Thursday, March 27, 2008

Day eighty six ... Moe, Larry, and ...

Back in the eighties I had two favorite bands: U2 and INXS.

They were both from foreign soil, had massive hit songs, used cool and dark imagery on their albums, and had lead singers with egos the size of hot air balloons.

And, just as when I was a pre-teen and wanted to look and sound like a combination of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as a teen I had the same inclination with U2's Bono and INXS's Michael Hutchence.

Now, around 1985, Bono was still sporting a mean-ass mullet. Long and frizzy in back with a pomp in the front that said, "I am a musical prophet. Now bring me a mirror, knave, while I howl in the air like an Irish coyote roaming the Badlands searching for freedom." Well, I mean come on, it's true. Just watch some of the Joshua Tree videos and you'll see.

Michael, on the other hand, was pure slinky cool. Loose, webby tops with flowy sleeves coupled with ripped jeans and cowboy boots. He looked like he didn't care what he looked like. He didn't have to. He just exuded cool. And by far the coolest thing about his look to me was his hair.

He had the wavy curls.

Long, loose, slick, Australian, wavy curls that drooped and swayed as he danced in front of weird purplish backgrounds. It complemented the sounds of the band that played tight, angular, bursts of Fender Telecasters with slap-back delay.

I wanted that look and I wanted it bad.

Bad enough to ask my aunt if she would give me a perm.

Now, it wasn't until years later, after I went through the dreadlock phase and subsequent short hair phase, that I realized I actually had wavy hair. If I had grown it long and washed it more than once every two weeks it would have been apparent. But, unfortunately I didn't take the best care of my coif, I just brushed it and pulled it back with an elastic.

But back in my teens, it wasn't like I didn't have a hairdresser either. I did. It's just that she was completely stark raving mad.

Her name was Tia and she owned a small salon in the Flint section of Fall River where so many exciting events happened in my life.

She was a short Latina woman with a tiny frame, huge breasts, and the loudest mouth this side of Morton Downey Jr. Her hair was always kept short and pert and her nails were usually painted bright red with little blue and yellow stars.

She didn't take appointments over the phone. You had to come by and knock on the door and talk to her in person. I don't know if she was just extremely paranoid, extremely popular, or it was just another extension of her psychosis, but that's how she operated.

It was a basement salon. The few windows that were fringing the ceiling were covered in tinfoil. The general motif was maroon and black and of course there were mirrors everywhere. She didn't sweep up as often as she should have after doing business. Therefore, the floor was a bit slippery due to the clumps of hair. I'll always remember the way that floor felt.

I remember sitting in the chair getting a cut while she played music loudly and sang. She did that a lot. But she stopped suddenly one day and asked me if I knew U2.

"Of course I do, Tia.", I told her with an air of incredulity, "They're my favorite band ever."

"No Alegs", she said, "Du ju know dem."

"Like have I ever hung out with them? Of course not.", I said.

"Dass too bad. They all sooooo cool. And dat Larry Mullen iss a-dor-able." She said, rolling the "r" in "adorable" like a Spanish pussycat.

"How do you know U2?"

"Oh, we go back my fren. I haf a radio interfew dey dih and ju can hear dem talkink to me on de phone in de bagground. Ju wan to hear?"

"Um ... sure Tia. Let's hear it."

She put on a cassette of a radio interview with U2 where they were discussing the Unforgettable Fire with the DJ. It was all the usual questions: where did the song ideas come from, what about the artwork, what's it like working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, that kind of stuff.

"Dis iss where I call and tog to Larry. Ju can hear hem laffink in de bagground, no?"

"Um ... sure ... that's really you talking to him."

"Iss de truf Alegs, I tell u no lie. He-is-so-a-dor-a-ble. Oh ... oh ... dis is where he han de fon to de Etch and I ass hem if he can geh me tickess to de Providenz show. Ju lissen."

And I listened. I listened some more. And I nodded my head slightly so as not to risk being impolite as well as being impaled on her pointy shears. And all I heard was a normal radio interview with the usual patter and laughs and people talking over each other.

I paid Tia, walked home, and I decided that I would grow my hair long and forgo the surreal trip to the looney bin for as long as I could.

In the meantime, I would just go to my aunt and have her give me a perm when the time was right.

So, I grew my hair long over the next year all through the fall and winter, spring and summer until it was down to my shoulders. It grew extraordinarily long in a short period of time and I brushed it and brushed it to give it body and shine. I was preparing it for a process which I had only heard about. A process which was legendary in the world of hair.

A process whose name I did not associate with the condition of said hair upon completion.

The permanent.

I wanted some loose curls. Sexy curls. Michael Hutchence curls. I wanted them so I could look the part as I played the guitar lines in my cover band. We did all the requisite INXS tunes: "Don't Change", "Fallin' Down a Mountain", "What You Need", the list goes on. They were hit monsters in a time of pop opulence and my band was a pocket mirror vainly trying to reflect their unprecedented Aussie mystique.

So I asked my wonderful aunt if she would do it and she, of course, said yes. Emphatically.
See, my mom and aunt enjoyed my strange fashion sense and tried to embellish and nurture it when and where they could. A perm was the next natural step towards becoming a real "rocker."

We went to CVS and picked out the box amidst a plethora of perm kits. I believe it was a Toni brand. The picture on the box looked like what I wanted. Loose and bouncy. Oh yes, I knew what I wanted to look like. It was just one procedure away.

We brought it home and I hurriedly went upstairs and washed my hair. I toweled off and put on a loose fitting t-shirt and shorts and headed downstairs to my aunt's apartment. She had on INXS's 1985 opus, Listen Like Thieves, to set the mood.

The chair was set in the middle of the room with plastic and newspapers covering the floor. I sat on the industrial metal stool which had undoubtedly come from my grandfather's printing shop. She draped the smock over my shoulders and quickly and firmly tied the fastening string around my neck.

I could feel myself swallow against the wrinkly plastic collar.

She began to wrap my lengthy, semi-straight auburn locks around thin plastic rollers. As she did this she would whistle and sing in varying intervals exclaiming every now and again:

"You are going to look soooooo good Mr. Johnson. And the kids at school won't recognize you at all. They'll wonder who the new rock star is who just came off a whirlwind tour."

Oh boy. I'm in for it now.

Every now and again my aunt's Lhasa Apso, Dandelion, would wander in and sniff the air around me and give me a lick on the shin. I think she was jealous of the attention I was getting.

"You know I just want a body perm right, Aunty? I don't want it too curly like Greg Brady."
And she kept whistling and whistling and I think she even pinched my ear. She was in heaven.

The first bottle was opened; it smelled horrendous.

"Is that stuff supposed to smell like that?" I asked incredulously.

"You be quiet, Mr. J and let the professional work." she said.

I wasn't going to argue. I was covered in plastic and my hair was in rollers. Just like a rock star. Ugh.

"All right. Now, you just wait here. I've got some business to discuss with your mother. I'll be back in ten minutes, no longer."

"OK, Aunty."

And I heard the front door open and close. I heard the simple chime clang and then the "Ssssss ..." of the storm door as it closed slowly and latched.

And then it was quiet.

Side one of my favorite record of the year had concluded with "Biting Bullets" and I was left to sit and ponder my existence with a head full of rollers and an unbelievable desire to scratch my head.

Dandelion came in and sneezed in my general direction.

I don't know how much time actually elapsed between when I heard the front door close and when I heard the frenzied footsteps, but in she flew, my aunt, Lynda Johnson, recklessly throwing the front door open and running in to see me sitting there with her dog at my feet who was barking into the chemical air around her.

"Oh my god. I forgot all about you. Your mother and I got to talking and she finally asked if we were done with the perm."

"Well, are we?" I nervously asked.

"Almost," she said. "I just need to apply the neutralizer. We're almost done, we're almost done."

She meant I was almost done. In more ways than one.

I remember the way the first spring of hair felt as it broke free of it's cruel roller captor. As I tried to straighten it out from the root to the end it broke free mid-way and recoiled like a scared puppy. It wanted nothing to do with my advances. It was happy where it was, curled up like a Slinky and defying gravity.

And that was just the first roller.

I will always remember the tone of voice my aunt used as she was taking out the last few rollers. It was as if she had talked a blind man into buying a whole house full of gaudy furniture and he had somehow, miraculously regained the power of sight.

"Well, don't you look a-dor-able."

It was a valid question regardless of its rhetorical nature and one that I almost immediately answered as I slowly rose from the metal stool. The giant half wall mirror was waiting for my two eyes to see what had become of the landscape around them.

Inch by revealing inch it all became evident that this was going to take some getting used to. Because this was not a body perm. This was not wavey. This was not Michael Hutchence ...

... and even an unbreakable comb was going to be rendered powerless on this particular picture day.

I remember the looks I got as I exited my aunt's Datsun 280 Z on the first day of school. Looks that seemed so say- I'm not going to laugh right now, but when I get through these double doors, twenty steps ahead of you, I'm going to sprint to my locker and almost double over with uncontrollable fits of hysteria.

It was September of 1987. Sophomore year. A year that would prove to be my big breakthrough in both making money via music as well as enjoying the perks of the trade that would soon become necessities.

And in one short month INXS's blockbuster album Kick would be released. It would receive rave reviews and ensure a steady supply of rabid fans worldwide who would hang on Michael Hutchence's every move like so much Dep on a curl of hair.

As for me, I still had some work to do on my image.

But, at least I had somewhere to store my pencils.

Thanks for reading.


R.I.P Michael Hutchence 1/22/60-11/22/97


Anonymous said...

i'm a "shabooh shoobah" man myself! i wish i could share some hair stories backatcha, but i only had a puberty-era bowl cut, a slumped-shoulder-shrug of a "style." how are you getting all these old photos to look so good on your site, anyway? you are mr. technology after all! rock on, f.a.j.

Anonymous said...

Michael Hutchence? I thought you wanted to look like Michael JORDAN! Whoops! Sorry! Aunty

Running Hard Out Of Muskrat Flats said...

I am gasping for breath after uncontrollable bouts of laughter.
Having grown accustomed to your style, I was eagerly anticipating the picture which would surely tie it all together.

Not to say you are predictable....

Excellent Post, Alex, one of the finest to date.