On April 29, Hair opened on Broadway. This zany musical celebrated, most unquietly, with the energy of a spinning top, the social protest and alienation of quietist youth - dropouts and hippies. The uptown critics raved. It was charming. "The happiness of these players and their friendship with the audience are always irresistible" - words that perfectly fitted Hair but were actually written by The New York Times's drama critic Stark Young about the Follies in 1925.
That Hair and the Follies had some things in common - above all, jaded, middle-aged, upper-class audiences famished for something new and titillating - pointed up both what was meretricious and what was significant about Hair .
"The hippies in Hair ," a critic wrote in Rolling Stone, "bear only the most superficial resemblance to any people or group of people in America today or anytime. In fact, they are a very carefully packaged fantasy." The musical was designed to shock and reassure at the same time. The bourgeoisie thrilled to the shock and welcomed the counterculture, with a kiss of death, into the main stream. Joe Namath let his hair grow and won the next Superbowl.
This was the year when in fact the hippie movement did die out; the flower child metamorphosed into the freak. Beads and buckskin, ankle bells and incense - all that had been touching, pure, open, loving, and even sometimes saintly (e.g., the Diggers at their best) turned sick, runaway, fleabitten, empty-eyed. Early in the year San Francisco police instituted armed sweeps, grotesquely mimicking the search-and-destroy missions of Vietnam, in the city's Haight-Ashbury district, which had once been hippie heaven. Windows in the district began to be boarded over, against druggy experts in B & E. Acid had burned out a legion of children who'd been sold on the dream of expanded consciousness; in 1968, LSD gave way to speed, crystal, the deadly amphetamines, which gave a whizzing illusion of what is valued most by youth in our time - energy. Amphetamine psychosis began to seem epidemic in the Haight-Ashbury and the East Village and all other precincts of alienation. This peak madness lasted only through that year; in 1969, pot - which had been there all along - took a more benign ascendancy, and more or less for good. Youth began its slow, strange turn toward a new form of quietism - what turned out to be the career-mongering of the Seventies. What was left? People of high fashion, in the long run, adopted such hip styles as Carnaby Street glitter and the layered look of Janis Joplin; and got stoned now and then.
Hair had a famous scene in which members of the cast stood stark naked, facing the audience. This was a first. Flashing and mooning had come uptown, and by the end of the year, on beaches and in films, at topless bars and chic parties, the body beautiful, and sometimes not beautiful, had been accepted as a matter of course. Jetsetters dug it; Yves St. Laurent designed an evening dress with a see-through blouse, which looked great on his bra-less models.
The defiant exposure of private parts to public view was just one mode of a larger phenomenon - the so-called politics of sex. The term "sexual revolution" had meaning, by 1968, for both the activists and the quietists. Its ideology was a pastiche of theories of Wilhelm Reich, Paul Goodman, Herbert Marcuse; a coming together of hocus-pocus for the frigid, like the orgone box, with rationalizations for the overheated, such as the ideas that absolute sexual freedom was a new form of democratic expressiveness, and that deviations from the norms afforded, indeed, the highest forms of political freedom. Sexual repression was political repression. "They know," declared the underground sheet called Intercourse, "that if you control the sexual erotic strivings of an individual, you thereby control the individual."
Down the line this translated into an ethic that was to confuse many a middle-class adolescent in coming years: If it feels right, do it. The sexual revolution was of course ideal for cooptation. The upper classes pitched quirky woo with a will. Norman Mailer pranced off to Banbury Cross on his cock-horse, in search of the perfect orgasm. The Swinger was a new sort of person; the Singles Bar, a new kind of joint. Cleaver's best-seller, Soul on Ice, redefined rape, as we have seen, as a compensation for slavery; Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge struck a blow for sodomy (performed, in this case, by a woman wearing a dildo); John Updike's Couples spread feasts of oral sex on the tables of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
Hair was a musical, and music was indeed the common bond of the young, their driving force, and, for many of them, the only teacher they would listen to. But Hair's sweet, optimistic "Aquarius" was a far cry from the real world of the bitter come-back lyrics in John Wesley Harding, by Bob Dylan, who had been silent since he had broken his neck in a motorcycle accident in 1966; or from the "crying songs" of the Bee Gees, who emerged in '68; or, for that matter, from the idiotic bubblegum music of Ohio Express. Highbrow attempts to absorb what was new in the music of the young led, in that year, to some compositions of the avant-garde that tested the human ear to its limits - at one extreme, literally deafening sounds at the 100-150 decibel range; at the other, pieces consisting entirely of total silence. Further, music could not go.
There were many four-letter words, not all of them l-o-v-e, in Hair . One of them, naming the act and product of defecation, became, as the shocks of 1968 accumulated, the key word of the year. Freud had told us what it stood for in our imaginings, and now we bore him out. It was the name troops in Vietnam gave to enemy artillery fire; it was what black revolutionaries called the small arms they were gathering. It was the student message in Grayson Kirk's waste basket: I kill you, Daddy-O. It was all around us, all over us. A few days before Hair, another play opened off Broadway, called Having Fun in the Bathroom, a reaching of its author, Leonard Melfi, for "excremental vision." As the curtain rose, seven men came on stage, pulled down their pants, and sat on toilet stools. Interior designer Sherle Wagner described himself as "the first to upgrade the bathroom from a utility room in a dark corner of the house to a sumptuous lounge worthy of Cleopatra . . . Now some people even entertain in this once-neglected area." It may have been the aptest - and cruelest - metaphor of the year that the President of the United States sometimes carried on public, while also doing private, business there.
Angel Face, which by any other name would smell as sweet, is the first lavender rose to win the All-America award. . . . Rockefeller says: Me, too. . . . North Vietnam and the U.S. agree to hold talks in Paris about whether to hold further talks in Paris. . . . Mailer's Armies of the Night is published - the most honest and illuminating book of the year and of his career. . . .
Can nothing go right this year? Dancer's Image wins the Kentucky Derby, but his urine is found to contain traces of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug; the stewards make the first disqualification in the 94 years of the race of the roses. . . .