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When Hair Was In My Head

When Hair Was In My Head

Associate Editor

Friday, September 19th, 2008

“Hair,” this summer’s “Shakespeare Festival” productionat Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, closed just last week but there’s talk of it going back to Broadway. Better yet, it should stay in Central Park, rather than be indoors. Outside, “Hair’s” mood matched the open sky, like stumbling upon a cluster of old friends from 1968 under the moon in a clearing amidst the trees.

“Hair,” someone pointed out, for all it’s defiance of Broadway in 1968, was also one of the last Broadway hits that cracked the hit parade.

Back in the day, whose parents didn’t have longplaying “original cast” recordings of “Camelot,” “My Fair Lady,” “Man of La Mancha,” and then in junior’s room, “Hair.”

Some teenagers who saw “Hair” in the park, were complaining to me afterwards that their generation is “so boring,” no dropping out, no trips (bad or otherwise), no burning draft cards, no being busted by cops in the park.

Hey, you know the old saying, “you don’t like the news, make your own.”

Bukowski, one of the two male leads, may have been a teenaged dropout but his artistic taste was far more sophisticated than what teens would get today on MTV and the like.

As he sings,

“Claude Hooper Bukowski

Finds that it’s groovy

To hide in a movie

Pretends he’s Fellini

And Antonioni

And also his countryman Roman Polanski

All rolled into one,

One Claude Hooper Bukowski,”

How many teenagers, in a mass market musical or summer blockbuster in 2008 would be depicted as fantasizing – even knowing — about Fellini, Antonioni or Polanski?

Funny, though, watching “Hair” I was much more sensitive to parents being depicted onstage as idiots now that I’m 56 and the father of three. Idiots is what I thought parents were in 1968, when I was 16 going 17, innocent as a thorn.

(A very young, pre-Woody Allen Diane Keaton played one of the parents in the original Broadway cast).

The show is more gay than I remembered it, the two leads, Burger and Bukowski being more in love with each other than with their girlfriends. Burger was actually nasty to his girlfriend. And Bukowski’s mother ends up being a man, somehow, underneath her dress.

Then I found a link to this excellent interview with James Rado in The Advocate , a leading gay paper. Rado and Gerome Ragni, who wrote the lyrics and book, and originated the roles of Burger and Bukowski, were, in fact, gay and in love, and so their on-stage alter egos were, yes, more in love with each other than anyone else, even if they had to be “saddled” with girlfriends because we’re talking 40 years ago.

(I think I just became the first Media Watch guy in a Jewish newspaper to refer readers to The Advocate. And what’s all this doing in a Jewish Week blog, anyway?)

What this has to do with being Jewish is the reminder that culture is more seamless than some would suppose. In the late 1960s, “Hair” was being listened to, and loved, by thousands of yeshiva students.

“Hair” and that culture’s diminishment of America as a country that was “finished” played no small part in inspiring many young American Jews to make aliyah. Many Jews turned summers in Israel (rather than California or the Village) into their “Summer of Love,” and those Israeli summers turned into many a winter, summer and spring. I’d wager that the ones who did head to Israel ended up ahead of those who headed for Haight-Ashbury.

Here’s an item from Yosef Ben Shlmo HaKohen (more familiar to many New Yorkers as Jeff Oboler, director of the Martin Steinberg Center for Jewish Artists until his aliyah, when he started going by his Jewish name), in which he remembers yearning for Jerusalem to be the San Francisco of the Scott Mackenzie hit, “If You’re Going to San Francisco (Flowers In Your Hair),” written by John Phillips.

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