GETTING MORE TALE #488: Almost Cut My Hair
Whatever musical subculture you come from, if it has a uniform, then no doubt hair style is a part of that uniform.
Nowhere has this been exemplified better than the classic mohawk made famous by 1970’s punk rockers. Mr. T made it mainstream in the 80’s, rendering the punk shock value of it dead. On to the next thing! How about a a 1″ hole in your earlobe to keep it edgy? Hair cuts and music have a much longer association than that, of course. The Beatles were considered rough and shaggy for their hair that COVERED THEIR EARS! Can you imagine? On the other side of the pond, Elvis was popularizing the greaser look. All over the world, kids tried to look like these rebellious rabble-rousers.
The late Eric Carr, who served as Kiss’ drummer from 1982 until his passing in 1991, told stories of how he desperately tried to straighten his hair to look like a Beatle. He’d put pantyhose on his head overnight to try and get the curls out. Meanwhile, there are photos of young Gene Simmons with bangs down to his eyebrows and Paul Stanley with hair covering his ears. (Paul had a second motivation — one of his ears is deformed and he was eager to hide it.)
In America, another hairstyle was emerging, and it was strongly related to the funk, r&b and disco scenes: the Afro. It is the only hairstyle I am aware of that is probably measured in diameter, not length. In the 1960’s, the Afro was associated with the ripple effect emanating from the civil rights movement. Today it is a classic hairstyle, immediately adding strength and character to almost any face that it frames. The Afro is a beautiful thing, truly.
Billy Preston “the Fifth Beatle”
Almost as beautiful are the dreadlocks. In many cultures, dreadlocks are sacred. The association of dreadlocks with modern music is due to the emergence of Reggae. Rastafari (part of the Abrahamic family of religions) emerged in Jamaica in the 1930’s. Who in the whole genre of Reggae was more famous than Bob Marley? Marley was Rastafari, and as his musical fame grew, so did his locks. As far as pop culture is concerned, Marley is an icon, and the silhouette of his dreadlocked head is known all over the world.
I think somebody must have just invented hairspray at the beginning of the 1980’s. That’s the best explanation that I can provide for what happened next. Everybody lost their mind, and instead of measuring their hair in length or even diameter, they began to measure it in height. It also began to take on bizarre shapes. Like the wings of Mike Score, from the obvious example A Flock of Seagulls. Cultures clashed. Culture Club, a New Wave band, featured a cross dressing lead singer with braided hair! It was glam meets Rasta in all the wrong ways. Boy George today is happily bald. Meanwhile, across the pond in suburban New Jersey, Jon Bon Jovi was attempting to break the 12″ height record.
The hairstyle closest to my heart is the one most associated with rock music: the classic long-hair. It’s the perfect hair in almost every way. You can tie it back for the “I mean business” look, or just to keep it out of the way. When you need to unleash the rock fury, long hair is superior. The best part is, after a good solid thrash around, long hair usually looks better than it did before! Only dreadlocks can rival classic long hair for headbanging money-shot images.
I never liked getting haircuts in the first place, but when I started getting interested in music in the early 80’s, it seemed as good a reason as any to stop getting them. Besides, one kid at school named Ian used to chide me that I “didn’t look like a rocker” with my lame short hair. I wanted so bad to look cool like a rocker. Sure, there were some cool short haired rockers, like Rick Neilson, Alex Van Halen and Alec John Such, but they were a vast, sometimes teased, minority. My hair started to grow down past my neck. This caused clashes with my dad like you would not believe. You thought Darren McGavin made for some foul language in A Christmas Story? My dad can eat Darren McGavin for breakfast and ask for seconds. My dad invented many of his own swears. He even started singing in swears! One of his biggest hit songs with us kids was always “Shittily, Shittily, La La La”. And that is exactly how the lyrics went. Over and over! One day, he was singing “Shittily, Shittily, La La La” in public again. He must have been overheard, because the next thing that happened was a Jehovah’s Witness approached him. She handed him a Watchtower magazine, and told him, “I think you really need this.” But I digress. You can imagine how the hair battles in our house ended. Usually with us not speaking to each other for the next three days.
That’s not due to my dad, mind you. It’s due to me being a stubborn little shit. To be fair, I learned the “stop speaking to your parents” schtick from my best friend Bob who frequently stopped speaking to his mother. Bob too was attempting to grow long hair. His goal at that time was to be a redhead version of Eric Brittingham from Cinderella during the Long Cold Winter era. He thought that would have looked awesome. It probably would have, but eventually he had to get a job and cut it. He went with a classic crew cut, and a little bit of a fringe on the back: the mullet. This is what I ended up with as well, because instead of growing over my ears, my hair simply began curling and going back up again! My dad hated this but more importantly, wanted me to be employable. One day he came home to tell me that the manager of the nearby grocery store wanted to speak with me about a job opportunity. This I was not going to be stubborn about, so I went to the barber, cut it all off, and went in for a brief interview. I started that week.
The teasing at school was inevitable. Most of those kids had never seen me without some form of attempted mullet. The drastic sudden change also made my ears look (in my eyes) freaking huge. To me, I looked like another kid in our school named “Trophy”. Trophy was called that because his ears stuck out so far they made his head look like a big trophy. I was hideous! I was Samson without his locks. I had nothing. I attempted to grow a moustache. This was abandoned in less than a week when a girl at the grocery store that I liked named Kathleen recommended that I lose the ‘stache. It was hopeless. I felt…naked.
When grunge hit the ground running in the early 90’s, rockers one by one began to shed their locks. Many ladies of the 80’s fainted when Jon Bon Jovi went short in 1993 for Keep the Faith. Three years later, some thrash acolytes nearly had heart failure when not one, not two, not three, but all four members of Metallica included James Fucking Hetfield cut their hair short! The game was over. While many rockers such as Ozzy, Alice, and Nikki elected to keep their hair, they were overshadowed by the folks who let it go: David Lee Roth, Edward Van Halen, Tommy Lee, Paul Stanley (notably for Phantom of the Opera), pretty much all of Aerosmith except for Tyler and Perry….There were no magazine headlines that said “Alice Cooper Keeps His Hair Long”. But there were headlines to the effect of “The World is Ending — Jon Bon Has Cut His Curls!”
As rockers age, so do our styles. I thought Jon Lord looked very distinguished, with his silvery hair in a ponytail when he got older. Some of us have cut our hair, some of us have lost our hair. Some of us dye it and some of us shave it. In this day and age, it is very difficult to tell one’s musical affiliation by hairstyle alone. You can have long hair and be a DJ spinning samples on a laptop. A guy shredding lead electric guitar is just as likely to have short hair as long. Over there, that metal band has a bunch of people with dreadlocks, and that rap group does too! Mohawk with dreadlocks? Hello Doug Pinnick from King’s X! Sub-cultures continue to clash in ways both new and retro, and as with any style, music will always have a part in it.
1993, return of the long hair.