William F. Buckley, Jr.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596

"This, folks, is the Psychedelic Stone Age," says Claude, in the Broadway musical production, Hair. Claude opens the show by declaring that "… I'm a genius genius / I believe in Gawd / And I believe that Gawd / Believes in Claude / That's me that's me." Of course, Claude doesn't believe in Gawd—nobody does in the cast of Hair, because they are far too sophisticated, provided one understands that paganism is sophistication….

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[A] great deal of energy—and talent—go into the production of this psychedelic extravaganza. It serves up everything from the shock-counter: boys love boys, American flags are desecrated, all those tired old four-letter words are used, there is male and female nudity, a leavening of sacrilege. The music and action are engagingly energetic, without having that frenetic feel which, like when Jimmy Durante starts breaking the piano, is a snakebite substitute for entertainment. The obscenities fail somehow to shock. The nudity is less remarkable by far than the posturings at the stripper joints. There are a few very false notes, as though an IBM programmer calculating a continuous shock, had accidentally blipped into normalcy, disturbing the even-ness of the iconoclasm. But in the end, the experience is saddening….

The hot blood of youth today begins tired. "Hey, lady, can you spare a handout, something for a poor young psychedelic teddybear like me? To keep my chromosomes dancing?" Quite impossible. The chromosomes react only to narcotic transfusions of drugs and iconoclasm, and even in Hair, the iconoclasm begins to cloy. And the uplift is, well, somehow just a little square….

The fun-stuff here and there turns you on, with such oxy-moronic posters as "Ronald Reagan is a Lesbian." The ideological exhortations are pretty dreary, out of the poetry section of the Worker: "What do we think is really great / To bomb lynch and segregate? / What do we think is really great? / To bomb lynch and segregate." There is an element of self-doubt, as though the young authors know intuitively that the hocus-pocus is, somehow, done by rote….

The moralizing is, well, embarrassing. One is here and there breathcatchingly suspicious that in spite of the occasional spoofing, there is a hint of self-seriousness. "Oooooo, these boys love to dress up like this…. I love them…. I love all of you…. I wish every mother and father would make a speech to their teen-agers: 'Be free … no guilt … be whoever you are … do whatever you want … just so you don't hurt anyone.'"

But the trouble, of course, is that you do hurt someone. You hurt yourself, just to begin with. André Malraux once put an end to a hectic discussion about the shortcomings of modern art by saying simply: "But that's the way our painters paint."

In a sense Malraux was quite right: if that is the way the painters paint, and this is the way a creative section of our youth writes musicals, then we must necessarily take them seriously. What is interesting is less what comes out of the misdirection of their talents, than that they should choose so to utilize them. Youth is very mixed up—so what else is new. Adults are very mixed up too, which is one of the reasons why the youth are as they are. Let them be. But the responsibility of the adult world is to hang on to one's sanity. Seeing Hair makes one just a little prouder of middle class establishmentarian standards.

William F. Buckley, Jr., "On the Right: 'Hair'," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1968; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. XX, No. 20, May 21, 1968, p. 519.

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