at the height of the social firestorm, a new musical called “Hair” opened on Broadway. When people saw it, they weren’t surprised, they were stunned. It was an outrageous, brilliant, revolutionary anthem that not only dared to say what a lot of people had been thinking about almost every explosive issue of the day, but did it in a wildly funny and clever way. Conservatives and the establishment crew were outraged and dead certain that it had come directly to Broadway from hell or at the very least, some Godless commie country, even though they hadn’t actually, well, seen it.
The few buttoned-up peeps who dared buy a ticket, or the album — an “album” was a recording of sound on a vinyl disc — discovered something amazing. They were of course totally disgusted by the long hair and sexuality and hippie nonsense, but as hard as they tried, they couldn’t help laughing, hard, and tapping out the rhythm with the body part of their choice.
But the most brilliant thing about “Hair” was the title itself. That single, four-letter word was the perfect code for everything that was going on in the ‘60s. If you had long hair, you were one of them … those long-haired, hippie, drug-crazed, communist sympathizers. You were also dirty and smelly, but that was a separate issue. Real women had hair like June Cleaver, or for those a little more daring, Donna Reed. Real men had hair that was high and tight, preferably a crew-cut, a clear sign that you were an upstanding, productive citizen and that you loved this country. Short hair — good person, high morals, excellent values; long hair — drug-crazed hippie, cannot be trusted, should leave country immediately. You were your hair, and your hair was you.
Beyond the title, the music and lyrics left most people speechless. We just hadn’t heard anything remotely like it before. Need a little poetry? Try “How Can People Be So Heartless?” Need a laugh? Try “Happy Birthday, Abie Baby,” in which three ringers for Diana Ross and the Supremes sing the praises of Abraham Lincoln:
“Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers, I mean all our forefathers, brought forth upon this continent a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the one I love … I mean, dedicated to the proposition that all men, and I tell you all men, honey, are created equal.”
But maybe the most amazing thing about “Hair” is that more than 40 years later, it is as relevant and shocking and above all, as funny as it ever was. If you’ve seen it, go see it again, if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself. The “Age of Aquarius” may be gone, but a good musical goes on and on. Good morning, starshine. The Earth says, “Hello.”
I gotta go.
PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at email@example.com.