An Encutment Of Hair: male rock stars go long to short

Long hair on a man. Yeah, we know all about that. Let’s revise what we know in a brief burst of self-indulgence. Back in the 1960s, when long started at the lugholes, it was all about rebellion: a conscious decision to reject the cultural norm of a good short neat haircut kept in order by regular visits to the barber. It served as a marker that the long haired young man might also reject other cultural norms of mainstream society and might prefer a self-defined youth culture to mainstream culture. Long hair, youthful rebellion, rock music. We know where we are. We’re at the good old stereotype (and bless him, he’s verging on an archetype) of the Rock God: a long haired fellow, tight of trouser and commanding of pose, hollering songs about women, drink, mythology and life in general. It’s a stereotype built up in the 1970s and then really put to work in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, days of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, it was dangerously wrong to have short hair and be a metaller. Same thing with the American glam metal scene except with added hairspray and frosted highlights, to the point that it became known as “hair metal”. Everyone, but everyone, in those subcultures made an effort to grow their hair; whether it suited them or not.

So, the long hair on the male rock artist was a pretty easy to read label. It rooted (dyswidt) the artist to a subculture, and because of the serious hard work that the long haired rock stereotype had been put to in the 1980s, it rooted him to that particular time as well.  The long hair read 70s and 80s rock as clearly as it read rock.

At some point, generally agreed to be either 1990, 1991, or, following my own law of pop culture decades, 1993; the 1990s began. A cultural badge specific to the 1970s and early/mid 1980s would no longer be entirely appropriate. (Worth noting that the pace of change in fashion was quicker then than it is now).  Three questions, then:
1. Which male artists would part ways with the old long hair look?
2. How long would it take them to do it?
3. How would any shorter hairstyle decisions play in the two most important courts of public opinion? (Namely, what I think, and what I think other people think.)

Example Haircut One: Jon Bon Jovi.

Classic 1980s Jon Bon Jovi first there. Hair frosted and teased, plenty of product on the go. After a period of solo projects and management-firing, Bon Jovi made a comeback in 1992-3. They had bit of a new sound (They had some drum syncopation! Drum syncopation was a very late 80s early 90s thing to have!) and a bit of a new look. A lot of a new look for Jon Bon Jovi. A haircut that made everyone I knew say “Wow, I really like Jon Bon Jovi’s hair now!” It was a revolutionary haircut. It said “Hello and welcome, new fans! You do not have to be a member of the rock/metal subculture to like me,” and “My name is Jon Bon Jovi and I am a very good looking man, which you may have not noticed before,” and “we have been there and done that with the 80s hair metal thing: we are up to date and with it!” This is probably the best haircut in rock music. Maybe just about in a tie with example 2…

Example Haircut Two : Bruce Dickinson. Him out of Iron Maiden.

Ah, Bruce Dickinson. Fencer, rock god and airline pilot. Is there any better resumé? Bruce Dickinson, of Iron Maiden, England, and the Universe, cast off his old NWOBHM hair in late 1995. Initially, it was a simple “curtains” style bob, then he got it done properly.

Bruce is also looking pretty good. Once a bloke gets past “a certain age” by which of course we mean an entirely uncertain age which we aren’t willing to define, long hair is not so flattering. Tends to drag the face down, which action a feller might prefer to leave to gravity. A shorter cut with softer edges tends to be more pleasing to the eye. Bruce was not yet 40 when he chose an encutment of hair. The decision’s done him well as he’s got into his 50s, but I’d like to be all judgemental and objectifying and state an opinion that he didn’t want to leave it any longer than he did, and might not have gone wrong to get the hair cut a bit earlier. Jon Bon Jovi was only 30 when he went for The Haircut. Quite the early adopter.

Example Haircut Three: Francis Rossi. Him out of Status Quo.

Old man Rossi had a ponytail. Slightly different animal, the ponytail. It’s the long hair, but on a leash.  Status Quo were very, very strongly defined as old fashioned, unfashionable rock for old fashioned, unfashionable people; so it’s no surprise that Francis Rossi took a long time to get rid of the ponytail. Hair receded; the ponytail stayed. The face got old; the ponytail stayed. Hair thinned; the ponytail stayed. Eventually, in March 2009, at the age of 59, Mr Rossi decided that the ponytail would have to go. It made the tabloids, and rightly so. When interviewed on the radio this year and asked what became of the ponytail itself, Francis replied, “a couple got it, and they wash it and take it out for walks and everything.” The long hair, but on a leash. Indeed. Top bloke. (Unfortunately, I did not note down when, where, and with whom the radio interview was. I’m thinking it would have been with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 2.)

Example Haircut Four: I’ve forgotten. No, wait, I haven’t. Metallica.

By this point, I can no longer be bothered to look for images. Metallica: all long of hair until 1996, then short of hair, with initially a whole new selection of looks incorporating goth/emo eye makeup. After that, they did what Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Dickinson didn’t: they went back on the encutment of hair.  Indeed there is now a division in the ranks. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield have stuck with the short hair (Hetfield with a selection of exciting beards), but the long haired Robert Trujillo has joined the band, and Kirk Hammett has gone back to long. I’m not going to ignore ethnicity — Trujillo is Hispanic and Hammett is Filipino, so there’s a question of brown men’s hair/looks versus white men’s hair/looks here.  Long hair reads as particularly ageing on white men, and I see Ulrich and Hetfield’s decisions to stay with short hair in the light of age and thinning hair as well as in the light of wanting to appear “with it” rather than tied to the 80s. Robert Trujillo’s hair is very much what’s seen as “good” Latino hair — it’s thick, it has lustre, it’s smooth.  The choice to keep this kind of hair long and therefore demonstrate its natural tendency to flow and shine; that’s going to be seen as a “good” hair choice, at least when it’s a choice made by a rock artist, a man who isn’t constrained by norms of “businesslike” personal presentation.

Example Haircut Five: Me. Not a rock god or indeed a bloke at all.

I always had the long hair, and for a terribly long time laboured under the delusion that by choosing the right kind of conditioner I could get my hair to be all shiny and silky-like. I wanted Jennifer Aniston hair. At the age or 33 (older than Jon Bon Jovi at time of encutment, younger than Bruce Dickinson at time of encutment), I realised it wasn’t working. Long hair was dragging my face down, and I was always tucking it behind my ears, which is never a great look especially with a face like mine. It wasn’t smooth and silky and I looked nothing like the Aniston. Cut it. Cut it a lot. Lopped it, layered it. Layered it some more. Got new glasses and put a fringe in. Currently sporting a Professor Brian Cox look. Suits me. I would like to nominate my own encutment of hair as the third best encutment in rock history since Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Dickinson, and I have absolutely nothing with which to back up that claim.