If You’re Jealous of that Hair

March 22, 2009

As a 60-year-old bald person, I’d like to say that my joy at the fall of Gov. Rod Blagojevich was righteous, that it rested solely on moral indignation at his betrayal of the people of Illinois. But pleasure of a much creepier sort filled my heart: the spectacle of Big Hair brought low.

On Letterman, on Leno, and on the network and cable TV channels there was a consensus:

What’s the deal with that hair? The dark, luxurious, mop atop Blagojevich’s head was considered strange, infra-dig, out of it, laughable and beyond retro. His head was compared with that of a Lego man’s — blocklike, robotic, silly. Blagojevich — a devoted fan of Elvis — clearly was the unwitting fashion victim of a hard-wired rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, of a time stretching from the ’50s through the ’70s when huge hair meant handsome.

That’s when I grew up and that’s when I was nearly permanently scarred.

At age 12, calamity struck. One morning before school as I was wetting, combing, wetting, then combing my hair again, I saw in the mirror a suspicious … What’s that? My hairline seemed to be not quite in the spot I was used to seeing it. Where the front hairs had been was now a sorry row of tiny strands, a wounded-looking remnant.

Horror gripped me. It can’t be, I thought.

Today the word “horror” might seem overpitched. Believe me, it isn’t.

The 1960s were no time for a would-be teenager to start losing his hair. Every adult male and fantasy figure in my world had hair. My father did. Davy Crockett did. All the rock stars did.

The pop music world was all about hair. Superficially, of course, rock ‘n’ roll was about music. But every 12-year-old air guitarist knew the deeper truth that Elvis, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Chuck Berry, et al. would be nowhere without their pompadours. I had to face it: Being Ricky Nelson lip-syncing “Hello, Mary Lou, good-bye heart” before a mirror in my bedroom was soon to be a hollow sham.

My family was no help. A common line in our house was that somebody we knew was “bald as a bowling ball.” These words throbbed in my head. My mother told me I shouldn’t worry, that I’d look “distinguished” and “dignified,” but I wanted to look like President Kennedy, not President Eisenhower. And the Kennedys themselves were eliminating my last best refuge: the hat. They ushered in a new hat-phobic era in which no man could feel good in a fedora. Coolness meant tilting one’s head to the side, raising a hand, and brushing a thick forelock away from one’s eyes, Bobby Kennedy-style.

Envy of Big Hair filled my soul.

So for years, I tried the middle-aged guy’s dodge: the perpetually worn baseball cap. I thus had some dignity outdoors, but in my indoor life I was a capless college teacher and my naked scalp, combined with graying, billowy and vaguely Einsteinian side locks, tagged me as an Eccentric Aging Hippie.

When the ’90s came, however, there was a tectonic shift in the fashion landscape, a shift our sad ex-governor resisted. Men of all sorts — the young, the old, the middle-aged, the fashion-forward and fashion-backward — were not just cutting their hair short, but were shaved bald as bowling balls. On television and in films, sitcom dads, cops, hit men, models, spies, action heroes, doctors — even romantic leading men! — could be bald. So I had my remaining hair cut short and have lived in triumphant fashion bliss ever since. At long last, at the 11th hour as it were — I am cool, or as my college-age son says, “not hideous.”

So here’s my recommendation to Rod Blagojevich’s legal team: Try to inch the governor into the 21st Century a bit; that is, talk him into a very short haircut. It will require great tact. He doesn’t have a good record of listening to his lawyers. But he needs to put his best head forward. And he needs to know that a more human, less Lego-inspired appearance can lessen the damning hilarity.

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