Picking up where I left off with my last post, I saw Hair in Central Park last night. The two subjects - the play and the kidnapping story -- feel like bookends on an era, and I sat there watching all these extremely fit, extremely good singers and actors dancing away just a hop, skip and a jump from the Park's fabled Sheep's Meadow, and for all the toe-tapping, mood swaying tunes, I felt sad.
The New York Times review pointed out that the musical itself expresses the tenuous balance of youth -- self-discovery coming up against adult responsibility, freedom meeting consequence. That inevitable clash between sudden knew experience and its aftermath makes me, for one, happier to be close to 40 instead of 20, but still, that joy! Who doesn't miss that joy?
Yet while watching the show, I kept thinking about Slouching Toward Bethlehem, which I read last year, and the dislocation and confusion embedded in the bravado of the characters described in that essay (never mind Didion's brilliance in relating how she was writing on a combination of pain killers and gin), and how the exuberant characters in Hair could have turned into the pained characters of the essay.
And I kept thinking that this was all a long time ago. Hair is set in 1968, the year I was born. I would say something like "the more things change...." but I don't really think that things are the same now. The late 60s and early 70s, for all their self-indulgence and the participants' self-promotion, really did change a lot in this country, and a lot has changed in the world. Still, when some people talk about Hair, they make what feels to me, at least, to be a facile comparison between the unwanted war the United States was fighting then and the one we're fighting now. But Viet Nam and Iraq may share some broad features, but they're not the same
Instead of getting bogged down in all the geo-political differences, I'll just take the big difference in how these wars affected individuals. In Hair, the moment of truth comes when Claude, a leader of "the tribe" is pushed to burn his draft card and doesn't. There is no comparative moment for young men with this war, because there is no draft. The question of who did and did not serve in Iraq will not dog this nation for the next 40 years.
The questions that should dog this nation and its leaders for the next 40 years are more along the lines of what does power mean and what does war mean and what means of information gathering are acceptable in a democratic nation (yes, I'm still reading The Dark Side). The current leaders of this country, most of whom did not serve in Viet Nam even though they were of an age to do so, who say they abhor totalitarian leaders but, at least one of whom (the bald one), wishes to be just such a leader, have answered those questions in criminal ways. Somehow, I don't think 40 years from now anyone will be tapping their feet to a tune about Dick Cheney, unless it's a rock opera scored by Lou Reed's spiritual son about Cheney's trial for war crimes. I would say something like, "now that will be a toe-tapping good show," but right now it all feels too serious for jokes. We can look back at Hair and see at least some of the consequences, both negative and positive, of that era. So forty years from now, what consequences will our children bear? See, I just can't joke about that question.