Category Archives: James Rado

1000 Words: Hair, A Eulogy

The very first album I ever owned was the original cast recording of “Hair.”

To this day, whenever I’m feeling in a chipper mood, I sing one or another of its songs to myself. The off-Broadway production of “Hair” opened in 1967. I didn’t become aware of it until 1969, when I was 13. Someone, I forget who, got the album for Christmas that year. I’m sure my sister, Fran, was involved somehow. She’d have been hip to “Hair” before any of us.

We put that disc on my brother Joey’s phonograph and blasted it. Back in those ancient days, hifi audio was, shall we say, wanting. Fran’s kids were running around singing and dancing to it, trying to make sense of the lyrics — even these:

Sodomy

Fellatio

Cunnilingus

Pederasty

Father, why do these words sound so nasty?

Masturbation

Can be fun

Join the holy orgy

Kama Sutra

Everyone!

The only words the kids got right were sodomy and masturbation. My father said, “Take that goddamned thing off right now!”

Dad’s reaction alone was enough to convince me I had to have the album. So I saved my allowance and bought it a few months later. I think it cost $2.49, a fortune for me. It was worth it.

By the way, I don’t suspect the play’s writers, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, were espousing the practice of child molestation. Their inclusion of the term pederasty was simply another instance of their overriding theme of throwing the forbidden into the audience’s face. On the other hand, what with the late ’60s’ embrace of drugs and any and all sexual pastimes, I can’t be too certain.

One of my favorite anecdotes about the play involved the actress Diane Keaton. The future Oscar-winner (for “Annie Hall”) joined the cast after the play had moved to Broadway in 1968. At the end of Act 1, there was a scene where the cast took off its clothes, no doubt a big reason it became such a hot ticket. In any case, not all the cast members were thrilled about disrobing on stage so Ragni and Rado began offering a $50 bonus to all those who agreed to do so. By the time Keaton joined the cast, pretty much everyone was shedding their clothing at the appropriate time. Except her.

Keaton (center) with fellow cast members Barry McGuire and Steve Curry.

It may have been modesty or a refined sense of propriety that drove Keaton’s decision. I’ve heard it suggested that it was strategy. See, after a few weeks Keaton stood out at the end of Act 1. She became known as The Chick Who Kept Her Clothes On. Notoriety can be as indispensable as talent to an actor.

How about this anecdote: a couple of Apollo astronauts attended the Broadway opening of “Hair.” They walked out during the nude scene.

Based on what I’ve read about NASA astronauts, I feel safe in assuming they didn’t split due to their own prudeness. In fact, this may be the first time the words astronaut and prude, in any form, have appeared in the same sentence in print. NASA, it can be assumed, had hammered it into them that they should always be cognizant of their public image.

I learned this afternoon that James Rado, who wrote the play’s book with Ragni, with Galt MacDermot writing the music, has died at the age of 90.

Rado as Claude Hooper Bukowski in the 1968 cast.

Ninety, for chrissakes! “Hair” was the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. It was about love and peace and the war in Vietnam and drugs and throwing off the chains and…, well, hair. Long hair. It was about the kids. For the kids. Or, really, for the adults who fancied themselves still kids or at least wanted to be seen as with-it enough to know what the kids were doing.

And I was kid when I discovered it. I was rebellious. I wanted the war to end. I was on the side of Stokely Carmichael and Cesar Chavez and the Chicago Eight (later, Seven). I thought the adults had fucked everything up.

What I’ve learned in the ensuing years is adults always fuck everything up. It’s what we do, no matter how long our hair is.

Gimme a head with hair

Long, beautiful hair

Shining, gleaming

Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there (Hair!)

Shoulder length or longer (Hair!)

Here baby there mama

Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it, show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair

I let it fly in the breeze

And get caught in the trees

Give a home for the fleas in my hair

A home for the fleas

A hive for the buzzin’ bees

A nest for the birds

There ain’t no words

For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder

Of my…

Hair (Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair! Hair!)

Grow it, show it

Long as I can grow it

My hair

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy

Snaggy, shaggy, artsy, matsy

Oily, greasy, fleecy

Shining, gleaming, streaming

Flaxen, waxen

Knotted, polka-dotted

Twisted, beaded, braided

Powdered, flowered and confettied

Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!

Oh say can you see

My eyes if you can

Then my hair’s too short

Down to here

Down to there

Down to where

It stops by itself

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