Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Radical Tuesday in New York

The cast and audience dancing after the performance of "Hair" last night at the Public Theater Delacorte Theater in Central Park. 10:30 pm. Photo: JH.
Beautiful summer days in New York. Very warm but very bearable.

I went down to Michael’s to have lunch with an old friend. Bobby Zarem and Sandi Mendelsohn were there, obviously preparing for some kind of book publicity luncheon in the garden room.

Then Graydon Carter walked by the table headed that way. I never see Graydon Carter at Michael’s so I decided I should get out the digital and have a look.

Book publicity luncheons often draw a stellar crowd. But there was only one table for this one. Graydon Carter, one table. Oh, and James Franco. Who needs stars with this. Someone said, “maybe it’s gonna be a Vanity Fair story," which in the publishing world is like winning the lottery.

The man of the moment, the author being feted and lunched, turned out to be Adam Davies who coincidentally I’d met the night before at Swifty’s where he was dining with Cynthia McFadden who once upon a time was his step-mother.
Adam Davies with his latest, “Mine All Mine.” Click image to order. James Franco and Graydon Carter.
Adam lives in Savannah but he’s in town to publicize his new novel “Mine All Mine.” This is his third. He must have written the first one when he was fourteen because he looks like he’s barely reached his majority.

Adam’s first novel was “The Frog King,” published in 2002 has been optioned by GreeneStreet Films. Brett Easton Ellis wrote the screenplay and Darren Starr will direct. Two years ago he published “Goodbye Lemon.”

He looks like a college kid, with a big white bright friendly smile that reminded my lunch partner of Tom Cruise. He seems totally unaffected by what I consider his achievement.

The official pub date for “Mine All Mine” is today, and tonight at 7 Adam will be reading from the novel down at the Barnes and Noble in Tribeca. (97 Warren Street at Greenwich Street).

After getting the Adam Davies' pictures
I went back to my table and my own lunch. Then Steve Millington, the restaurant’s GM and main greeter (besides Michael when he’s there), told me that I should meet David Blaine, the illusionist/magician who was also having lunch there.

I said I didn’t want to bother the guy’s lunch. Then Steve told me that Blaine had just bent a quarter in his hand right before his eyes. I said: I wanna meet the guy. A few minutes later this guy I’d never seen before comes up and asks me if I have a quarter. He’s all business. I realize it’s Blaine. I don’t but someone does.

Then the man tells me to write my name on it and look at the date. I write DPC and see the date (almost worn off) is 1973.
DPC being played by Blaine.
He takes it from me and tells me to put out my hands. Which I do.

He puts the quarter in the palm of my left. He tells me to make a fist, but not too tight, with that hand. I do.

Then he tells me to “loosen up” my fingers. I’m confused by this request. He doesn’t mean open up the hand. He takes my right wrist and presses on it and tells me to loosen up my fingers. Still confused because it seems as if I’m not doing it quite as he wanted, I try to loosen them up.

Then he tells me to do the same with the left hand holding the coin. I do. Still a little confused about getting it right. Then he tells me to open my fist. I do. And there is the quarter…bent.

Before I could even express my astonishment, let alone say thanks, David Blaine was out the door. I realized this little moment was ordinary for him, just one of those things.
The bent quarter.
Last night I went with JH over to the Public Theater Delacorte Theater in Central Park to see the revival of “Hair.” I did not see it on Broadway where it opened in 1968. I knew the score; everybody knew the score and what it was about.

I saw the film version which came out in ’79. By that time “Hair,” which had been revolutionary in 1968, was dated. The war was finally over, Jimmy Carter was President; and the turmoil in the streets had long been quelled, replaced by the turmoil at the gas pump and double digit interest rates.

The show last night was terrific. The cast was wonderful, beautifully energetic and sharp in their characterizations. And they looked like we looked at that time in their get-ups, fringy and tie-dyed, and beads and headbands, sideburns and long hair.

Long hair was the first memorable sign of the Revolution, at first appearing as adolescent rebellion (which it was also). For me anyway. The Beatles brought long hair on men to America. When they arrived, a reporter asked them at a press conference: “What do you call that hair?” Ringo replied: “Arthur.” Everybody laughed but the point turned out to be prescient. Of course the moptops (as they were sometimes called) were already regarded as “revolutionary” in the music business.

By 1968 America was about Viet Nam. We were told that if the North Vietnamese weren’t defeated, Red China would eventually take over all of Viet Nam and eventually they’d be in Hawaii and then...! This was the “reason” for the war.

A great many of us who were eligible didn’t want to go. It looked hopeless, entropic. It wasn’t a question of being afraid – most everyone is afraid of dying in war. It was a question of giving your life for a war that was incomprehensible in terms of justifying.

The Hippie Movement had taken hold by ’68. Lyndon Johnson, who was a very powerful President in terms of politics and personality, was running for re-election and was suddenly defeated in the New Hampshire primaries by Eugene McCarthy, theretofore a relatively unknown senator from Minnesota. LBJ decided not to run for re-election. The war had defeated him. The Hippies had defeated him. The protestors had defeated him. The People had defeated him.
"Hair" at the Public Theater Delacorte Theater.
All this came back vividly last night sitting under the nighttime New York sky in the cool and lightly breezy open air of the amphitheatre in the Park. The city lights the sky but from our seats, the only building visible through the treetops was the Hotel Carlyle tower on 77th and Madison. It is a beautiful spot to see theatre on a summer night in New York.

The mores and folkways of the world of 1968, all went under the stress of transformation. And now here it was right on the stage of the Delacorte with the kids dancing and singing and romping. Except what was a radical concept when it was presented forty years ago -- sex, nudity, words never uttered in the public’s ear; complete irreverence and with a vengeance, was now ordinary. Nothing fazes us anymore.

For those of us who were there, the show is nostalgic. But it also provokes still powerful memories of that time in this country. Before it was over, everything changed. Behavior changed. Attitudes changed. Four decades later, many of those mores and folkways that were discarded have left us kind of in the middle of nowhere with a lot of chaos threatening. “Hair” remains timely.

If you’ve never seen “Hair,” you’ll love this (if there’s a ticket available; last night was sold out). If you have seen “Hair,” you’ll love this. It’s joyous; and not dated for a second. When the lights went down at the end, and came back up, the cast was standing hand-in-hand in an ellipse, taking their bows.

Then the music started up again: “Let the sunshine, Let the sunshine...” And the audience was clapping in time. Then the actors started pulling audience members up onto the stage to dance. Then the audience started to run up onto the stage to dance, until the stage was packed as the rest of us began to exit. And then the music stopped. A brilliant evening for everyone.

Forty years later the generation that didn’t want the war, and didn’t want to serve in Viet Nam, is the same generation that now runs our world and presides over whatever this is that ironically seems like similar – although different, of course – circumstances.

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