Hair in Europe
by Gene Lees
High Fidelity - July 1969

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Montreux, Switzerland - I've seen hair three times now.  I saw the original Greenwich Village edition of the show, then the Broadway version.  Recently Polydore records - which recorded the British version of the show - flew the London company, at a cost of over $50,000, to Montreux for a one night performance of the show before television officials and performers assembled for the Rose d'Or Festival, which is devoted to TV variety shows.

For the city of Montreux, conservative and quiet, the show was a scandale.  At least it was before it's presentation.  Several days previously, the Protestant pastor telephoned the festival officials to protest.  Evidently, he'd heard about the nude scene in Hair.

Much has been written about that scene, which comes at the end of the first act, most of it silly.  Groucho Marx said he went home and looked at himself naked in the mirror and tried to figure out why anybody would pay hard cash for such a sight.  Jack Benny, who saw Hair in London, was quoted as observing that the scene passed so quickly that he didn't have time to tell if there was a good Jewish boy in the cast.  These observations may be amusing, but they are irrelevant.  The real nature and significance of the scene seems to have gone unobserved by everyone.

Before we get into that, I want to define my position on the "moral" issue of Hair: I don't think there is one.  I've advocated sexual freedom since I first thought of it, at the age of twelve.  The Neanderthal attitude of policemen and the courts to sex has disgusted me ever since, as a cub reporter, I heard a cop boasting of how he'd smashed a man's teeth in after observing what form of affection he was practicing on his girl in a parked car.  In sum, I am not only not aligned with conventional sexual morality, I am opposed to it.  What Hair seems so heatedly to advocate is something I've believed and practiced, in company with most adults I know, for most of my life.  As for it's eager advocacy of pot-smoking, I smoked it for years, until I discovered that champagne was a better high.  I would estimate that half the adults I know smoke grass, and have for years.  Perhaps the people who made and appear in Hair would like to think the "adult" world is uptight about the issue, but I don't think it is.  Hair attacks only straw men, and by no stretch of the imagination is it daring.

In Paris, a riotously funny show called Les Conciles d'amour is causing a certain amount of talk - but less than Hair caused in New York.  It's characters include God, portrayed as a dreary old man who only wishes he could die; Jesus, a blood stained and whining wreck of a man who surrenders to anything God wants (saying "Oui Papa") when the latter threatens to send him back to the earth of men as a punishment; and Satan, who walks with a limp because he broke his leg in the Fall.  These are seedy and disreputable-looking characters.  Pope Alexander III, on the other hand, is luxuriously attired. God tells Satan he wants to find something suitable to punish the despicable human race.  satan comes up with an idea: syphilis.  Syphilis appears onstage as a beautiful and voluptuous woman.  The Pope goes after her, flinging open his robes to reveal a huge (plastic) organ covered with polka dots.  He flings her down, and thus becomes history's first syphilitic.

Now that, i think we can agree, is a reasonably iconoclastic show. hair by contrast tippy-toes around issues that are already passé.  Even the staid New York Times recently carried an article in it's magazine saying that grass isn't that bad for you!  Comparing Hair to Les Conciles d'amour is like comparing Bob Newhart to Lenny Bruce.

I think hair has no real social or philosophic point to make that hasn't been made earlier and better; it's fighting a war that has long since been won.  But is it musically interesting?

Not to me it isn't, and not to most people I know who know music.  Said one musician, who worked the show in New York: "It isn't terribly good musically, and it isn't terribly bad. It's just terribly ordinary."  And it is.  Galt MacDermot, who wrote it's score, was trying ten years ago to be a jazz composer.  Even then I found his music had all the flavor of distilled water, and just about as much color.  It has acquired no distinctive character since then.  hair is, musically, dull beyond belief.  Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rogers, and Burt Bacharach have all put it down.  That will mean nothing to the kids, of course.  But maybe this will: John Lennon thinks it's dull.  I do not know any musician who thinks it's good.

Hair has no story, it makes no point, and it has almost no music.  When it went to Broadway, it was as uninteresting as it had been in the Village.  And then somebody had an idea: have all the kids drop their pants at the end of Act I.

Now what's this?  A meaningful confrontation?  An effective protest?  Hell no; it's a cheap old vaudeville device. When the comic couldn't get laughs in those days, he would drop his pants - a corny trick.  And that's what I object to about Hair's nude scene: it's corny.

But it worked.  All the little old ladies from Iowa, who see all the shows when they visit New York, were willing to lay down good money in order to be able to go home and tch-tch about the naughtiness in Hair.  And the show was transformed into a smashing success.

Montreux survived the presentation of Hair.  A few people liked it; most of the professionals didn't.  Michael Mills, the head of comedy for the BBC, a handsome and bearded man of fifty, said with a wry smile: "My trouble is that I'm too young for it, you see; I don't grasp it's profundity."

A young Montreux matron, known as a flibberty social butterfly, gushed "I thought the music was just lovely."

Lovely? Oh well, some people dig Lawrence Welk.  And that's what Hair is: Lawrence Welk for hippies.

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