Give me a head with hair…

OK, this will date me, but I’ll point out that I was just a 13-year-old from Yonkers in my first year at Fordham Preparatory School and, being from Yonkers, I may have been totally out of my element among the boys from Scarsdale and Larchmont and Bronxville, but I was cooler than them all, and somehow found my way very quickly to the Fordham University Bookstore on that campus in The Bronx and bought the first record albums I’d ever owned: Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones, Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, and the album by Neil Young and Crazy Horse with “Down by The River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.”

Yes, very cool for a 13-year-old – but I have to confess the identity of the very first record album I purchased at that university bookstore: the original cast recording of the musical “Hair!” I can’t explain why, so don’t ask.

In any event, hair – not the album, the thing that used to be on top of my head – is much on my mind these days. So much so that I’m inspired to spew this poem that badly echoes the Beat poets of San Francisco (I’ve been reading Richard Brautigan lately), Asian poetry, and the prayer poems of my great friend Robert Lax:

Run my/Hand/Over/My head/I am holding/Handful/Of hair.

Chemotherapy, as the doctor promised, does that and did that. I’ve still got some left, but most of the hair is gone from the top of my head, all within the last two weeks, and who knows if I’ll keep any of the rest.

I know it will grow back. And I like the NY Yankees cap I’ve taken to wearing. But I’ve always taken great and vain pleasure from looking in a mirror and knowing that I’ve never gone bald and only in the past few years acquired a touch of grey. It’s a family trait on my mother’s side of the family – the Nash and Crooks side. My Grandpa Nash still had hair on his head when he died, and his son, my Uncle Elwood, had a full head of hair into his late 70s; my mother’s, her other brother – Uncle Ken – likewise kept his hair. And I’ve been so happy with that family inheritance.

There are other things I could write about my hair. How it once cascaded down to my shoulders – and how one time a guy in college saw me from behind, sitting in a chair, and thought I was a “chick.” I could write about fights I had with my father over the length of my hair – it was a threat to him, I understand now, both in terms of American society at the time and his whole image of himself as a second-generation Italian-American “man of the house.” And I could go back a few years before that, when my father would take me to the barbershop of his cousin Carlo, a hell of a nice guy and one terrible barber.

Or I could just end this by saying that, in my own way, I am pondering my vanity…and mourning my hair…and avoiding mirrors, at least for now.


“Hair” turns gray-haired

There was a sweet nostalgia and a vague sadness and a squirmy embarrassment — and not a whiff of marijuana — in the air when my very groovy tie-dyed companion and I recently embarked with friends on a mind-blowing, far-out excursion into the Age of Aquarius and a production of the great hippie musical “Hair.”

A little history. When I was 13 years old, I somehow aced the admissions test and was accepted into the ivy-covered embrace of the prestigious Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y. While I was there, I wore penny loafers and sport jackets with sewn-on elbow patches. And my impressionable mind was shaped not as much by the teachings of Fordham Prep’s Jesuits as by as the happy fact that “The Prep” was located on the campus of Fordham University, where I witnessed demonstrations by the SDS and the Black Panthers, and where I one day wandered into the university bookstore and purchased the first record album I ever owned: The original Broadway cast recording of “Hair.”

Why was “Hair” my first record album? I suppose there was something stirring in my blood, a combination of teenage angst and youthful rebellion and righteous but silent anger and protest at the economic and racial injustices I already sensed in this country (maybe my not-quite-comfortable presence at the still mostly white and still mostly affluent prep school had something to do with this Yonkers boy’s angst). And I know I was very aware of the vague but real prospect of being drafted into the Vietnam War-era military five or six years down life’s road.

But back to the future:
As we sat in a New Jersey theater waiting for the Age of Aquarius to dawn once more, we amused ourselves by checking out the audience and commenting on how OLD many of them were; noted with gladness that at least one-third of the audience looked to be of high-school and college age or a little beyond; and wondered if the young cast of this production of “Hair” would “let the sunshine in” and take off their clothes during the notorious production number at the end of the first act.

Yes, they took off their clothes. And, yes, I enjoyed the show and still liked the music — the title song, “Aquarius,” “Good Morning, Starshine” “Where Do I Go,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “I’ve Got Life” “Frank Mills” “What a Piece of Work Is Man” and “Let the Sunshine In” still have a surprising emotional resonance.

But the audience reaction, at least what I sensed, was disconcerting , a sort of bland, happy-faced, homogenized, weren’t-we-young-and-crazy-and-hip, superficial, Disneyworld, pastel-tinted, self-satisfied response — the hippie generation’s idealism and energy giving way to tired generalities and sappy nostalgia.

Perhaps it’s inevitable….”Give me a head with hair/long, beautiful hair” is now “I used to have hair”…The Age of Aquarius is now the Age of Viagra commercials…”Let the sunshine in” has given way to “Let’s move to retirement community in Florida”…They who were once hippies now get hip replacements.

Maybe Pete Townsend and The Who were on to something when they sang about “My Generation” and Roger Daltrey declared “Hope I die before I get old!” I mean, look at Daltrey now, old and tired and hoarse. Look at the embarrassing and cringe-worthy spectacle as one of the two remaining Beatles — Ringo — walks out on stage and flashes the peace sign and the other surviving Beatle dyes his hair and leads arm-waving, he-used-to-know-better “Hey Jude” audience sing-alongs. Look at the 100-year-old Rolling Stones, looking like they’ve been let out of the crypt for just one more tour.

And look at the world and what things are like more than 45 years after “Hair” opened off Broadway in 1967. War, hatred, poverty and bigotry all survive and even thrive, ”

But there was still something good about seeing “Hair.” It’s hard to define, but maybe that long-haired poet Shakespeare said it best, in the lyrics adapted by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and set to music by Galt MacDermot: “What a piece of work is man…”