Is there a more Important Question than this: Who has the best hair in the history of rock 'n' roll?
Like any red-blooded American girl, I've done my share of flirting — licked my lips at Richard Hell's projectile tresses and squandered away entire songs wondering how Kim Warnick of the Fastbacks gets her bangs to achieve such fringey greatness. But when it comes down to choosing mon hair amour, I'm always faithful to my first true love: Elvis in '56, the one and only. He and his jet-black crown. They showed him on TV from the waist up, believing that would keep young people from temptation. Little did they know it was not his thrusting pelvis or his lusty legs that broke the chains from so many hearts: It was his hair. And each escaping strand that fell loose as he sang came to symbolize yet another admirer (comrade, friend) he would inspire to live free.
But I'm not the only critical cat coughing up hairballs this week (and next). I called the following cultural commentators and asked them to vote for their favorite rock do:
Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train and Lipstick Traces: “Sinead O'Connor. Because you can't take your eyes off of her. Because having the kind of … hair she doesn't have, she manages to combine all kinds of signifiers from the sort of penitent, self-flagellating woman who's punishing herself for her sins to the dyke who says 'Fuck you' to all men and all fashion. And she's just so beautiful without any hair.”
Jerry Saltz, critic for Art in America: “Only one name shoots through my mind — Bob Dylan. Being Jewish, it was the only hair I could possibly have had. It was American, it was African, it was white, it was New York, it was Europe, it was folk, it was rock, it was male, it was female, it was unkempt, it was all those things. There was a halo around it.”
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune: “Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins. His hair defies gravity. I like a guy who looks like he cuts his hair with hedge clippers. I once asked him who cuts it and he said, 'God cuts my hair.' “
Camden Joy, author of the novel The Last Rock Star Book or Liz Phair, A Rant (via e-mail): “As indisputably important as hair is to the whole rock and roll endeavor, I am chagrined and stunned just now to realize I have spent my whole entire eighty-three years till now too busily concentrating on more superficial aspects — the lyrics, the melodious beats, the content of the songs, the majesty of impulse, the democratic outpouring, and every heaving fettered breast — and now I struggle to speak to the true essentials of the art form.
“Long hair on boys — and mustaches and beards in general — is/are a hideous, disreputable thing, having after all become popular in the 14th century as simply a means to nest birds, hide bread, and sop up soup stains. Boys make rock and roll. Men — bearded men — interpret the Talmud or — in previous centuries — become America's presidents. Lose your hair! Look to Pavement and porn stars! I advise you youngsters out there this night, and shave, shave, and shave! if ever you want my rock and roll dollars.
“The Greatest Pop Music Hair Ever indisputably grew on the head of John Fogerty. A hippie — ha! He would not grow his hair for nothing or nobody! Fuck you! His was hair cut short out of an almost Montesquieu-esque determination to duck the pathetic Rousseau-ian fashions of the day! How he stood apart and indeed triumphed amidst the otherwise hair- and trend-conscious quartet that were the guys of CCR! John Fogerty was a regular guy, common, cleanshaven, like us, decent, our friend, his songs told us this, his voice told us this, his guitar-playing told us this — and HIS HAIR TOLD US THIS … and his hair told us too there remained hope for a Sixties reconciliation (hope since lost), his hair said that he didn't spit on closely cropped soldiers like other stupid hippies and denounce them as 'baby-killers' because he knew what killer hell the Army was putting them through. From one glance at their record albums we always knew, before we were able to know their names, who the Creedence leader was: the normal-looking one, Prince Valiant, hail!”
Howard Hampton, author of the forthcoming Badlands: A Psychogeography of the Reagan Era: “In ascending physical order, Best Pubic Hair: Iggy Pop (the natural look); Best Armpit Hair: Patti Smith (still the boldest thing about Easter); and Best Hair As Expression Of Eternal Truth: Ronnie Spector. It not only frames her face, it seems like an extension of her voice: You know it was the hairdo which first made David Johansen fall in love with her in 'Frenchette,' and whether it was a wig or not, it was the real thing.”
By Sarah Vowell