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Monday, September 23, 2013

Hair Is a Mediocre Musical and BOTB Winners

 
Battle of the Band Winners from the September 15th Contest

        In the Battle of the Bands round presented on September 15, 2013 the theme of the co-hosts was songs from the Broadway musical Hair.  The candidates on my blog were the original cast of the musical Hair pitted against Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity with their version of Ain't Got No/I Got Life.

        I confused my contest for some voters by using a medley of two different songs from the musical in the Trinity version and using separate clips (as was necessary) for the two songs as used in the musical.  I hope I have counted the votes correctly to have a proper outcome.  One thing is certain though:  Julie Driscoll did not have many fans among you.

       This is somewhat surprising to me as Julie Driscoll--or Julie Tippets as she is now known--has been a respected jazz vocalist for some 50 years now.  Her dead pan delivery and singing style puts me in mind of Keely Smith or Cher in her days singing with Sonny Bono.

        The voters decided heavily in favor of the original tracks from Hair with Driscoll's vocals as the biggest factor that detracted from that version.

        It looks like I am going to gain the reputation as the contrarian in these battle picks.  My choice in this matchup is strongly in favor of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity.   I enjoy Driscoll's vocal style and have been a long time fan of Brian Auger and his jazzy bands.  I also prefer the slicker studio production over the stagey sound of the theatrical cast.

         The cast recording wins by a landslide vote of 11 to 3.  Poor Julie.

Is Hair a Good Musical?
Hair (musical)
Hair (musical) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



        The cast album is okay as an artifact of its times, but I'll admit that I'm not a very big fan of the musical Hair.   It's outdated and for the most part rather trite and useless.  There were some good songs that came out of the musical in the recordings that others made, but the Hair soundtrack album is not one that bears many repeated listenings with me.  Oh maybe, once every two or three years, but if I never heard the album again I wouldn't miss it.

        This past weekend I watched the 1979 film version of Hair.  I was not impressed.  It had been at least three years since I last watched this film.   I liked it okay then, but not so much this time.  In all fairness I was watching the film in a critical state of mind after reading Stephen T. McCarthy's fine review from a while back.  The film has some strong sequences that Stephen points out in his review, but overall I found the characters mostly to be annoying.  While I am in agreement with most of what Stephen says in his review, I lean on the negative side regarding the film version of Hair.

       Why?  Firstly I see the film as a relic of a past that is probably not very interesting to most who were born after that era and an embarrassment to many of us who are a part of that generation.  For this same reason I don't think that the musical itself will be of much interest to the potential audiences of future staged revivals that might occur if they ever do occur.   The drivel in this show is no longer groundbreaking or shocking to audiences in our era.  The show was among those cultural contributions that opened doors that would have probably been better left closed.  I don't think a lot of the movements introduced by the hippies or whoever is to attributed to them have made our world a better place.

       Likewise the music doesn't have the staying power of the more classic musicals that were written by artists who have proven track records and left a legacy of fine music.  Just look at the guys who wrote Hair.  Music composer Galt McDermot was already established in his field and being an accomplished composer he has had a successful career since doing the music for Hair.  And I don't have any complaints about the music in Hair for the most part.  I think that aspect is a highlight of the musical.

       It's the book and song lyrics that leave me unimpressed.  I understand they were going for some shock value and trying to capture the hippie spirit and that's my problem.  The message is for the most part empty and unproductive.  Hair authors James Rado and Gerome Ragni put together a bunch of sloppy songs that don't connect well with the other songs or with lead-in dialogue.  Their success with Hair was a fluke.  They managed to capitalize on something topical and got attention by doing it.  They never came up with anything successful to follow their musical debut.  They were one-hit wonders for a good reason:  They weren't that good.

       I agree that there are some decent songs from Hair that have been covered by other artists.  I wouldn't go so far as to call them standards that we'll see oft recorded in the future.    Hair is not a musical soundtrack that I cared for very much when it first entered my life in 1969 and even though I own a CD copy of it, the soundtrack will not be something I'll probably be playing much in the future.  The Hair soundtrack is merely part of a CD collection--an exhibit from my personal museum of stuff from my past.

      The next time I watch a musical off my DVD shelves it won't be Hair.  Maybe Carousel, 42nd Street, Evita, or something else with quality entertainment value.   But probably not the mediocre musical Hair.

          What's your opinion on the musical Hair?   Did you like the movie version?   What are some of the good points about Hair--the musical or film?  If you like musicals, what are some of your favorites?   If you don't like musicals, why not?

For the winners of  other BOTB participants visit:

           Faraway Series
              Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends
             Your Daily Dose
             DiscConnected


     
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34 comments:

  1. I prefer Julie Driscoll's version but that is only my opinion. Hair was a great musical and was the first on many musical's in that era.

    Great post Lee.
    Yvonne.

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  2. I've seen a lot of musicals, but not that one. The movie was all right. However, it's been close to thirty years since I've seen it and probably don't remember it as well as I should.

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  3. I haven't seen it. It never seemed to pique my interest.

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  4. It has been a while since I've seen Hair, the movie. I can remember enjoying it but not having any particular lasting impressions regarding the music.

    I'm not a big fan of musicals but I love music and every now and again, a good musical hits the enjoyment spot :-)

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  5. I haven't seen Hair but I am a fan of musicals. I haven't seen many new ones, though. I tend to return again and again to the old school ones :)

    ~Jen

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  6. Yvonne -- Julie Driscoll is a fine vocalist. I still prefer the old school musicals.

    Scots Lass -- Free love can sound good, but there can also be consequences that are not so good.

    Alex -- I would imagine your view of the film would be different if you saw it now. I probably would have liked it much better if I had seen the film when it first came out.

    Southpaw-- You may be presenting some evidence for the argument I've made.

    Angela -- If the musical hadn't gained such notoriety and there hadn't been popular covers of a few of the songs I think the music would have just faded away and been forgotten.

    Jen -- I am the same way as you in this respect.

    Lee

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  7. Only saw the movie versions of Hair and both were good in their own way. Musicals can be super fun and Sounds of Music is a classic.

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  8. I like movie musicals that have dialogue. I don't like the ones where the entire story is sung: the most recent Les Miserable and Evita, for instance. Those kind need to be seen on stage, I think. I don't know what it is, but I can enjoy fully sung musicals on stage, but not in film. If there's going to be singing in film, I need there to be dialogue, too!

    Since I was a kid I always liked The Newsies with Christian Bale (and Ann-Margret!). So good!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  9. I've never seen the musical Hair. I had not desire to at the time or since. I never was even a little bit of a fan of long hair.

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  10. I've never, actually, seen "Hair"...but, it does have one of my all time favorite songs in it's soundtrack...."The Age of Aquarius"

    Maybe one day I'll sit down and give it a watch :)

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  11. I had the wonderful experience of seeing Hair, live and in person at the Orpheus Theater in San Francisco, 1970. That's the only way to see. It was a blast.

    The movie was not so good and listening to the album... it's okay.

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  12. Sheena-kay -- "in their own way" is a good qualifier.

    Laura -- I like some dialogue though I do think Evita managed to convey story very well with song. Even my wife loved Evita and it's one of her favorite movies and she doesn't usually like musicals.

    Susan GK-- I usually wore my hair long until it started falling out, but I wasn't a big fan of the hard core hippie lifestyle.

    Mark -- The musical does have a few memorable songs and the movie has some good productions of some of those songs.

    Bish -- It's much easier to get captivated by the energy of live theater. Even something bad can be appreciated more when it's live with people you can interact with.

    Lee

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  13. For a musical I'll stick with High Society. Can't beat watching Bing and Frank "getting drunk" as they sing!

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  14. I still like the movie Hair. Just brings back good movies. Plus Treat Williams was cute in the film.

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  15. I've never seen the movie or the musical but it sounds like it's worth checking out! I'll make sure I do sometime!

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  16. ARLEE BOID ~
    In some respects I agree with you and in others I disagree... strongly.

    To my ears, some of the songs in 'HAIR' are quite good (darn sure better than most Disco and Rap and Madonna and Lady GagGag), others are immediately forgettable or even bad.

    Like you, I have no use for the hippie lifestyle - the drug use, the loose sexual morals, the hedonism, etc.

    However, one can find plenty to like in the movie 'HAIR' even while disliking the "hippie lifestyle", because there is a human element in the story that is universal; a human element that shows right through all of the long hair, loud colors and LSD trips.

    There is even a Biblical principle that can be found in 'HAIR', despite its strictly secular storyline (and the same Biblical principle can be extracted from the Western movie 'The Wild Bunch').

    George Berger (Treat Williams) in 'HAIR' lived up to the following idea, despite his hedonistic hippie lifestyle:

    THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE THAN THIS,
    THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE
    FOR THE SAKE OF HIS FRIENDS.
    ~ Jesus Christ

    So, Lee, I think there are some funny, interesting, surprising, and even noble moments to be found in 'HAIR'. I never saw it on a stage, but I remain a fan of the film.

    To each his own, eh?

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  17. I never did see this one. It was too risque when I was a kid, so my parents wouldn't let me watch it. When I was older I lost interest. hahahaha.

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  18. I haven't seen Hair. I'm not sure I'd like it. But I love some of the old-time musicals: Sound of Music, Chorus Line, Annie. West Side Story is probably my favorite.

    Thanks for visiting Arlee.
    Be well!
    xoRobyn

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  19. I saw the movie but while not a favorite it did make an impact. I'd prefer to see it in the theater. All musicals should be enjoyed in the theater!

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  20. I never cared much for Hair the movie or musical. My mom is big time into musicals and so she used to drag me to see them at an outdoor theatre we have in KC. My favorites include South Pacific, Phantom of the Opera, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Musicals are so much more dramatic live, don't you think? I've always wanted to see The Demon Barber of Fleet Street live. (I wonder how the Johnny Depp version compares to is.)

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  21. CW -- Yeah, I'll stick with your idea.

    L.Diane - Since I didn't see the movie until relatively recently I attach no memories to it.

    Yeamie -- It's history if you like that sort of thing.

    Lee

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  22. StMc --

    To my ears, some of the songs in 'HAIR' are quite good (darn sure better than most Disco and Rap and Madonna and Lady GagGag), others are immediately forgettable or even bad.

    I think there is more bad than good especially in the content of the lyrics. But I do agree about much of it being better or at par with the music you mention.

    one can find plenty to like in the movie 'HAIR' even while disliking the "hippie lifestyle", because there is a human element in the story that is universal

    I did appreciate some of those things, but one of my favorite sequences was the LSD trip. I like surrealism and psychedelia so that titillated that part of me.

    There is even a Biblical principle that can be found in 'HAIR'

    I didn't see the sacrifice issue as Berger seemed to be thrust into his circumstance by his own arrogant stupidity and did not appear to be anxious to be taking his buddy's place in Nam. He looks reluctant and scared. The fact that the tombstone is shown with his real name on it reveals that the ruse was discovered. Did Bukowski go to prison or anything for his "desertion"? Berger's act was not sacrifice so much as it was stupidity so instead of the Bible verse you quote I'll use one of your favorites:

    "As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly."
    Proverbs 26:11

    Berger was always doing stupid irresponsible things for the sake of spontaneity in the moment and no consideration for the outcome in the future. The lesson is not really one of sacrifice as much as it is consequences of ones actions. Though the movie manipulates us to feel otherwise.

    I think there are some funny, interesting, surprising, and even noble moments to be found in 'HAIR'. I never saw it on a stage, but I remain a fan of the film.

    I agree and it's not the worst film I've ever seen. There is some merit to the film technically and Forman did a good job pulling off the screen version. I think he improved on the story of the stage version.

    Lee

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  23. Robin -- I would have probably enjoyed it much more before I became older and somewhat wiser.

    Rawknrobyn--I prefer the ones you mention although I'm not totally sure that I'd still like Chorus Line as much as I used to.

    Yolanda -- There is a certain magic in a well done live performance.

    Christine -- I still haven't seen Depp's take on Sweeney Todd but I don't know much about that musical either.

    Lee

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  24. I love most of the musicals I've seen - love the blend of lyrics and words and the fun/drama of it all :)

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  25. From the time musicals first came on the scene in the mid 1960s-- Camelot, Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music--and many others fabulous classics (now), I saw and loved them all. Hair is another story. I was embarrassed by it then and would probably be laughing at the idiocy of it now if I saw it. Like you said, there were a couple good songs that came from it when taken out of context but other than that, it was not good at all. I totally agree with your review of it. Very well said indeed.

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  26. Jemi -- There are many good musicals written by some very talented people.

    Karen -- Thanks for backing me up!

    Lee

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  27. Part 1:
    BOIDMAN ~

    >>... I think there is more bad than good especially in the content of the lyrics.

    Well, I agree with that. The lyrics are certainly the weak link in many of the songs. Lyrics including words/acronyms like “sodomy”, “fellatio”, “LSD” and “LBJ” are not going to keep Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Todd Snider awake nights, worrying about how they can compete.

    But some of the lyrics rise to a much higher level, and a number of the melodies stick in the mind. I will never forget the years I went around singing the tune “Manchester, England, England / Across the Atlantic Sea...” That was a darned catchy melody. And since you’re the world’s last outspoken Fellini fan, I’d expect you to like this...

    Manchester, England, England
    Across the Atlantic Sea
    And I'm a genius, genius
    I believe in God
    And I believe that God
    Believes in Claude
    That's me, that's me

    Claude Hooper Bukowski
    Finds that it's groovy
    To hide in a movie
    Pretends he's Fellini
    And Antonioni
    And also his countryman, Roman Polanski
    All rolled into one
    One Claude Hooper Bukowski

    Now that I've dropped out
    Why is life dreary, dreary?
    Answer my weary query
    Timothy Leary, deary

    Oh, Manchester, England, England
    Across the Atlantic Sea
    And I'm a genius, genius
    I believe in God
    And I believe that God
    Believes in Claude
    That's me (that's he)
    That's me (that's he)
    That's me (that's he)
    That's me

    >>... There is even a Biblical principle that can be found in 'HAIR'

    >>... I didn't see the sacrifice issue as Berger seemed to be thrust into his circumstance by his own arrogant stupidity...

    He was attempting to reunite Claude with his sweetheart, Sheila. You will also notice a few more instances in which Berger could have just walked away from the situation but, instead, he did the honorable thing (e.g., He could have left Claude in jail; all of his actions that so upset the rich, “high society” was done on Claude’s behalf, to bring a shy young man [about to have “an adventure in Vietnam”] together with his sweetheart; he wasn’t required to expend such energy reuniting Lafayette with his fiancee and child. In short, George Berger did far more for others than we would ever expect from a hedonistic, liberal, good-time-having, drug-taking hippie.)

    >>... and [Berger] did not appear to be anxious to be taking his buddy's place in Nam. He looks reluctant and scared.

    A young man, with absolutely NO military training – not knowing his “right foot from his OTHER right foot”, barely knowing a rifle from a hand grenade – fearfully taking his NEW friend’s place in a war he disagreed with, hardly seems like a light “sacrifice” to me! What? Are you saying that Berger’s understandably “scared” demeanor somehow diminished the sacrifice he was making for Claude?

    And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
    ~ Matthew 26

    And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
    ~ Luke 22

    Continued Below...

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  28. Part 2:

    If God’s own Son was “scared”, can you really hold “fright” against a stupid Liberal like George Berger, and say that his sacrifice was somehow diminished by his fear?

    >>... The fact that the tombstone is shown with his real name on it reveals that the ruse was discovered. Did Bukowski go to prison or anything for his "desertion"? Berger's act was not sacrifice so much as it was stupidity...

    On one hand I disagree with you (again, strongly) and on the other, I agree:

    The viewer is not informed about how the ruse was discovered. Was the top half of George Berger’s head blown away by shrapnel, and dental records proved he was not Claude? Did Berger die by machine gun fire, and Claude’s father, later called to identify the body, say, “That ain’t my son.”?

    We don’t know. But regardless, a panicky, untrained, hater-of-war took his friend’s place, believing that doing so would prevent his friend from being arrested and confined in a military prison. That Berger’s true identity was somehow discovered after his death does not lessen the terrified sacrifice he made for his friend. (The fact that Berger was pretty much terrified, and yet “he opened not his mouth; he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he openeth not His mouth” [Isaiah 53], if anything, it only makes his sacrifice much more meaningful.)

    >>... The fact that the tombstone is shown with his real name on it reveals that the ruse was discovered.

    This is one thing I agree with you about. Not that it matters that “the ruse was discovered”, but that I have ALWAYS believed the twist ending would have been utilized to the max if the tombstone was engraved “Claude Bukowski”, but when the camera pulled back and panned over to the group of friends gathered around the gravesite, it slowly found and then gradually focused on and magnified into a close-up the face of the REAL Claude Bukowski. I always felt that minor change would have intensified an already pretty surprising twist. (I imagine that’s the way Orson Welles would have handled the ending.)

    Bottom line: I sense that your personal dislike of hippies and the liberal lifestyle (a dislike, as you know, I totally share with you) has clouded your ability to look a little deeper and come to appreciate some of the subtle, positive, nuances of this film’s story.

    Nevertheless, it’z all good, and perhaps we will be in full agreement on the next film one of us mentions. (Do you like ‘This Is SPINAL TAP’?)

    No matter what, I thank you for the shout-out and the link to my old blog’s ‘HAIR’ review. We can always disagree like the friends and gentlemen we are, eh?

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

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  29. POSTSCRIPT:
    Boidman, I hope the following remark did not (unintentionally) offend you:

    >>... "And since you’re the world’s last outspoken Fellini fan, I’d expect you to like this..."

    I meant that as a joke, in which I was riffing on something someone said recently in one of your comment sections. I can't seem to locate it now, but a reader wrote to you that no one seems to mention Fellini anymore, and yet I remembered that you are a big fan of Fellini's films.

    Obviously you aren't really the world's last Fellini fan; I was just trying to connect some dots and exaggerate.

    Anyway, Bro, Yak Later...

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  30. StMc -- No offense about the Fellini fan reference. Just last night I watched a Fellini related film. My wife will have nothing to do with these films so I watch them during the week when she doesn't watch movies. But I joke about it myself so no worry.

    I am somewhat surprised about your Biblical defense of this Hair movie. The film has so much to loathe, though I don't deny the positive things you point out about it.

    And to clarify my stance on "Hippies", I and my friends used to consider ourselves hippies. I usually wore my hair long until it started falling out. And I'm not totally against drug use. Some I'm totally fine with. I think drugs should be legal just as alcohol and tobacco are.

    I would argue that part of the hedonistic hippie lifestyle is the love of others, the sense of community, and the willingness to share and sacrifice. That's what made the events such as Woodstock so notable. It was not sacrifice in the way Jesus sacrificed, but the sacrifice by necessity in order to have a free society (as in free love type).

    Berger's road trip was just part of the experience of the here and now. It was all a lark. I would compare the escapades of Berger and his cohorts to Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise and their buddies. Everything in excess when they could afford it and other things at the cost of others.

    I like your idea of the better ending with Bukowski's name on the tombstone, but that would have it's own plot problems I guess. In any case the twist of the ending (which I don't believe was the original ending of the Broadway version)was very cleverly devised.

    Spinal Tap? Can you believe I've never seen it?

    Lee


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  31. I don't think Hair translated well to film because it's more of a rock opera -- almost no dialogue -- and the spirit of it comes through better as a live performance. The movie poorly tried to make it make more sense, but cutting from scene to scene takes away from the flow of the stage production, which was more of a "happening" than a play.

    Not to mention the fact that some of my favorite songs were cut from the film. (eg "Frank Mills")

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  32. MR. BOIDMAN ~

    >>... I am somewhat surprised about your Biblical defense of this Hair movie. The film has so much to loathe, though I don't deny the positive things you point out about it.

    Sometimes, even a wholly secular artist can (accidentally) strike gold by illustrating a great Biblical concept that he/she didn’t intend to illustrate and may not even be aware of.

    The Biblical idea(s) I pointed out in ‘HAIR’ really are there, even if the writers did not consciously put them there (and were even utterly unaware of the Biblical ideas). As I wrote earlier, the same theme can be found in the Western classic ‘The Wild Bunch’, even though I am certain that the writers (which included Sam Peckinpah) were not attempting, by design, to illustrate this Biblical idea, and may not have even been aware of it at all. But ‘TRUTH’ is where you find it.

    >>... And I'm not totally against drug use. Some I'm totally fine with. I think drugs should be legal just as alcohol and tobacco are.

    Hmmm... Not sure which drugs you have in mind. (It doesn’t sound like you mean ALL of them.) But I am in full agreement when it comes to marijuana. I feel pot should be treated in a manner similar to alcohol (legal, but with restrictions in certain situations).

    I would not want to see any other drugs legalized, but being a strict Constitutionalist, I believe that the states ALONE should determine legality and restrictions on all drug use. The federal government should have NO SAY on the matter, and there should be NO SUCH THING as “a federal drug offense”. But then what do I know? I’m just the guy who believes in the wisdom of America’s Founding Fathers.

    >>... Berger's road trip was just part of the experience of the here and now. It was all a lark. I would compare the escapades of Berger and his cohorts to Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise and their buddies.

    Yes and no. A trip from New York to Nevada would have been fun for Berger and his pals. But the trip was conducted primarily to reunite Claude with Sheila before Claude went off to die in some totally pointless war. It’s been many years since I read ‘On The Road’, but I can’t recall Sal and Dean ever once really thinking about and acting on behalf of someone else, whether genuinely or just ostensibly.

    If for no other reason whatsoever, I would expect viewers to like ‘HAIR’ solely due to Treat Williams’ performance as George Berger. As a professionally trained actor, who even worked, minimally, as a professional actor (just yesterday afternoon, I deposited a ‘residual’ check for $76.20 into my checking account for work I did on M*A*S*H in the very early 1980s), I will never back down from saying that Treat Williams gave a highly memorable performance in ‘HAIR’.

    I KNOW acting. That was GOOD ACTING, and Williams absolutely oozed charisma. Even if a person disliked the plot and the music, they should be able to appreciate what Treat Williams brought to the screen as ‘George Berger’. ‘Berger’ was a born leader, and that was an extraordinarily fine performance by Williams. Very, very few performers have ever exhibited so much personal magnetism on the silver screen as Williams did in ‘HAIR’. In my opinion, if for no other reason, the film should be appreciated for one of the great, most charismatic portrayals of a fictional character ever.

    >>... Spinal Tap? Can you believe I've never seen it?

    I believe it ONLY because you say so, and I know you wouldn’t lie. Bro, that is one very funny satire on the whole ‘Classic Hard Rock’ era (think: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, et al.). I think you should see it. There are some not-to-be-forgotten, laugh-out-loud moments in that movie. And ya gotta find out what “TURN IT UP TO ELEVEN” means! Too funny! (And there’s more where THAT came from.)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

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  33. Kelly--The energy from a live performance can even make the bad seem good.

    StMc -- I won't say Treat's acting was bad. He convinced me that he was playing a rather annoying character. Drug use and legalization? I have a post that's been waiting in my line-up for some time. Eventually I'll get it up I guess. Someday I'll also get around to Spinal Tap I suppose.

    Lee

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Lee