Pamela Murray Winters

This Was Supposed To Be a Tribute to Treat Williams

This Was Supposed To Be a Tribute to Treat Williams

Like everyone old enough today to have seen the first TV appearance of “Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp,” I first saw Treat Williams in Hair.

Hair (1979) was a film of the play that I knew only for containing hippies and nudity and a song we sang in music class: “Gliddy-glup-gloopy, nibby nabby nooby” and so on. When part of it was filmed in DC, lots of people my age, friends I’d make later, had gone down to the Mall to be extras. I wouldn’t have wanted to skip class.

What I also didn’t know until later, news related by older friends who were genuine boomers, was that Hair the movie bore little similarity to Hair the play, having woven a whole new story around some of the songs. As with so much in my late-boomer life (the narrow age cohort sometimes called Generation Jones, especially by those of us who hate being blamed for everything), I experienced a copy of a copy of a work of art of the occasionally real phenomenon of socially aware teenagers with reasonable pitch.

What this left me with: I wore Indian cotton and paisley and denim from the late ‘70s straight through until now, and I developed a strong attachment to longhaired guys. We had them in Takoma Park, by the vanfuls. The visual aspect of the hirsute dude-squad caught me early, as did snippets of the music, particularly folk. To add gravitas, there was the Life magazine I found out back of my apartment house when the downstairs neighbor’s daughter ran off with a biker named Sweat and her father threw her bureau out by the trash cans and she had the issue with Kent State in it and it blew my pre-adolescent mind.

I don’t know whether I ever saw Sweat, but in my later teens I nursed a long crush on a boy who read Rimbaud and spoke knowingly of opium and, it was said, had his bed hanging from the ceiling by chains. When he cut his hair, just before graduation, I almost shed tears, but I remembered that it meant I’d never have to observe the girls from the flag team giggling as they braided it down his long blue-flannel back.

I probably saw Hair with Jeanne, one of my best friends, memories about whom I could write into a path more circuitous than this one. Between 1978 and 1980, I saw several movies with Jeanne because she was reviewing them. I was even subjected to Apocalypse Now twice, back-to-back nights, with Jeanne and with my new boyfriend (an aficionado of loud music but not long hair). It was there I learned the concept of appreciating something rather than liking it. I was also bookish enough to recognize the literary source, because a year earlier, I’d gotten lazy about a quiz on Heart of Darkness until the day of, borrowed Jeanne’s copy to skim an hour before class, answered the question “Where is the climax of the book?” with “Page 95,” and gotten an A.

So Hair’s Treat Williams, whose character’s name I’ve forgotten and whose only line I remember was the lustily sung “I’ve got my ass,” was my psycho-cultural epicenter, at a time when my touchstones rose and drifted lacklusteredly over the edge of my largely imagined pool of sexual experience, prog rock, proximate death, cinema classics of the ‘70s, and decades of cultural trauma to come. Subsequently, as my memory flickered more around page-95 levels of precision, I’d mix him up with Kevin Kline. I’d try to picture him and conjure Jim Morrison, or Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, or the Ride-On bus driver who looked like he should have a beard but didn’t, or, on a bad day, Rodney Alcala, the serial killer who won “The Dating Game” between two sprees, only to be ghosted when the bachelorette found something indescribably creepy about him.

I saw Alcala’s episode of the show not too long ago. He’s got the kind of hair you now see in yearbooks and think, “Was he serious?” Parted in the middle. Probably enhanced by a curling iron. There’s a plastic-rock-bassist look about him. People say his eyes look dead, you can just tell he was evil, but some people, even multiple murderers, just take bad photos. Primarily, he’s a sleaze. He makes a joke about being a banana—“Peel me!” I don’t even remember the rest. Typical pukka-shell Casanova fare, and not that different from lots of guys on that show and similar shows, then or now.

I know that the leonine rebels I ogled back then were tyrannical commune leaders. At the very least, they didn’t cook the lentil soup. They were neglectful fathers. Burnouts. Thieves. Mean, lazy, and generally unfamiliar with Rimbaud. Like Sweat, they’d ride off with some gleam-eyed girl on the back of their bike, and she’d never be the same. I’m not talking about sex; I’m talking about, at best, disappointment. At worst, far worse.

Kevin Kline was the lead yuppie in The Big Chill. (I implore you to see the really not-the-same Return of the Secaucus Seven, where the acting, done by the director’s friends, is often so weak that it goes back around to veracity and the whole thing feels like a tale lovingly told by your stoned aunt in the garage after Christmas dinner.) Most of the people in The Big Chill have “grown up” and “lost their ideals” and “assembled strikingly similar record collections.”

My Treat Williams never got to be Kevin Kline. He was the Jesus-pose rebel atop the Thanksgiving table. He smelled like real clean sweat and unsmoked hash and Levi’s heated by his loins. If you put your fingers into his hair, they’d never come out again.

Pamela Murray Winters writes and procrastinates in Bowie, Maryland. A graduate of the University of Maryland and the Vermont College of Fine Arts, she has received two Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist awards. Her first book, The Unbeckonable Bird, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2018, and her second is currently looking for a home. She enjoys losing at quizzes and winning at life.