David Ewen

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

The psychedelic years of the late 1960's had a musical stage spokesman in Hair. The authors, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, have revealed that for two years they had been putting down random ideas for a musical about the chaotic world around them, the people they knew and loved, and the people and things they hated and rebelled against, and the various other vagaries and indiscretions of the younger generation in the Vietnam war years. Whenever the authors thought of something appropriate, they jotted it down on scraps of paper…. One suspects that the authors then threw all the slips of paper high in the air, let them fall pellmell, and then proceeded to write their text by picking up the pieces of paper at random and following the chain of thought in the same sequence in which those papers were so haphazardly picked up (very much in the way that some aleatory composers write their music).

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That's the kind of musical Hair is. In its outspoken revolt, it has even rebelled against the musical theater. It has no plot to speak of, no logical sequence of events, no train of thought, no recognizable format, no creative discipline, no shape or design. It's an explosion. Things are allowed to happen, however much some of these doings are unconventional or outright shocking. The dialogue is thick with profanity, and so are some of the song lyrics. The hippies, the love children, protest against war, racism, the draft, patriotism, morality, cleanliness, and most of all against middle-class values—all this and more are to be found in this highly unconventional musical. (p. 203)

Actually, while it would be euphemistic to call the goings-on a plot—just as it would be a misnomer to call the freewheeling stage antics choreography—there is some sort of a basic theme running through the production. The musical opens with "Aquarius" …, [which] suggests that mankind is progressing into an age when peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars. From then on, the musical goes on to condemn everything that is wrong with the Establishment and to praise everything that is right with the hippies and the love children. (pp. 204-05)

There is much more within the rest of the show to make the Establishment uncomfortable. There is … "Sodomy," which talks about various unsavory sexual practices, and wonders why words identifying them should sound so nasty. There is "I Got Life," where Claude glorifies his body, and the ensemble glorify theirs. There is "White Boys" (a wonderful spoof of the Supremes), in which a trio of girls wearing a single size-60 gown speak of the reaction of the Establishment to interracial sex practices. There is "Colored Spade," where Hud … calls the Negro every conceivable name he can think of. More appealing, however—and very much in the tender spirit of "Frank Mills" [is] "Easy to Be Hard." (p. 205)

David Ewen, "Musical Shows," in his New Complete Book of the American Musical Theater (copyright © 1958, 1959, 1970 by David Ewen; reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Publishers), Holt, 1970, pp. 1-606.∗

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