Producer Michael Butler talks about the groundbreaking musical Hair, June 12, 2007 at the Met Theatre in Hollywood, with Lee Ferris.
1968. The height of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, a time of peace, love and chaos. A year that held the death of RFK and MLK Jr., anti-war protests and a musical that changed lives, embodying core values resonating in self-worth and hope. The year 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway show “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.” It is a social-emotional, politically driven force of rights and voice. “Hair” parallels attitudes of the time it was born. The producer of the original Broadway show, Michael Butler, states, “the musical taught me about peace and love. I believes that ‘Hair’ is a work of God. It has such an effect on the people that work within it.”
Flower children, hippies, musicians, artists and revolutionaries are voices loud and strong; A part of history woven into stories of freedom, oppression, happiness and desire. Stories told through music, sex, drugs and politics. According to Butler “Politics are more serious now than when it opened. The war situation is much worse. America has become War Incorporated. The social point of view is that the rich are dumping on the poor. Politics are helping that. The President is out to lunch. Fascism is now a keyword in this country. “Hair” is more current today than it was in 1968.”
A reflection of counter-culture perspective, “Hair” opens conversation for future collaborations. This dialogue will start with Cara Robin, the production coordinator and second company casting director of the original Broadway show. Cara Robin is “an important part of the ‘Hair’ community and a light” beautifully expressed by Mr. Butler.
“I got into ‘Hair’ because Bobby Kennedy asked me to go to New York.“ Michael Butler
Interview of Music, Sex, Drugs and Music. Reflection: The 60s and 2018
TJ – It is the 50th Anniversary of “Hair” – does its message still stand strong?
CR – The musical still gives hope to a generation. It’s a sing-along of social issues by people looking for their identity, wanting a voice, and looking for the sun to shine in. It addresses topics with which we’re familiar: the military, air-pollution, love-triangles. Racism is alive and well. And people need people.
TJ – What are the main musical messages of the 60s?
CR – The explosion of rock n’ roll came via the Beatles’ early music, infectious and fun, pop lyrics with super style. It didn’t yet have the social messaging folk music had but grew and evolved to set the tone for the changing times. Bob Dylan’s evolution to rock n’ roll music were lyrics speaking to a new generation looking for change and feeling alienated from society and addressed their deep-held fears and hopes. The closest sound to the energy and feeling of the 60s is the “Hamilton” soundtrack. Poetry in music via rap. “Hamilton” made me cry the first time I heard it. It has power, passion and skill of storytelling.
TJ – What was the reaction of gender assumption in relationships? Talk about the idea of free love and open relationships.
CR – The counter-culture was quite liberal and inclusive. People didn’t seem to judge others because of their sexual preference. There was also a lot of sexual exploration going on in relationships. We’re addressing a specific group here – the counter-culture – where, yes, free love and open relationships was prevalent. People were exploring new freedoms and defying the “normal.”
TJ – Does free love exist in 2018?
CR – Free Love does not exist amongst my peers as far as I know. We are looking for committed relationships and strong friendships rather than free love. It could exist amongst the younger generation, but it’s not being shouted from the rooftops as it was in the 60s.
TJ – What was the usage of drugs for self-discovery?
CR – LSD was the main “self-awareness” drug, although it was usually taken for recreation rather than self-analysis. But the thoughts the drugs produced were quite mind opening, even though usually forgotten the next day. I had a friend that took LSD under a doctor’s supervision; so all of his experiences were recorded, which must have been quite interesting after the fact.
TJ – Is the usage of drugs for self-discovery is still a good idea?
CR – Seems like more people use yoga for self-discovery these days.
TJ – How did the musical “Hair” inspire you politically and emotionally?
CR – It awakened me to the urgency of being present and aware, of recognizing goodness as well as danger in the political climate and society. Emotionally it opened my heart to love and accepting people for who they are, to acknowledge the warmth and light feelings of happiness.
MB – I got into “Hair” because Bobby Kennedy asked me to go to New York. When at a club, I saw a poster for the musical “Hair.” The faces in the photograph were of two interests, the Native Americans and being against the Vietnam War. It was the strongest anti-war image I had ever seen. The musical got well reviewed and was wanting to be something commercial. Would I like to do it? I said yes. I was in politics, running for US Senate, and I decided to produce “Hair” instead. These were the messages of anti-war that I wanted to be a part of. Emotionally the story of “Hair” is such a strong statement that I could get into.
TJ – How do the political themes of the 60s compare to the political views expressed today?
CR – Similar. Life seems to progress in circles, same issues with little resolution. Especially with regard to race. Hopefully we can change this in the next years, awareness is coming, people are getting woke.
TJ – Were you involved in politics in the 60s? Are you involved in politics today? What is your main goal in working in politics?
CR – I participated in marches against the Vietnam War and worked briefly on Eugene McCarthy for President campaign, the anti-war candidate. Currently I am President of the West LA Democratic Club, Executive Board Member of the California Democratic Party, elected Member of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee and Co-Chair of the Westside Democratic HQ. My main goal is to elect Progressive Democrats to every level of government and inform the public on issues and candidates through meetings and events.
TJ – Talk about women’s rights in the 60s compared to women’s rights today.
CR – In the 60s you had to be a strong woman to be heard, and as I was in a position of power in my casting work, I had a voice. But not equal pay, the men always made more. Men were in higher positions in most areas in business, politics, fashion, publishing and the arts. Women have much more power and standing today than in the 60s. Women are at the top in nearly every field, and the fight for equal pay for equal work has made great strides. Women are leading the way in the political fights and protests.
TJ – How do we move forward politically with positivity?
CR – We identify what is important in society – social justice, affordable health care, housing, debt-free education, immigration, gun control, people feeling safe and happy. We can’t discount the importance of feeling happy. Then we work to elect strong, conscious representatives that will move these ideals forward, and this can only happen when we take money out of politics.
Remember to Love. “Hair” brings about a reason to care and an example of how. Through the topics of music, sex, drugs and politics we hear stories of a time that reflect the self and its current surroundings. “Hair” in lyric, style and production is a profound example of hope for the future. The messages of “Hair” will continue, the discussions of change and growth present new ideas of communication and a common ground of trust. Randy Brooks, Tribe from the original Los Angeles production of “Hair” expressed “what the show did was open my eyes to the unfairness and hate that needed all the love the show was preaching.”
“Hair” will be the soundtrack for our lives for generations to come. Its impact is evident with the compassion it continues to produce. Remember to LET THE SUN SHINE IN!
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