Masaryk university brno faculty of education



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2.2 Social themes in Hair

“Ragni’s and Rado’s desire was to create a musical that would reflect the hippie life-style” (Knapp, 154), Jones writes “Hair was a fully fleshed-out theatrical depiction of the hippie counterculture and the New Left during the late 1960s” (249). And as such, it reflects the issues hippie culture was trying to warn against. This thesis will organize and discuss them one by one.



2.2.1 Pacifism

If there is some central theme in the musical, it definitely is pacifism, which is followed by the storyline. Claude obtained his draft card and has to decide what he would do about it – whether he would burn it or whether he would obey and think about what his parents and country need from him. While investigating his inner dilemma, Hair offers hippie view on war as complete nonsense and the worst crime. Songs such as “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, “Don’t put it down”, “Hare Krishna”, and the final “Let the Sun Shine In” reflect the hippie calling for peace.

Miller adds that “the first version of Hair was exclusively about war in Vietnam and other themes were added when the show was about to be moved to Broadway in 1968” (n. pag.). In the second version Claude’s dilemma about the war is the only dramatic through-line at least, highlighted both comically and dramatically by symbols of war in the drug trip in Act II.

2.2.2 Racism



Hair continued to speak out loud about racial segregation, building on tradition started by opera Porgy and Bess for example. What is more, the cast consisted from one third of African Americans whose characters were portrayed equal to white members of tribe. Hair ignored any demand on politically correct speech or politeness of society. It worked with racist labels very openly to show how ridiculous they are and wanted audience to face them.

Some Hair songs address racism or racial issues directly. “I’m Black” covers racism theme as a whole, “Colored Spade” consists in fact only of bad names, of racial slurs, “Dead End” in turn speaks of various examples of inequality of rights and racial discrimination expressed by street signs. “Black Boys / White Boys” wittily portrays relationship and mutual attractivity of people of various races. “Hair shocked the audience by showing how absurd, offensive, nonsensical and dangerous are the the language and behaviour society considered – and still consideres – normal” (Miller, n. pag.).



2.2.3 Sexual revolution and generation gap

In “Abie Baby” President Lincoln is performed by a black actress, what is one of moments where Hair touches the theme of sexual revolution, of women’s fight for equal rights. The hippies’ flag, their long hair, also should, according to Miller, symbolize rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles, celebrated again in the song “My conviction” (n. pag.).

“Black Boys / White Boys” is unorthodox for the sixties from the sexual revolution point of view. Women express their feelings about men in a way that was considered normal only the other way around. Hair clearly admits that women have same rights as men and not only in the field of expressing their feelings.

Sexual revolution is directly connected to a large generation gap that became apparent in the sixties and that is what the hippie movement was about. Mutual misunderstandings are illustrated in the song “Hair”. “My Conviction” which follows, sang by middle-aged woman, “defends the gaudy plumage of hippie youth” (Jones 249).



2.2.4 Nudity and sexual freedom

Nudity had a very important place in hippie culture. It expressed the overall idea of sexuality being healthy thing and its exposure nothing evil or harmful. Quite contrary, hippies blamed the suppression of nature for the evil thoughts of all previous generations. Being naked meant freedom, honesty and openness. Hair reflects it in the controversial naked scene at the end of the Act I, containing “male and female full-frontal nudity” (Wollman 7). Whereas until Hair stage nudity was relatively taboo, Wollman adds that after Hair’s success it became increasingly fashionable, especially on off-Broadway (7).

Sexual freedom theme is very close to that of nudity. Both celebrated the acceptance of who we are and what can we do with it - without being angry at ourselves. Both also worked with the element of pure love, spread through sex. Hair was not afraid to highlight the homosexual issue, by texts of songs and even by actions of characters.

2.2.5 Drug use

Psychedelic era, how the sixties are sometimes called, is a direct reference to almost glorified use of drugs and hallucinogens among hippies. It is a symbol of their giving up, their solution to every pain. They just used the drug and tried to enjoy emotions and expanded mind that it brought, without suffering the feeling of helplessness for everything that was wrong. Characters in Hair act in the same way. But what is more, the whole show tried to function as a kind of drug - psychedelic scenes, hallucinogenic dance and acting performances made it possible.

The audience could hear it in songs such as “Walking in Space” (with explicitly saying that two reason for taking drugs are total self-awarness and meeting God), “Donna” and “Hashish”. “Aquarius” lyrics are according to Knapp also inspired by the drug-based catalyst for achieving “golden living dreams of visions”, “mystic crystal revelations” and others (157).

2.2.6 Religion

Both Christianity and a wave of interest in eastern astrology are reflected in Hair. Rado’s Analysis states that “the hippies have checked the traditional ideas and ways of life and have freed themselves from the ordered narrowness of life; their uppermost ideal was the happiness and health of mankind (meditation, various types of body work, etc.)” (n. pag.).

Mystical astrology atmosphere is set from the very beginning by the opening song “Aquarius”, and later “Good Morning, Starshine” is all about astrology as well. The touch of mysticism was aimed to be felt from the show and the cast was carefuly chosen to meet the Zodiac sign of their character. “Claude’s birth sign is Aquarius and he is damned to genius and madness” (Analysis n. pag.).

Ritual was also very important to Hair, because of its spiritual roots. Miller writes, that “Aquarius” is a kind of “ritual summoning the tribe, formal calling together of its members” (n. pag.). Ritual is also used for the mock mass in “Sodomy”.

There are some references as well to Jesus Christ, who should be represented by Claude (seen as Hamlet, too, as discussed later). Apart from explicit lines about being God’s son or wanting to hang on a cross, Claude is blessing the audience while walking among them. Sometimes also his death is interpreted as a sacrifice for the other members of tribe. Miller claims, that “Where Do I Go” contains as much confusion as Christ had in the Garden of Gethsemane and he even makes connections between John the Baptist and Berger and Mary Magdalene and Jeanie (n. pag.). “Theme of sacrifice and redemtpion, or premature death, is frequent to rock music in general” (Hoggard 19), as can be seen in one of the following rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, as well.

Hair also touches the theme of hypocrisy in organized religion – in Catholic Church - of USA of the sixties. Same as with the calling for return to non-consumerism and nature it highlights return to the original pureness of religion, which can be found rather in eastern religious examples. The song “Donna” is, according to Miller, about looking for Virgin Mary, Madonna, for the true spirituality represented by her (n. pag.), even if it would be through mind-expanding drugs. “Sodomy” continues with this theme, satirizing the Catholic obsession with forbidding and controling everything connected to sex. The theme of such an objection is omnipresent in the script and apart from religion also expressed in rejection “of such institutions as marriage, honourable citizens or American flag” (Bártová 46).

2.2.7 Tribe and anti-consumerism

There are many references to tribe, tribal relationship and tribal life throughout the musical. This again reflects the approach of hippie counterculture and even develop the idea of tribalism from the musical’s own point of view. Both hippies and musical authors wanted to portray a disdain for consumerism and malign influence of civilization. Authors wanted the emotions of tribal belonging to be expressed properly, every cast had to choose its tribal name and practically lived together very closely.

“The Flash Failures” describes the wrong side of consumerism, that we do not stop to connect to others and are just obsessed by ourselves and our possession. But “somewhere inside, buried beneath all this, hidden deep down, there is greatness in the human race, that we have such potential, but that we have failed” (Miller n. pag.).

„Let the Sun Shine In” is then a call for action, call for a change of all this mistakes we have made because of our succumbing to consumerism and distancing from one another. Sun should brighten the darkness in us all to save us.

Hippies were also very interested in environment protection. The song “Air” addresses pollution, “extending the subject to include pollution of the body” (Knapp 161). Materials that hippies made their clothes of were nature-friendly, in concert of their return to innocence. “Air” speaks about what kinds of noxious gas can be found all around us and can irreversibly destroy tha nature and us as well.
If I can borrow words of Raymond Knapp, with themes that aroused indignation Hair’s mission was “on one side to serve as a kind of “teaching” and to gain greater understanding and support, on the other hand it in some cases provided an “in-your-face” exposure of verbal taboos (160). Hair as a whole could serve as encyclopaedia of the sixties.



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