In other words, this latest revival in Central Park is not for kids. Yet I saw quite a few young ones in the audience last night and I wondered what they thought. I saw the original Broadway production of Hair shortly after moving to the New York City area when I was in tenth grade from St. Louis. My parents took me and quite enjoyed it, leftist liberals that they were. I remember vividly the end of the first act (when the actors got naked) and going to the Stage Deli afterwards. I even vaguely remember what I wore as it was such a big event. (Definitely had on more make-up and a shorter skirt than my mother approved of.)
I was sixteen. I was young adult. The characters and actors were young adults too. Doing what was cool then including:
Taking lots of drugs. Now I was a hick from St. Louis and scared of drugs. I knew about them, but only first encountered them after seeing this play. You see, I too became part of a Tribe. Members of that tribe were arty types, some of whom were also small-time marijuana dealers, one got busted for growing some right behind the elementary school, another for having a plant of the stuff in his window, and everyone even vaguely hip smoked grass at parties. It was like beer. It was considered pretty tame stuff compared to LSD and its like.
Having lots of sex. The birth control pill was still a pretty new thing so this generation was really quite wild. For other people still as I was a very innocent YA in 1968 and the Pill was still a few years off for me. Oh I had boyfriends and we fooled around. But our tribe was nothing like the orgasmic Tribe in Hair. And abortion was still very much illegal in 1968. (One of my friends went to England to get an abortion. That is what you did back then when you could afford it. If you couldn’t…well, you’ve heard the stories.)
Working to end the War. Now this I did —a lot. My dad took me to my first anti-war protest in St. Louis. I took home my “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things” sign and propped it in the corner of my bedroom where it stayed till we moved. In New York I helped start and led Hudson Youth for Peace (HYP — got it?). I do not remember much of what we did other than organizing a walk-out from school when they bombed Cambodia, but I do remember being very excited when someone called to try to get me to join S.D.S.
So seeing Hair last night took me back to when I was the age of the kids in the Tribe. And I can’t help thinking how different things are today. Yes, there is a war, but there is no draft, there are no body bags on television, there is nothing like the huge animosity that existed then between older and younger (the so-called “generation gap”) and between liberals and conservatives (resulting in some horrific situations). Hair was a huge, huge issue for boys. Huge. That American flag played around with by the Tribe on the Delacourte stage? That would have gotten conservatives in 1967 crazy. Believe me, I’m not nostalgic for the bad stuff, but I am so glad the Public did this joyful revival of this show. It gives a taste of the wildness and fun of that time. It wasn’t all silly or selfish. It was a really wonderful time and I’m still waiting to see it properly presented in a YA book. (Leda Shubert, you helped levitate the Pentagon — is that perhaps in the book you are writing? If not, no problem, but someone needs to get it in one!) While there are several terrific books about this time I’m still waiting for one to give the flavor of it that this musical does.
I like this clip from Milo Forman’s 1979 movie of the musical because it ends with some actual footage of those anti-war protests of the 60s.
… reports about Warner Bros. being unhappy with the performance of Max Records, the film’s young star, as well as rumors about pants-shitting children at test-screenings, are 100 percent untrue (though we’re pretty sure he couldn’t possibly have confirmed these even if they were true), and he implies the film’s problems have more to do with practical issues stemming from Jonze’s aversion to CGI. “Spike wanted to do things low tech,” he told CHUD. “He wanted big animatronic Wild Things in the jungle, which look great. As you go deeper in the jungle and weather sets in … We misjudged that, production-wise.” The good news is, though, that Goetzman claims Jonze will have final cut on the film. So, when it’s released sometime next century, you can rest assured it will be his original vision, provided Jonze lives that long.
So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom. Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.
I’ve just read John Hulme and Michael Wexler’s The Seems: The Split Secondand enjoyed it as I did their first in the series, The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep. The basic premise is that there is a place called The Seems: “the place on the other side of the World responsible for generating what you see outside your window right now.” And when things go wrong gifted folks known as “Fixers” go out and”fix” them. In the first book, our hero Becker Drane is tapped to be a Fixer and, after training, quickly deals with a serious problem in The World — people having excessive sleeping difficulties. There is a Glitch, it seems, in The Department of Sleep. Read the book if you want to find out how it is repaired. As for the next book (out in September), a bigger and more dire situation is going on. A rebel group called The Tide appears bent on destroying The Seems; this time a bomb and time travel are involved. In both books, the appealing main character Becker, the multi-generational and multi-ethnic cast of characters, the clever world building, wonderful language play, and gripping plots make for engaging reads. In fact they remind me a lot of one of my favorite adult series, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. In both series the authors couple clever language play with a thriller sensibility. They are entertaining reads — go find the first one and keep an eye out for the second!
Thanks to Graceanne who reminded me of this guy. I first read about him (probably the last to know) in this New York Times article. But I just checked out his website and now I’m really impressed. Why? Because I read his posts from Mali and Morocco and really liked the way he considered the moral issues that come up in his travels. Here’s something he wrote after doing a dancing clip with some kids in Morocco.
Afterwards, I faced a moral dilemma that is very common in Africa. The kids wanted money. I agree with the notion that handing money out to kids is a bad idea, as it creates beggars. If I’d simply ignored them, there would be no issue. But I’d invited them to join me. To boot, they were great dancers. They still wanted money, and I had a little bit of change handy, so I obliged.
To keep them from pouncing once they saw what I was holding, and also to prevent the biggest and strongest kids from grabbing everything, I threw the change up in the air. It seemed smart at the time, and it sort of worked, but there was also an air of degradation. It felt icky. Melissa, standing nearby through it all, got a sudden and overwhelming dose of what Africa is like. Even the best intentions turn out icky.
She was troubled. For a moment, while it was processing, she was a little upset at me. But what, exactly, was the right thing to do?
It would be unwise of me to dwell on this subject, but yes, what I’m doing has a large commercial aspect to it. The word ‘exploitation’ hovers over everything. Whatever is going through your head right now, please understand that I have considered it. The dancing video is something very simple, but it’s also complex. It’s sort of a moral prism; you can look through any facet and see it a different way. Suffice it to say, while I’m not a religious person, I am freakishly moral. I believe this video is, ultimately, a good.And it’s only a good if that’s how I make it.