the Bible

#802: Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job

A sequel to #488:  Almost Cut My Hair

GETTING MORE TALE #802: Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job

“No razor has ever been used on my head, because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” – Samson, Judges 16:17

The Biblical Samson drew his great strength from his hair.  He foolishly shared his secret with Delilah, who had his locks cut in his sleep.  True to his confession, Samson’s supernatural strength was gone.

As a young rock fan, I once identified a lot with Samson.

As soon as I discovered rock and roll, I wanted long hair.  Guys seemed to have so few options to stand out in a crowd.  Looking at the gymnasium during class, it looked like groups of clones.*  Different body types, different heights, but all the same.  No individuality.  I didn’t want to look like that.  Like them.  Like people I shared nothing else with.  I wanted to look like me.

I admired the long hairs that adorned my rock wall of fame.  I thought Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden, the blonde straight mullet style, looked best.  I didn’t like Bruce Dickinson’s fringe, and Steve Harris’ curls would never come naturally to me.  That was the thing.  I wanted something that looked natural, not hair that seemed supported by an invisible superstructure like Bon Jovi’s.  Nothing flammable due to excessive use of chemical fixatives.  It had to look effortless – like you woke up that way.

I didn’t want my allegiances to be misidentified.  I wanted it to be obvious:  rock and roll, and only rock and roll.  I didn’t want to walk down the hallway, mistaken for somebody who listened to Duran Duran.  And so, starting in grade nine, I really tried to grow out my hair.

The major issue was, of course, parental guidance.  Dad didn’t like my “long” hair.  It never got that long; a couple inches tops.  Then he would order it to be chopped.  Bob and I sometimes went to the barber together, and we would always request to “leave the back long”.   They’d explain they had to trim the dead ends, and so what we were left with rarely looked “long”.  It did look very, very 80s.

Dad just didn’t understand.  This wasn’t about looking neat and clean and tidy.  It was about looking different from all the clones.  There were very few long-hairs at our school, and once they had some length going, each guy looked different and unique to me.  That’s what I wanted.  Nothing that said “conformity”, but maybe something that said “Def Leppard”.  Who, by the way, had not become the biggest band in the world yet.

The cycle went on for the first three years of highschool.  Grow it, cut it, “leave the back long”.  Eventually I developed a nice mullet that I considered a good start.  This came to an end in late 1989.

It felt like the end of the world.

In October of ’89, my dad insisted it was time to get a job.  He knew the manager at the local grocery store and put in a word.  An interview was set up.  I dutifully went to the mall and checked in at the barber shop.  “Cut it all off,” I said despondently.  None of this “leave the back long” stuff.  Not this time.

I walked out looking like everyone else, self esteem made worse by my new glasses.  Over at the grocery store, I was expected.  “Your hair looks fine,” said the manager.  He had already spoken to my dad, who told him I was just getting a hair cut before the interview.

It was only about 10 minutes before I was welcomed aboard and introduced to new co-workers.  My first day would be the coming Friday.  But before that, I had to make it through a day at school with my new hair.

For the last couple years, I had been co-authoring a sci-fi highscool comic book called Brett-Lore.

I was quite happy with my character, the evil Darth Banger.  Most of my classmates were being lampooned far worse than I.  David Kidd, who was obsessed with drama class, was Emperor Kiddspeare.  Later when we decided to go after him harder, he became the Phantom of the Opera.  My stalker Bobby was Bobby the Hutt.  I got off easy.  Whatever misdeeds he was up to, Darth Banger was always rocking a guitar.  In fact, his starship was a giant Flying V.  He was just a stereotypical metal head, but also leader of the Evil Empire, so I went with it knowing I could have had it so much worse.

When I showed up at school with the new short hair that I was forced to adopt, Brett-Lore had to reflect it.  I couldn’t be Darth Banger anymore.  Because I am Italian, and because I now resembled Mussolini more than Metallica, my character was briefly reborn as Il Duce, the Guido.  Later on, I tried letting my facial hair grow in and suddenly my new character became Beardo-Weirdo.

This was all very depressing to me.  I didn’t care that I had a job.  All I could think about was that I had seemingly lost the only thing that made me different.  Now my ears stuck out.  I looked like everyone else.  And now even my comic book was becoming something I didn’t enjoy anymore.

The one interesting thing about work:  for me, in my life, every job introduced me to new music.  The guys at the grocery store liked heavier music than Motley Crue and Bon Jovi.  They liked Sabbath, and Zeppelin.  As soon as I was able, I added We Sold Out Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll to my collection.  “Sweet Leaf” became my new favourite although I had no idea what it was about.  A girl named Leaf, possibly?

I worked at the grocery store for about nine months, leaving before the start of a busy summer.  The hair started growing back as soon as I could make it.  The Duce character never worked for Brett-Lore, and as soon as I was able, I forced Darth Banger back into the story.  The other authors agreed but under one condition.

Everybody in the comic got teased pretty mercilessly and so I had to pay more dues before Banger was allowed to return.  Il Duce had to be put through hell, and so I drew all sorts of embarrassing shit for him to go through, before he finally transformed back into Darth, this time with a nice single-seater Flying V spaceship to pilot himself.

As my hair grew back, I started to feel like myself again!  I was happier.

It reached record lengths by the early 90s.  But the landscape had changed.  Long hair was more common, and looking unique less easy.  One day my dad made a comment about how he’d pay me $10 per inch if I cut my hair off, so I went and did it.  He didn’t think I would, but I did.  Some of my biggest rocker heroes had shed their locks.  By this time I’d discovered something almost better than hair:  beards.

The fact was, try as I might, I never had “good” long hair.  It always wanted to curl up; get out of control.  Without investing in styling and products, it would never really look “good”.  And that defeated the whole “effortless” idea.  But it took grunge to get me to the point where it didn’t matter to me anymore.

It’s funny how something as superficial as hair took up so much of my time and energy, but the fact is, these things used to matter.  They used to matter a lot!  Maybe not in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re in highschool, the grand scheme of things was limited to the walls of the school.  I just wanted to walk my own path my own way.  I think I did OK.

* Later on I wrote a tune about this subject called “Clones”, a bitter examination of all the ball-capped lookalikes in school.

#666: 666


“Here is Wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”

Ye metal fans!  You have all heard of the number of the Beast, but do you actually know what it is?  Iron Maiden mined the Bible for lyrical ideas in the early days.  The Book of Revelation was a favourite of theirs.  Of the Beast, it tells us that we can identify him by his number.  This is not Satan himself, but the first Beast of the apocalypse, the end of the world.  The Beast, it says, comes from the sea.  There are many interpretations of the Revelations.  Three main schools of thought are that these are prophecies of events that already occurred, will occur in the future, or are happening now in the present day.

The Beast will “rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (Revelation 13:1)”  Scholars say the seven heads represent seven kings.  The 10 crowns are 10 more kings that have yet to be crowned.  With an appearance like that, why do we need a number to identify the Beast?

Relevation is a symbolic book of the Bible and no one really claims to understand it all. The apocalyptic writings say that the Beast and the false prophet will muster the armies of the world against the man on the “white horse”.  When they lose, they are tossed into a “lake of fire”.  Some theologians believe the number 666 symbolizes the nations of the Earth that are in conflict with God.  In the 1980s, some thought that 666 represented President Reagan, whose full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, is three names of six letters each – 666.  Indeed, Reagan changed his Bel-Air address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668.

With the imagery and mystery inside, the Book of Revelation is great source material for heavy metal lyrics.  The Bible has always been a source for popular music.  Pete Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” around the Book of Ecclesiastes, but Revelations is great for darker themes. Iron Maiden (and even Anvil) made the number of the Beast famous to the secular community.  Every metal head knows the number of the Beast. Or do they?

It turns out, the number may have been wrong all along.  Older and older fragments of the Bible are constantly being unearthed.  The oldest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13 (Papyrus 115) found to date is 1700 years old. This ancient fragment gives the number of the Beast as 616.

Scholars today are split.  Many think 616 is the original number of the Beast, later changed to the more interesting 666 for aesthetic reasons.  Try this trick with a calculator or spreadsheet:  The sum of the numbers 1 through 36 is 666.

If this is true, Iron Maiden has a lot to revise, and metal fans may have some tattoos to fix!

REVIEW: Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)

JOHNNY CASH – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010 American Recordings)

Seven years after Johnny Cash passed, Rick Rubin released American VI: Ain’t No Grave. It is billed as the “final Johnny Cash studio album”. Listening to it is simply an awesome experience. It’s one of the finest of Johnny’s American Recordings.  I think my favourite is American IV: The Man Comes Around, but American VI is a contender.

Beginning with the dark, powerful “Ain’t No Grave”, Johnny is defiant. He does not fear death. “Ain’t No Grave” has more accompaniment than most of the tracks on this album, which are adorned only by the odd piano keys, steel guitar, or rhythm. Johnny’s voice is weak, yet that baritone is still so defiantly powerful. Even in illness, Johnny refused to stop making music, his aching voice a shadow of what it once was. Yet even that aching voice stirs powerful emotions through the music. Only Johnny could sing these songs the way he did.

Mortality is a common theme.  Other highlights for this listener included:

  • “Redemption Day”, a track written by Sheryl Crow and an upbeat number.
  • Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times”, lush with acoustic guitars.
  • “I Corinthians 15:55”, Johnny’s sole writing credit, taken from the Bible. Truly an inspiration. Johnny’s faith kept him going in those last days.
  • “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”, a song about a dream of world peace. Maybe Johnny was also imagining the place he thought he’d be after death took him.
  • “Aloha Oe”, an upbeat Hawiian melody, ending the album with the haunting words, “Someday, we’ll meet again”.

I know Rick Rubin lovingly produced these final six Johnny Cash albums, befriending the man and earning his trust. Knowing that, I trust that Rubin finished these songs the way that Johnny would have wanted them to sound.  Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers are among the musicians involved.

IMG_00000581I do love what Rubin did with the packaging. A picture of Johnny as a boy on the front, a ghostly Johnny gazing through a window on the back, no song list on the cover. Inside is a booklet with a copy of Johnny’s handwritten lyrics to “I Corinthians 15:55”, a really cool touch. No liner notes. Rubin lets the music speak for itself.

All of the American recordings (which also included the fine box set Cash Unearthed, and 1998’s live VH1 Storytellers with Willie Nelson) will go down in history as some of the most important country recordings of our lifetimes. Personally I cannot think of another artist in any genre who was so prolific in his or her last days. The fact that these final recordings are so diverse, so strong, and so powerful are a testament to the Man in Black.

5/5 stars. Rest in peace Johnny.