Eleganza: Hairy Monsters (In Need Of Sleep)

A COUPLE OF issues back, Eleganza admitted that it was at a loss for what to tell you to do with your hair. Wear it long, Eleganza said, and you’re apt to be perceived, depending upon the frequency with which you have it, uh, styled — if you have it styled — as either some pathetic old flower child, a heavy metal cretin, or, if you still have it styled quite frequently and show your stylist a snapshot of Rod Stewart for inspiration when you do, as a shag Tory.

Wear it short, Eleganza said, and you’re apt to blend right in with people who think that Air Supply and Kim Carnes are rock acts. Cut off just the sides, leaving the back long, in what might be described as the Bram Tchaikovsky 79 cut, and Eleganza will sneer at the mere sight of you, for there’s nothing less hip than that which ceased to be so in recent memory.

(Distant memory, of course, is another thing entirely, as witness the current ultra-fashionability of rockabilly hair, which for 15 years couldn’t have been less hip.)

Wear it shorter than short — that is, shave the sides off, dye what remains purple and put Vaseline in it until it stands straight up like a starfish in profile — and you can forget working at anything other than a boutique that sells trousers with a lot more zippers than anyone ever needs or in a record shop, both for the minimum wage.

Let it grow halfway back down to your waist, though, and then have it permed into tight little coils, in the manner of Haysi Fantayzee, and yours will be the hippest hair on campus, if not in town.

If you find yourself thinking that things have gotten pretty awfully out of hand, you’re right.

Having just recently gotten its MTV back, Eleganza‘s horrified to realize that it owes Mike Score of A Flock Of Seagulls an apology.

Mike Score doesn’t have the worst hair in the history of rock ‘n’ roll at all — that poor sod in Yaz(oo) does.

This Yaz(oo) fellow, with his poor head shaved but for what would be a quiff if he were Brian Setzer — what could possess a sane adult person to make so hideous a spectacle of himself?

(Don’t answer that. Eleganza wants to itself.) The yearning to be more outrageous than the next sod.

Eleganza, of course, is squarely in favor of outrageousness — but slightly less so than of beauty. Thus, the point at which one becomes so intent on looking scandalous as to make him or herself an eyesore is the point at which he or she can forget about being praised, applauded and panegyrized in this column.

Behold the fruits of society’s permissiveness. Eleganza knew in the late ’60s — when public high schools abandoned their grooming codes and it became possible for a fellow to grow his hair long without having to suffer for it — that it would come to this one day, and now it has. Unless you’re Boy George (and you’re not) or Z.Z. Top (Eleganza’s new heroes!), it’s impossible to look outrageous in any sort of original way in 1983 without simultaneously looking very, very foolish, as do the Thompson Twins, the boy who sang lead for Kajagoogoo, Phil Oakey of Human League, Missing Persons, and thousands more that Eleganza could name if it were willing to spend more than 10 minutes per month watching MTV.

While we’re on the subject, and column inches galore cry out, “Fill me! Fill me!,” let’s think pleasanter thoughts about rock hair, and review its history. The Beatles’ “long” hair was a gimmick, along the lines of their collarless suit jackets. If it hadn’t been for Brian Jones, they probably would have gone back to the grease and quiffs they’d worn back in Hamburg six months after ‘She Loves You’. But Brian Jones, with his globular cornsilk blond bouffant, made it clear that a fellow could look like a million dollars with his ears and forehead covered, and soon everyone in the world was trying to get his hair to look just the like the doomed Rolling Stones’s.

Unless your hair was thick and perfectly straight, it was torture. You had to put curlers in it. Sometimes you even ironed it. Eleganza slept in a John Lennon cap to keep its own straight. It was torture, but if you had curly hair in those days, you couldn’t help but believe that God was a great deal less fond of you than he was of Mike Clarke of the Byrds, say, or Bryan McLean of Love.

It took Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield, and Eric Clapton, in the Bob Dylan-inspired perm to which he submitted in time for his first American tour with Cream, to make the world safe for curly hair.

At around the time of that Cream tour, long hair weathered its first serious challenge since the onset of Beatlemania when many of your favorite English stars got theirs still for the barber so that he could act in Richard Lester’s How I Won The War.

By the following year, though, rock ‘n’ roll hair was longer than ever, thanks to the likes of Blue Cheer, Alice Cooper (the group, not the entertainer), and Roy Wood of the Move. But how much imagination did it take just to let the stuff grow as long and as bushy as it wanted, and how gorgeous did anyone look after having done so?

Yea, verily, before Rod Stewart introduced his amazing pineapple-top shag six months or so into the ’70s, nothing truly epochal had happened to rock hair since Brian Jones hit on the idea of becoming the Breck shampoo girl come to life. Said to have been inspired by Keith Richards on a particularly dishevelled evening, the Stewart shag remains the coiffure of choice for many of your slightly more genteel heavy metal acts even today, eight years or so after anyone with even the most rudimentary sense of shame (and about five years after Eleganza) abandoned it as corny and dated.

Two years later, David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, popularized the use of furniture dye on the hair, which was virtually cut off everywhere but in the back and teased into spikiness on top. One knew that the cut itself wasn’t long for the world when Linda McCartney got it.

But the furniture dye turned out to have a real future in the hands and hair of the punks who did what Elton John, Ferry, and Bowie himself had failed to do — make short hair not only a, uh, viable alternative to the long hair rock ‘n’ rollers have been wearing for over a decade, but nothing less than compulsory for anyone who didn’t want to be mistaken for a member of the generation that had allowed the birth of arena-rock.

We note now that many signs point to a resurgence of the popularity of longer hair. First, groups like Styx, Journey, and Lover-boy all have at least a couple geezers who’ve acted on the realization that it isn’t 1974 anymore. When groups as frightfully unhip as that give up the ghost, you’d be a dunce to put too much money on the corpse turning out to be alive after all.

Also, Eleganza doesn’t know what you think of the Plimsouls or Black Flag, but in that neck of the woods in which these rantings are transcribed each month, those acts are perceived as nothing less than hipness embodied by your power pop and punk camps, respectively. In the past few months, both Peter Case, the ‘Souls’ token non-Hispanic, and a couple of Flags whose names don’t spring to mind have let their hair go to astonishing lengths.

Of course, on the third hand you’ve got (or at least very recently had) the Knack’s Doug Fieger — that most egregious beneficiary of the skinny-tie-and-short-hair craze — tormenting the clubgoers of Los Angeles with a new group and a haircut that screamed early ’70s. So don’t make any rash moves.

As a rule of thumb, Eleganza advises keeping a close eye on Daryl Hall. He might be the world’s blandest soul singer, but he’s never not had terrific, modish hair, from the days when he wore it long to when his and his little sidekick’s most recent videos were shot, with him in his excellent streamlined rockabilly ‘do.

The column inches cry out no longer. And so, until next time, goodbye.

© John MendelsohnCreem, January 1984

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