My Toga Made of Blond, Brilliantined Biblical Hair
This is an archival post from April 2010 migrated from my previous personal blog.
On a grainy April morning my partner and I trudged into the city centre to catch a 6am Megabus from Newcastle to London. In total, the return trip lasted around 14 hours.
The reason? Why, for the summer of lovin', of course. The exuberant Broadway revival of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is currently showing in London's West End (at the Gielgud Theatre), and the hippie spirit was, at least on that day and for all those involved, vigorously, hip-thrustingly alive.
As we waited in the lobby, we noted the apparent ordinariness of the crowd. A flash of tie-dye there, a strand of love beads there, perhaps (no, not those kind). Certainly, having been born long after the hippie counterculture heyday, I had never really experienced the excitement of 'be-ins' (protests held in the 1960s against issues such as U.S. interference in Vietnam and racism) and a time when long hair was truly controversial, intimating self-liberation rather than Metallica. The most ‘impressive’ claim to bohemianism I was in possession of was perhaps a slightly 'unconventional' uncle with some rather dubious ‘tobacco’ paraphernalia.
Our unworldliness was soon beaten out of us. Seeing the musical allowed us to appreciate the hippie counterculture in its original vibrant, carnivalesque context rather than from a dose of 'Ain't Got No, I Got Life' from a phony Müller pro-biotic advert.
There is an undeniable allure connected to such a time of excited unrest, an earthing of everything in relationships, self-definition and the ideology of living one's life on one's own terms. And I think that universality appeals not only to the ageing hippies we saw (now greying or completely bald rather than flaunting hair of biblical lengths), but the current young generation and everybody in-between. It was that very same allure, I'm certain, that impelled me to pick up a Jim Morrison biography as a 14-year-old who had never heard of the Doors or 'Light My Fire'.
|Tony Award nominee Will Swenson as Berger|
While the hippie counter-culture was certainly not without its issues, the dynamism of a grassroots movement rebelling against the pressing social concerns of the time – the Vietnam War, aggressive conservatism and a pre-social revolutionary society – is refreshing to see in a generation inundated by copious brands, hypersexualised pop and social media, but, in many cases, little real substance.
However, the majority of the crowd seemed to be older generations – the amount of ageing hippies only really became apparent when the coats came off in the theatre (which was transformed into a glorious rainbow of tie-dye) and the songs started (one rather grizzled fellow laughed in a raucously knowing manner when one of the hippies sang about rolling a joint before launching into 'Hashish').
And, while this was uplifting to see, it would be even better to see more young people take an interest in light of the War in Afghanistan and Iraq conflict (among many others) and a social, work and educational system that generally favours those that put their heads down and do as they're told. As Time magazine states, 'Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.'
My partner and I had an awesome time. The singing was world-class (I've heard the 1979 film versions; I'd say that these rivalled even those – though they weren't entirely immune to the tendency towards clean-shaven theatrical singing), the story simple but incredibly touching – and there's something strangely energising about American theatre... (see above photo). There was even a 'be-in' that invited the whole audience up onto the stage at the end for a squashed but spirited singalong. That night, we went away feeling like we had been a part of something really special.