I never saw Hair in its heyday, so I grew up thinking of "Let the Sunshine In" as a happy hippy anthem. But thanks to the recent revival of Hair by the Public Theater, I now hear it as a plea for to let the light cleanse a future shadowed by bleak possibilities.
I was born in 1955, and the play vividly brought back a chord of my adolescence that I had all but forgotten: just as we discovered that sex could make us feel fully alive, we faced the chance that we could seen be sent off in the not-too-distant future to kill or be killed in Vietnam. It was that juxtaposition of the best and worst possibilities for our lives, coupled with the conviction that a better world was possible, that defined my feelings in the Sixties.
The revival of Hair captures this conflicted mood beautifully. And while it confirmed my old hunch that the show didn't have that many great songs beyond "Aquarius," "Easy to be Hard" and "Let the Sunshine In," the total impact of the play is still impressive. In particular, the character Claude's acid trip conveys the terrible turmoil that many young men faced as they contemplated going to war.
(And old ones. When I saw a uniformed Claude stretched out on a flag at the end of the play, I could only think of my friend Frank Carvill---who marched against the Vietnam War in his youth, opposed the invasion of Iraq, and died fighting with the National Guard in Baghdad. Between engagements, he relaxed by listening to Grateful Dead songs.)
When "Let the Sunshine In" starts at the end of the play, it seems like a prayer. But it is more than that.
On the night when I saw Hair, the song was repeated as an encore. Along with scores of young and old folks, I bounded onstage for some exuberant dancing.
By the time it was all over, I wore a big smile on my face. I felt a little guilty for asking my long-haired teenage son to get a haircut. And I had recovered pieces of my own history.