High Times

Walking in Space

We weren’t high in 'Hair,' not really. At least I wasn’t—until one night when I was.

I'm right above the second "e" in "else."

When I was in the cast of "Hair" on Broadway in 1969, we were tripping every night. That is, in character, on stage, we extolled the virtues of drug use and did our best imitation of people who were "floating, flipping, flying, tripping." But of course we weren't high, not really. At least I wasn't, until one night when I was.

I had forsworn drugs several months before I went to New York to get fake-stoned at the Biltmore Theater. I'd taken acid, just once, and it went badly. Do you know the feeling when you are hanging by your fingertips from a narrow ledge on the side of a building, seventeen floors up, in a high wind? It was like that for sixteen hours.

After that, my old friend Mr. Weed triggered echoes of the bad trip whenever I smoked, so I renounced him and all other mind-bending substances. (If you don't count the Brandy Alexander I liked to sip at Joe Allen's after the show.) But that made me unique in the cast of "Hair."

The main dressing room backstage was technically reserved for the two male leads, but it was actually a hangout for pretty much anyone in the cast, where they could do whatever they wanted with impunity.

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Things got pretty gnarly in there, at least by my standards. (I was 19 and fresh out of Illinois.) One night, in an effort to take a step up the "Hair" social ladder, I timidly poked my head into the crowded room and said, "Hi, guys!" Nobody responded because they were all focused on the two actors who were having sex in the middle of the floor. The onlookers cheered on the lovebirds as if it were a dog fight.

Of course, there were drugs in that dressing room, too. The show's song "Hashish" is a lyrical litany of what was consumed: "Hashish, cocaine, marijuana, opium, LSD …" I saw all that and more—the song doesn't mention heroin—free-flowing in that crazy room. I remember a night in particular when Sally Eaton, who played "Jeanie" in the show, brought her 5-year-old son in there, bragging that she had just fed him some acid.

So I should have been skeptical when Keith Carradine, who was playing "Claude" at the time, offered everyone in the cast a brownie before curtain. How nice, I remember thinking. What a sweet gesture of friendship. Fool that I was, I may even have imagined he bought them in support of a relative's bake sale.

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It was during the opening number, "Aquarius," when the stage felt like it was tilting at a thirty-degree angle, that it occurred to me. But by then the word was out backstage: We'd all eaten brownies the recipe for which included maybe one part flour and eleven parts hash.

When we got to "Hashish" early in the first act, I noted the irony as I sang it, feeling as if my head might roll off my shoulders and bounce into the lap of the guy in row A.

I struggled to keep that from happening until we got to the song, "Be-In." Mostly wild dancing and minimal lyrics, the number suited my condition nicely. Next, however, came that famous act one closer—the nude scene. Have you ever stood naked in front of six hundred people while you were stoned shitless? (I mean, unless you went to Woodstock ... in which case you probably have.)

By the time we got to "Walking in Space," the second act's paean to tripping, we were able to sing it with unusual conviction.

"My body is walking in space

My soul is in orbit, with God, face to face ..."

On a rocket to the Fourth Dimension

Total self-awareness, the intention …"

Actually, self-awareness was not my intention. At that point in the show, my only intention was just to get to the end without plummeting into the orchestra pit.

I succeeded, as I recall, and generally felt that I acquitted myself of my professional duties adequately. I skipped Joe Allen's later and went home to watch Johnny Carson and wait for my brain to resume normal function (which may or may not have ever happened).

So what's my takeaway from this? The next time Keith Carradine gives me a brownie, I'm taking the day off.

   
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