They say that the genetics for your hair are determined by your maternal side—in males, anyway. “They,” being Mr. Sly, my ninth-grade shop teacher who had the classic “nothing in the front, party in the back,” hair-do. Since that time in high school, I’ve had a sick preoccupation with my hair. I look down a long line of men, my mom’s sisters and nephews, my uncles and cousins—and I’m blinded by the reflections. Every I wake another day older with hair on my head is a true blessing.
From grade nine onward, I grew my hair long—refusing to cut it out of fear of waking up bald. On picture day of that year, I came to school as you did in 2003: rocking that sweet George Clooney, “Caesar” cut and praying that someone thinks you’re cool. Puberty had had her way with me though and I was sporting a massive red zit on my nose, changing me from the Cloon-dog to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with stunning accuracy. A few months later, I took advantage of the retakes, but by then I had started drifting into Beatle territory when it came to my hair, shagging down just below my eyebrows.
In the tenth grade, I had what’s known in Canada, and parts of the US, as “Hockey Hair.” You can spot it by the moderate length of shag that curls out at the end, creating natural wings around the ears—or if the kid is a big enough douche bag, he’ll create artificial wings using his sister’s blow-dryer. That’s a sight.
The hockey hair was a bag of mixed emotions. There were skater-allusions involved because of my ripped jeans and Metallica t-shirts, but most everyone put me into the default position of hockey-player in their mind. I didn’t play hockey. I didn’t skate. It’s like they chose to ignore the massive chain hanging from my jeans, or the giant leather wrist cuff on my arm. This was headbangin’ hair, and I started to make sure people knew it.
To complement my bad-ass new look, I had started wearing a leather jacket given to me by my Uncle Ralph. Ralph and I connected on the bad-ass, hardcore fashion sense that we shared at the time, and he was always giving me cool stuff like this. There was a knife in the pocket, which was an essentially found jacket, and that was very exciting. My girlfriend at the time was really into sewing band patches on things, and I had given her a black denim vest to load up with Black Label Society, Pantera and Slayer patches, effectively making me the coolest guy in any room I was in. Especially when I combined the jacket and the vest so I could trudge around in my biker boots, with my fifteen-pound iron chain testing the limits of my belt, sweating uncontrollably, but, yet somehow still cool as hell.
Not really. I looked ridiculous, like high school kids are supposed to. I was five-foot-ten, creeping towards the inevitable three-hundred-pound finish line that was waiting for me at the end of grade 12, inflated by a bulky leather jacket and denim vest over top. Compared to my legs and head, my torso was absolutely massive. I was like an ice cream cone with a hairy cherry on top. It’s a real testament to the weight and tread quality of Harley-Davidson boots that I never fell over.
To my delight, by the grade eleven, my golden locks had grown out arrow straight—and like a weed. Though the year before my hair barley cleared my non-existent jaw-line, it now draped my shoulders in magic and my style had evolved past the jacket and became firmly rooted in the world of hoodies. I was highly attracted to the look of a man’s long hair draping over top of a hood, and sought it for myself. I had usual culprits, Metallica, Lamb of God, Slayer and BLS—a regular staple of hoodies that makes me cringe when I think about the money I was able to throw into hugely inflated clothing prices. Each one was cooler than the last with album artwork or special exclusive art—the Lamb of God one even had a black and white photo of the band on the back.
In hindsight, I remember being slightly damp at all times from sweat. I was insecure about my body and the hoodie was the perfect security blanket, and still is. I firmly believe that all of humankind with hide the body they’re ashamed of behind hoodies until it become socially acceptable to wear the Snuggie out in the world.
In grade twelve, I finally morphed into my final form. I had branded myself with the Black Label Society logo in tribute to the late, great Dimebag Darrell who had been murdered maybe a year or two before, and my hair rested in the middle of my back, less than eight inches from my belt. I had a split persona, though. Three days a week, I’d be Joel Classic: the hard-rocking metalhead that they’ve all come to know and love, but the remaining two, I was clearly trying to reach for something else. I had gotten into Jazz music, pony tails and polo shirts, and I finally introduced colours into my wardrobe that were outside the grey palette. This undercurrent became the main flow of my style by the end of the year and I had even managed to break the spell denim had over me with khakis and cargo shorts, and it continued like this until college.
In January of my first semester, I was tired of having the hair. The rivets on the seats at school would trap the loose hairs, tangle them up and pull them out when I got up to walk away. I was tired of jerking my head and having my movement robbed from me just because I was sitting on my hair. Tired of catching it in car doors, zippers on both pants and jackets, having to carefully reposition the entire mass whenever I had to sit on the toilet. I was forced into showering every morning, a thirty-minute adventure, because the hair, overnight, would weigh itself down and look like it had been run through with a fine-tooth comb coated in motor oil. Flat hair is a punishment reserved for monsters in hell. So, in light of all my complaints, I walked down to some little hairdressers attached to the IGA by my house, and asked them to buzz me.
After confirming that it was what I wanted for sure—no take backs, they combed it out. With a single snip of her scissors, she separated me from my pride and joy, and the burden in my life at that time. As her clippers ran over my head, flakes from shampoos older than cousins of mine began to fill the air. It’s as if my scalp was a desert wasteland and sealed into that state by a film of dried shampoo. It turns out I was terrible at the rinse part of the cycle; the American Gladiators of the 90’s would be ashamed of me.
When I got home, I sat in front of the mirror in my bedroom, running my fingers along my scalp and staring at the skin. My hair had been so long, so heavy and parted in the same spot for so many years, that it remained parted even though there was only a quarter of an inch of length attached to it. It looked like windblown grass, or as if Moses was hiding somewhere on the crown of my head, being a lil' stinker. It took months to relax, and I looked like goof for the entire time. I thought my head was far too small for my body, like a raisin sitting on top of a pear. It was the perfect recipe for a new wave of self-consciousness. I was Samson, stripped of my power.
Since then I’ve fully embraced short hair. It’s nice to have options for your look past “up or down.” Right now, it’s long up top, but almost nonexistent on the sides. It’s your typical White-guy hair-cut for 2017. My mother-in-law described it to me as trendy, which of course, means I’ve been thinking of ways to cut it for weeks now. It’s a sick compulsion of mine to go against the grain, and it’s just getting worse these days. C’est la vie.
While I rejoice for my hair now, I really don’t see this lasting long. I had shaved my head last year and decided that it was the last time; I’m in the final years of a full head of hair and I need to embrace every second of it. As I run a comb through it in the mornings, I see more and more scalp showing through every day. I have visions of my grandpa, my uncles and cousins, especially those who lost their hair in their mid twenties—how long until my borrowed time is reclaimed? I see my follicle-future in these men, and I shrink just a little inside. I’m too vain to go bald. I have low self esteem, but I’m vain as hell.
On the other hand, my father and his brothers all had, or have full heads of hair well into their fifties. I have my fingers crossed that I’ve commandeered the Morgan hair gene, but it’s all just a waiting game. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.