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by Steve Dalachinsky

"….how government deals with culture
as a distraction from its own pornography." - Richard Serra

Here we are well into fall and there's so much catching up to do so let's begin where I last left off with a brief list of gigs I witnessed, before getting to the heart of this article.

There was the Zorn - Lou Reed duo which culminated with guest appearances by Mike Patton, Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori, followed 2 nights later by Zorn, Reed, Ribot and Milford Graves who played impeccably and tastefully throughout the night and who during set 2 when Reed joined in, actually seemed to enjoy being "the drummer in the band". This was originally supposed to be a trio of Zorn, Milford and Bill Laswell but Laswell fell ill and couldn't make it. These events took place at a new venue with a very eclectic menu on Bleeker Street called Le Poisson Rouge which was the bottom part of the old Village Gate, a club where I had enjoyed many great shows and where I now intend to enjoy many more. Another recent "Rouge" event I loved was blues and jug band greats Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin. Other moments were the warm hug by Kim and Thurston during the Sonic Youth gig that closed McCaren Pool's concert series (the pool will again become a pool and I can't wait to take a dip.)

Finally got to hear Wolf Eyes on this program and am still absorbing them. Heard the master Lee Konitz interviewed and in duo at Joe's Pub. The ICP Orchestra as part of Tonic's series at the Abrons Art Center and a fantastic panel discussion at the Bowery Poetry Club on punk rock by former members of Television, Suicide, the Heartbreakers, the Slits, etc. This is music I know nothing about but I learned alot about the political, social and dress code urgencies of the times and some major differences between British and American punk. And wow, that Slits chick really slammed Richard Lloyd. But that's a whole article by itself.

Now on to what I really wanted to discuss: The Living Theater vs.HAIR. Improbable comparisons? Not really. First I want to say that the benefit for the Living Theater at Joe's Pub,"Revolutionary Acts", was a sold out affair. All the performers were basically cabaret and musical folk and though some carried anarchistic messages in their somewhat funny and theatrical performances their styles as with the style of HAIR were completely antithetical to what the Living Theater stands for, though it ended with Judith Malina reading some of her poetry. But it's the similarities between Hair and the Living Theater that I want to deal with, the spirit of counter culture rebellion and the messages that both HAIR and the Living Theater have to offer us.

Though the one (L.T.) is intellectual, high art and the other (HAIR) almost an anti-intellectual, popular musical ( fundamental difference being the use of song as vehicle), they both gives us ensemble players that offer up an anarchistic, pro sex, pro drug, anti-war palette with other parallels such as nudity, group sex and the pitfalls of so called democratic (actually oligarchic),"organized" if somewhat fascistic government.

The authors of HAIR, like the principals of the Living Theater, come from the
experimental roots of theatre. In HAIR one can see/feel parallel moments to such
Living Theater productions as Mysteries and Paradise Now. Also throughout HAIR, as with most Living Theater productions the audience is constantly being engaged.

Though both are concerned with the way folks react to the material presented
and how that material relates back to the audience and are both willfully, as with most good art that is not made for its own sake, interested in the activity
as well as its result there is one major difference, aside from the festive catchy pop/rock atmosphere of HAIR. In the production of HAIR at Shakespeare in the Park the character who gets drafted and sent to Vietnam (the draft being one of the only differences between war then and now) dies and is laid out on an American flag toward the back of the stage. The cast immediately gathers starts singing "Let the Sun Shine In" and encourages the audience to sing and dance along. The "victim" is completely upstaged, in fact almost blotted out, forgotten. If this were a Living Theater production, say, as with the end of Mysteries, we would be left with that dead body to think about and not good hearted optimistic merriment. Yet, though many of their processes differ many of their approaches are the same and it's very interesting to watch them unfold and calculate where, at certain points "structure and content" of both ideas become "identical."

I prefer the Living Theater's approach, though a good song and dance never hurt anyone. I can say however that despite its happier moments HAIR might just be the one of most anti-war, counter-culture plays to come along and one that finds itself wrapped up nicely in a perfect pop culture package and tied off neatly with a yellow ribbon.

This fall look for HAIR on Broadway and the new Living Theater production of Eureka, the late Hanon Resnikoff's adaptation of Poe's epic poem.

And while you're looking remember that LIFE, like modernism, though it ends at times, is anti-durational so listen with all your senses.

steve dalachinsky - sept. 2008, nyc


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