Long Haired Freaky People
I still cry at the end of hair when George Burger dies. What? That’s not the “hair” this issue is about? I beg to differ. Is hair not the most basic outward symbol of your appearance given you on God’s green Earth? Does it not trump fashion, cars, or my Versace purse as the first thing you notice?
Is hair not a symbol of your social order. Your political stance. Your favorite historical time period. Yes, I’m referring to the recent Beach Revue and the fine reproduction of 20’s hairstyle that competes with the apparel. Really? (You don’t notice every year the slanted demographic of that contest? That’s right. I said it.)
A hundred years ago, we were celebrating ourselves at the end of the War to End All Wars. We weren’t going to tolerate tyranny any more. Better yet, we were going to dance into the future with nihilistic abandon. Congratulations!
Europe was recovering from four years of horrendous pummeling. Jazz, the end of the Impressionists, the emergence of Dadaism and Art Deco, and a bunch of writers and artists, some straight from the trenches, were making their home in Paris. Many of them were Americans.
Among them was Josephine Baker. Why would a performer with Baker’s talent seek refuge in Europe? Because back home America was experimenting with film. At the top of the pops was a little ditty by DW Griffith called Birth of a Nation. Say what you want about movies and video games shaping the minds of today’s youth. They have nothing on this movie. Griffith, with this flick, is credited with the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan.
The pictures I’ve seen of Josephine Baker are black and white. She’s a smiling young woman, dancing like a fiend. Freestyling like the jazz that accompanies her. Wearing only a skirt of plastic fruit in parody of the “noble savage”. Her hair is straight in a slight wave, flattened to her head, with a big curl right in front. I’ll leave it at that. My kids are closer now to her age then, and I don’t wanna sound like a creeper since my age is closer to, well, DW Griffith when he made Birth of a Nation. Damn, that is depressing.
My point? Hair, of course. Look at her hair. She had tried to fit in with an image of the time. Or she set an image that was often copied. Much the same way the Detroit of my youth was alive with shops and home brews of bleaches, dyes, straighteners, and activators. Anyone still use Jheri Curl?
Okay. Maybe not the same. By the 70’s and 80’s, a lot of the style was much more self-expression than conformity. Cornrows and dreadlocks were only starting to cross ethnic lines. Solid, well-picked ‘fros were a thing to be admired. Even the “Jewish afro” came out from under its hat. Wings, bangs, and mullets became a thing. And Telly Savalas and Yul Brynner gave us a naked pate that didn’t remind us of 1940’s Germany.
Teased, bouffant, beehives, glam rock and glitter rock, psychedelic funk, these all speak to an anatomical geography. We haven’t even started with unshaved pits and legs, plucked eyebrows, hairy chests and assless chaps. And we won’t. I’ve been told that isn’t a good look for me.
But it allows us all a voice. Whether it is modern school kids standing up to ridiculous school policy. Football players shaving their heads in solidarity with their team mate battling cancer. Or George Burger trading his hippie locks for an Army cut so his buddy can spend the night with his girlfriend. Taking his place in the barracks to buy some time. Just to be put on alert and flown to Viet Nam. Damn it! I’ve got something in my eye again.