Whatever Happened to the Hair Revolution

Seeing the Music Circus revival of the rock musical “Hair” last week (see E. Haig’s review, also posted at www.mealsfromthemarketplace.com today) got me thinking about all the counter-culture issues that are depicted in the show. In the almost fifty years since Gerome Ragni and James Rado attempted to capture the idealism and revolutionary spirit of their generation in their musical, much has changed in American society and much hasn’t.

Here’s where I think we are now compared to where we were then (circa 1968) on the issues that mattered so much to those of us who lived through that era.

Vietnam – Richard Nixon was elected as an anti-war candidate in 1968, or at least that’s how he sold himself to the electorate, claiming he had a secret plan to end the war. That plan was Vietnamization, which saw U.S. forces gradually reduced from the high point of 550,000 when Nixon took office. With the signing of the peace treaty in 1973, the last U.S. troops left the country. Two years later Vietnam was united as the South surrendered to the North.

The U.S. stayed out of another shooting war for seventeen years (discounting minor engagements in Grenada and Lebanon during the Reagan administration). Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait led to the first Gulf war; 9/11 led to the war in Afghanistan; and George W. Bush, clearly no student of history, initiated the war in Iraq.

Student protests against any of those conflicts have been nearly non-existent, suggesting that Dubya wasn’t the only one who learned nothing from the debacle of Vietnam.

Civil rights – Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated the week that “Hair” opened on Broadway. His struggle has moved forward, to be sure. Miscegenation, for example, was still prevalent in 1968, with many states only having had their laws against inter-racial marriage declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court a year earlier.

Today, pockets of the country today still harbor bigoted attitudes. In parts of the rural south, the Ku Klux Klan still exists. The recent police killings of black men in cities throughout the country confirm the belief that to be black in America one has to abide by a different code of conduct. And voter suppression laws, while they may be politically motivated, have the clear effect of reducing black enfranchisement.

Black power is no longer the code for the most radical elements of the civil rights movement, but in the current “Black Lives Matter” protests, there are tinges of the same desire to find acceptance and equality. That young white people seem to be less than fully engaged in the cause is not the legacy that the young people of the “Hair” generation would have wanted.

Of course, the major thrust in civil rights in recent years has been for equality for the LGBT community, and in that area, clear advances have been made that would make the attitudes prevalent in 1968 appear almost incomprehensible.  The closest identification with homosexuality in “Hair” is in the semi-comical portrayal of Woof, who is madly in love with the image of Mick Jagger.  Yes, we’ve certainly come a long way in that particular struggle.

Sexual liberation – The outbreak of AIDS certainly put a crimp in the new attitudes about sex that grew out of the anti-establishment tenor of the times. It just wasn’t all that healthy to be promiscuous when your sex partner might be infected with a communicable disease that would kill you if you caught it. That fear has been largely eliminated with the drug cocktails that have been developed to fight HIV, but I’m told that condoms or other forms of protection are still de rigueur for casual mating.

Even so, the old mores and taboos that the sexual revolution sought to destroy are largely rejected by most young people today. At least that would be my assessment, what with “hooking up” even passé for many. The new catch phrases might be, “if it feels good, do it”; “if it looks good, go for it.” And while the right to marry has been a big deal for the gay community, straight Americans seem much more concerned about their right to un-marry or not to get married at all.

Sexism – Women have definitely come a long way in the last five decades.  Then, the thought of a woman making a serious run for the presidency was pretty much a dream and little more.  Women had barely started to hold major positions in large corporations.  Law schools and medical schools were scantily populated with female students.  Women still suffer from unequal pay in many corporate positions, but the glass ceiling has been cracked if not shattered.

Religion – Fewer Americans subscribe to traditional religions now than ever before, which marks a sharp turn from the attitudes prevalent in 1968. The Hare Krishna phase came and went. Ditto the nothingness of Zen. Catholicism is dominant on the Supreme Court (where six of the sitting Justices are practicing Catholics), but it is far less popular in the rest of the country.

Non-belief is still a political third rail, but the numbers of non-believers (especially when coupled with the “nones” and “decline-to-states”) may be creeping towards a significant percentage, if not the majority, of the religious identities recognized in the country.

At the same time, religious fundamentalism is still strong in parts of the country, so strong, in fact, that the anti-abortion movement (largely fueled by religious convictions) is successfully pushing for restrictive legislation in many states.

The environment – Earth Day was a quaint way to recognize the desirability of protecting the environment, but the movement it was supposed to spawn was pretty much a flop.  At some point, global warming became a legitimate concern, but the backlash against it was intense.  Now we talk about “climate change” and note the ever increasing world-wide temperatures and the melting glaciers.  Meanwhile the rain forests continue to disappear at alarming rates, more and more species are declared endangered, if not extinct, and water is becoming a commodity more precious, and in some regions far less plentiful, than oil.

Drugs – Marijuana acceptance is gaining slowly but steadily in mainstream America, but use of it has largely been either accepted as a basic rite of passage for young people or is largely ignored in favor of the newer synthetics or the heavier old standbys like cocaine, meth, and heroin.

But make no mistake, alcohol is still the prime drug of choice for most Americans, and where beer commercials in 1968 were largely limited to Budweiser and Miller Lite, now Sam Adams alone offers upwards of 80 different brews. Wine drinking has also become a major economic driver, with wineries cropping up in every nook and valley.

Hair – Long hair was stylish for a while; now it’s returned to counter-culture status. Fashion is in; retro is out. Today’s version of a hippie, if there is such a thing, is far more likely to have tattoos all over his or her body than to be concerned about the length of his or her hair.

Fashion – At the height of the Vietnam protests, it was hip to wear Army fatigues and jeans with peace symbols on them.  You don’t much of that anymore, unless one of the hot spots like Urban Outfitters are carrying something akin to those togs with a designer label.

Rock – Call me an old timer, and by my chronological age I certainly qualify as one, but the era of “classic rock” has passed into the realm of golden oldies. In its place, we have the second or third generation of hip hop, and the fourth or fifth iteration of glam rock and its ilk. The legacy of the sixties rock scene may have reached its zenith in the mid-70s with groups like Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Steely Dan and Chrissie Hynde’s Pretenders and solo artists like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.

Since then, as with much of the idealistic passion of the Hair generation, it’s been pretty much all downhill.

“Hair” at Music Circus – E. Haig’s Review

When “Hair” first opened on Broadway in 1968 it created a buzz among theater-goers and critics, and not just because it featured a brief moment of full nudity late in its first act. Created by Gerome Ragni and James Rado (book and lyrics, with music by Galt MacDermott), “Hair” was the first concept musical as well as the first Broadway hit that celebrated rock and the counter-culture that had always surrounded that form of popular music.

As popular as “Hair” was on Broadway and throughout the world when it first opened, and as popular as revivals of it are even now (it enjoyed a very successful Broadway revival in 2009), it had only been performed once (in 1976) at Sacramento’s Music Circus before it was scheduled again last week (in the Wells Fargo Pavilion). Perhaps its radicalism is deemed too severe for the staid and conservative audiences that have made Music Circus as popular in its 65th year as it has ever been.

But last week’s production, masterfully directed by Glenn Casale and performed before sold-out audiences (many of whom were single-ticket buyers), might suggest that the show should be reprised more often. At least, it should be if as vibrant and talented a cast can be assembled as graced last week’s stage.

Among the standout performances in the 24-member ensemble cast were those of Oliver Thornton as Claude, Peter Saide (Berger), Laura D’Andre (Sheila), and Bryonha Marie Parham (Dionne). James Michael Lambert (Woof), Stephanie Micko Cohen (Jeanie), and Omari Tau (Hud) were also impressive, as were the others in the “tribe” who sang and danced throughout the two hour performance.

As a concept musical, the storyline is light, almost to the point of being non-existent. That fact takes some getting used to if you’re seeing the play for the first time, or, like us, haven’t seen it for a long time. The first act consists primarily of a string of short songs that feature individual members of the “tribe.” Each is his or her own stereotypical hippie of the era with his or her own issue or cause.

Over the course of the first act, the songs touch on the various elements of the counter-culture that are addressed again in the second act. These include the sexual revolution, the anti-war movement, long hair, drugs, racism, sexism, the environment, and religion (Buddhism and Hare Krishna positively, Catholicism not so much). The first act also contains the aforementioned shocking display of nudity, which Mr. Casale included in last week’s production. It was well staged with dim lighting that allowed clear views without suggesting any erotic appeal.

The second act has more thematic substance to it, centered on the issue of whether Claude will honor his draft notice or burn his draft card. The act is enlivened by an extended “trip” of sorts that the members of the tribe take, courtesy of a drug Berger distributes to all of them. During that trip, Mr. Casale made excellent use of video projections on the back walls of the hall that showed scenes of the youthful rebellion and Vietnam War protests of the period.

Among the musical highlights in this excellent production were the opening “Aquarius” by the ensemble, “Hair” (Mr. Thornton, Mr. Saide and the ensemble), “Easy to be Hard” (Ms. D’Andre), “Good Morning, Star Shine” (Ms. D’Andre and the ensemble), and the uplifting “Let the Sunshine In” (Mr. Thornton, Ms. D’Andre, Ms. Parham and the ensemble) that ends the production.

The musical direction by Dennis Castellano featured a strong 9-piece band that included two guitars and two trumpets. The choreography, at times robust, was arranged by Dana Solimando. Costumes (those worn by the actors—many in the audience fashioned their own) were designed by Mark Koss. Scott Klier designed the sets, which were a celebration of hippiedom. Hair, wig and makeup designs were by Christine Conklin. All added immeasurably to the success of this very well executed paean to rock’s idealism and the generation that embraced it.

The Ultimate Threat of the Islamic State

The true horror of the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, a.k.a. ISIL) may be only now beginning to seep into the national consciousness. In a shocking New York Times’ exposé last week, the details of the sex slavery that is not only condoned but encouraged by the terrorist group were revealed. The Times’ reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, met with very young women (as young as 12 years old) who had recently escaped from captivity in Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State has control over large areas of land and the people who live there.

“Every time he came to rape me, he would pray,” a 15-year-old girl told the reporter (one of several to provide the same kind of report). That particular girl had been captured on Mount Sinjar in Iraq. She was then sold, as a slave, to a fighter in his 20s.

“He said that raping me is his prayer to God,” the girl told Callimachi. The prayers are offered before and after the rapes, the rapists believing, apparently, that they are following the will of God (Allah) as dictated in the Quran under the interpretation of that holy book that these assailants accept. Another rapist told his victim that having sex with her “pleases God.”

The girls interviewed were mostly Yazidis, a small religious minority that the hierarchy of the Islamic State considers a heathen religion pursuant to this particular interpretation of the Quran. Captured Yazidi men were executed, according to the Times’ report.

We’re dealing with the most extreme form of Shariah law in these acts, and they may be limited to the Yazidis, who, unlike Christians and Jews (who suffer less severe punishment when captured because they are “People of the Book”), are the most despised unbelievers in the eyes of the Islamic State followers. But even Muslims can be subjected to punishment if they deviate from the version of Shariah law that the leadership of Isis is promulgating.

Another girl in the Times’ report gained her freedom after her “master” told her that he had completed his training as a suicide bomber and was now ready to blow himself up. Hence, he told the girl, he was setting her free.

So, who are these people? And how is the Islamic State gaining ever more adherents and soldiers in its war?

Many of them are misguided idealists like Jaelyn Young and Muhammad Dakhlalla, students at Mississippi State University who were arrested last week and charged with planning to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. She was a cheerleader, an honor student, and the daughter of a police officer, who wanted to be a doctor. He was her fiancé, an easy-going psychology student whose father is a Muslim patriarch who is described as “a walking advertisement for Islam as a religion of tolerance and peace.”

If the charges against these two young people (she is 19; he’s 22) are true, they represent the youthful idealism that can be attracted to an organization that appeals to their simplistic view of their religion. In that regard, they are not unlike followers of any cult or sect that plays on emotions and idealistic aspirations. The Jim Jones followers who died in the Jonestown massacre in 1978 come to mind. They literally “drank the Kool-Aid.”  Young people like Ms. Young and Mr. Dakhlalla are figuratively drinking it as well, as are the suicide bombers and the rapists, presumably.

Roger Cohen, in a recent Times’ OpEd, posits that it is the order and lack of freedom that the Islamic State provides that is attractive to the young people who, in droves, are seeking to join the cause. “The Islamic State,” Cohen says, “is tapping into a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom.” He suggests that in our liberalization of just about everything (religion, marriage, divorce, sex, drugs, even the right to die) there may appear to be, to these particular young idealists, few, if any, moral boundaries left.

So we may have a rejection of moral ambiguity in the minds of these young people. Or they may all just be dupes of a propaganda operation that is far more sophisticated than the archaic fundamentalism of the ideology that spawns it. Whatever the attraction, it is becoming abundantly clear that this movement cannot be defeated solely with military weaponry.

In this regard, the recent claim by Jeb Bush that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are to blame for the rise of ISIS is laughable, albeit it’s a clever political move. Bush has stumbled repeatedly over the question of whether his brother’s decision to invade Iraq was a mistake. Most recently he again said that the U.S. is clearly better off without Saddam Hussein in power. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Saddam Hussein, for all the crimes he may have perpetrated on his own people, was an absolute enemy of any fundamentalist terror organization because of the threat it would have presented to his own rule.

He was, in essence, the classic example of the dictator who furthered U.S. interests to the detriment of his own people. In most instances in the Cold War era, those dictators were right-wing military leaders who kept communist uprisings in check.  Saddam served the same purpose, and would have so continued to do so, with respect to groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.

But Jeb is using the claim that Obama is the culprit to take the focus away from his brother’s act of international lawlessness (which is what the invasion of Iraq was, let there be no doubt). And that act, not Obama’s commitment to end the Bush war in Iraq (a commitment that Bush himself made), is what allowed ISIS to become the threat it is today.

Where Obama and most probably Hillary are wrong is in believing that the Islamic State can be defeated on the military battlefield. ISIS is a form of perverse zealotry. It attracts the naïve and the idealistic young people who want to believe in their religion in its purest form. They are Islam’s born-agains, if you will, and they will not be dissuaded by massive military might.

E. Haig’s Review of “Strong Inside”

Just about every American knows about the courageous fight Jackie Robinson waged in integrating major league baseball. Robinson, who was the first African-American player to “break the color barrier” in American professional sports, is said by many to have done at least as much to overcome racism in America as Martin Luther King, Jr. did two decades later.

But as late as 1965, almost two decades after Robinson integrated baseball, the South was still segregated in college basketball and still very much in the grip of Jim Crow attitudes. It was then that another pioneer, a young man named Wallace Perry, became the first black player to integrate the Southeastern Conference when he played as a sophomore center for the Vanderbilt University Commodores’ basketball team. In “Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South,” author Andrew Maraniss recounts the battle against bigotry and hatred that an idealistic young man from Nashville, Tennessee, waged.

It’s a gripping tale, one that easily matches the more well-known struggles Robinson experienced as the first black major league baseball player. Wallace had been a star in his segregated high school, where he learned to leap and dunk, thereby establishing himself as a star (even though he only stood 6’5”, short by today’s standards for a center). He set rebounding records in high school and led his team to a state-wide championship in his senior year.

He was by then being sought by several schools in the north, including Purdue, where he was tempted to enroll. But his parents were anxious for him to stay in Nashville (primarily so they could see him play), and when Vanderbilt offered him a scholarship, naively ignoring the racism he would encounter, he accepted. He did not think of himself as a trailblazer as he entered the university. His primary motivation was the education he wanted to receive. (Wallace went on to law school after graduating from Vanderbilt, and is now a law professor at American University in DC.)

But he did become a trailblazer in his three years as a varsity player for Vanderbilt. He led his team to winning seasons despite being treated poorly by his own teammates. One compelling event told by Maraniss epitomizes his experience. After being hit hard by an opposing player in the first half of a game, Wallace had to retire to the dressing room to get first-aid. None of his teammates showed any real concern, and when he came back for the second half of the game, they essentially ignored him. Still, he led the team to victory in the game.

Like Robinson before him, Wallace was subjected to hateful receptions when Vanderbilt played at some of the SEC gyms (Mississippi and Mississippi State, especially, according to Maraniss). Racial epithets were common and death threats were not infrequent. On several occasions, he admitted to being very scared, but he continued to play, despite the less than full support he got from his teammates and coaches. (In this regard, his experiences were worse than those of Robinson, who was at least openly welcomed by Dodgers’ captain Pee Wee Reese in a famous public display during Jackie’s rookie season.)

The book is an excellent reservoir of the history of the times, showing the latent bigotry of major figures in college basketball like Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, who condescended to the arrival of black players primarily because they made his team better. It also reflects how much the South (and the country) has progressed in the fifty years since Wallace’s breakthrough years at Vanderbilt.

And, for those who are fans of the game, the book spares little in its review of the key games that Wallace played, both in high school and college. There are many passages that are devoted entirely to recounts of particular games of note, and they are written much as a newspaper reporter would write up an account of a game for a morning paper.

So, for many reasons, “Strong Inside” is a highly readable book about an important figure in the civil rights movement, one who deserves much more attention and credit than he had received before Maraniss shed light on him.