There is a
priceless moment at the end of the London revival of the tribal
love-rock musical Hair.
All through the show, hairy muslin-flapping hippies have been running
through the audience expressing their universal love and free-spirited
daring. One lad kissed my (male) friend on the top of his head with
the curiously aggressive line: “Love you too, man!” The
victim muttered: “Too? Too? Never said I loved him!”
all over the place, yipping and hugging and burning their Vietnam
draft cards, the whole thing is as much a period piece as No,
No Nanette. It quite made up for my having been too young,
broke, uncool and shy to come to London in 1968 when it first opened.
It was the day after the demise of the censorious Lord Chamberlain,
and a brief glimpse of dim-lit, dancing genitalia sparked anxious
national debate. Anarchy! Indecency! Youth! Oh my ears and whiskers!
have changed. In this production, when at the end the audience is
invited to come up and dance, you suddenly notice two of the hippies
deftly manoeuvring into place the ultimate evidence that it is actually
2010: a handrail. You can’t have emotional middle-aged punters
falling off the steps. Next revival, it’ll be a Stannah stairlift.
Jim Rado, the sole surviving creator of the musical, winced slightly
when I asked him about the health ’n’ safety handrail
moment. He murmured: “Wish they hadn’t had to do that…”
But they did.
good moment to meditate on what became of the Summer of Love, and
how the Age of Aquarius is doing. Was its dawn aborted in the Seventies
by punk, in the Eighties by Thatcher and Reagan? Were the Greenham
Women the last fully functional relics of hippiedom? Was there really
a chance that the age of love and peace and flowers in the hair
would dawn again at the millennium, in that carey-sharey-early-Blairy
time when the PM played guitar, wore purple velour jumpsuits and
forced the Queen to link arms in the Millennium Dome?
Could it be
that the Aquarian dream is returning, slyly, via the rise of chilled-out
festival culture at Glastonbury and Latitude, and mass demonstrations
against the Iraq war? Did the viciously prudish new Christian Right
knock it on the head, or is it dawning again under Obama?
I rather liked
the 1960s hippies. I loved the way they stuck flowers in the guns
of the National Guard. I too opposed the Vietnam War and quarrelled
with my dad about it. I would definitely have gone to San Francisco
with flowers in my hair, had I not been immured in a convent school
in Tunbridge Wells. I remain a sucker for people selling dreamcatchers
off barrows smelling of incense.
Even as a teenager,
though, I could see definite fault-lines running through the ideology,
and not just the drug abuse. Certain uneasy, recognisable attitudes
are reflected in the show. For a start, hippie patriarchs were shockingly
unfeminist; girls were ‘chicks’ to be passed around, and sexually
the men tended to be predatory. The rising generation of today may
seem promiscuous to strict traditionalists, but at least they talk
earnestly of “relationships”, with the implied assumption
that the person you are in bed with is another individual to whom
you have to relate in some way.
of hippie-minded men was that for all the talk of love and peace,
the rule was that if you didn’t sleep with them you were “uptight”,
but that if you did – even if you got pregnant – they
would feel under no obligation to be considerate, understanding,
supportive or (perish the thought!) faithful. They loved everyone,
man! – which handily let them off loving one at a time. To
put it bluntly, in rejecting the staid conventions of post-war married
life, they threw out the baby with the bathwater and behaved like