METAL HAIR (NOT HAIR METAL)
In a perfect world, image and looks would not matter in the slightest. But until Sammy Hagar’s alien overlords take over and create utopia, we live in a time where those very things seem to be of the utmost importantance. When it comes to music, it really shouldn’t make a difference how a band looks. The key word here is “music” — they’re not working in a visual medium, so why should image be an issue? Unfortunately, the way a group is visually presented is among their defining factors, which is also reflected in their fans. I might be crudely generalizing, but let’s face it, there is some truth in most stereotypes. I like people watching, especially on music-related occasions. I will observe the people and the musicians and find patterns, because that’s interesting to me. While there will always, always be exceptions to the rule, there are certain trends that will also always be present.
The most obvious is hair.
I don’t mean hair as in hair metal. I’ll get to that, but what I mean is hair in general. It’s the single most defining thing about a band. Seeing the way they look, especially follicle-wise, allows you to make assumptions, judge them, and come to a conclusion that could generally be correct. I could say pin-straight hair ironed into submission with swooping bangs combed over one eye, and I bet you could name several bands, and a genre, to fit that description.
Long hair used to be a sign of rebellion. “Cut your hair, you dirty hippie,” is one of the defining phrases of the ‘60s. Man, parents just don’t understand that in order to express yourself creatively; you need to let the hair grow. There was a whole musical based on the concept for crying out loud (with poignant lyrics like “My hair like Jesus wore it, Hallelujah I adore it”)! (I’ve only seen the movie, but I’m told the stage version was heavily into nudity and showcasing all sorts of hair. I don’t know if that still stands true.) Even bands that were seen as pioneers of metal, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, were very much into the hippie, long-haired image. Ozzy is your typical flower child in some really early photos.
But as music got darker, hair got more “sinister” looking. Take for example early promo pictures of Pentagram. They’re nothing but dark hair.
From the straight, long middle part hair grew into (no pun intended) messy, scraggly, and often snarled curls. When I think of Destruction, I think of one particular picture every time. That picture actually used to hang on my fridge in my old apartment, and it speaks volumes. Jutting jaws and clouds of hair. They have attitude and they will fuck you up. Ish. I call it “thrash hair.” The speed and energy of the music lends itself to violently whipping hair. Wind-milling would never have happening if it weren’t for this gradual evolution. Especially the in-sync, three-person wind-milling of death metal. I knew Alexi Laiho from his hair before his music, sad to say.
An entire genre grew out of the amount of hair a band had. Though hair metal has its roots in glam ,and therefore relies heavily on the image in general (rather than just hair), no one can deny hair’s primary role in the genre. Unfortunately, it seemed talent and hair were in direct opposition (ahem, Tigertailz) and lead to the eventual backlash. There was a point where over-grown, extravagant hairstyles were deemed unnecessary and un-metal. When image seemed to be all that mattered, grunge brought in a toned down, more natural look. Sprayed and glitzy lead way to greasy and scraggly. In this way, hair keeps cycling back to the beginning, from mattering to not to back again. Because even grunge had a defining “look.”
Having long hair is a symbol of non-conformity, and getting rid of it, to some, is like giving into The Man. It’s like a symbol of growing up. There was a point in college when all my guy friends had longer hair than I did, and one by one they all got shorn when they got real jobs. But there are the ones that still hold onto the past. Which is how we got the awkward mom-hair on older musicians. Like various members of Def Leppard and, uh, Billy Ray Cyrus. It might look chic on a professional, older woman but gentlemen, please.
Hair is weirdly the one thing that certain musicians will not let go of. David Lee Roth, for example, clung onto his thinning, bleached-out locks for so long. The first and only time I’ve ever seen Van Halen perform was back when they reunited (with Eddie’s son on bass), and I think half the audience gasped when he came out onstage with his newly shorn head. Personally, I think it looked so much better. Grasping onto legacies, like hair, might be a tool for some to hold onto their past, but it sadly ages them even more. I think Bret Michaels has gone on record as admitting that he has extensions just because he won’t let go of his hair and what it represents for him and to others.
Even those who stubbornly argue that image, and thus hair, doesn’t fucking matter proved just how hypocritical they were when Metallica all chopped off their hair. I can still remember how everyone tsked and damned them for “selling out.”
Hair in music has had its cycles from long to short to long again, but it’s always going to be a factor, because it’s the easiest aspect of one’s image to control and to build off of. How many hairstyles are accredited to certain genres of music, from the rockabilly pomp to the Misfits devilock? We identify “beardos” as liking serious, progressive composition, and mohawks as belonging to punks. Even not having hair has a message, like a memorable show where I witnessed a guy spit “Nazi fuck!” at a skinhead before they promptly got in a fight and were thrown out of the venue. The short, almost shaved head and red baseball cap look? I bet everyone can name the individual I’m talking about (Fred Durst for the slower ones).
This is why I always observe the people around me. Not just at shows, but in general as well. I know that you don’t have to look or dress a certain way to enjoy a particular band. I think I’m actually the best example of that. It’s always fun to pinpoint the subcultures and groups people identify themselves with, though. Even the so-called “rebels” have their people they fit in with. Metal is the music of the unconventional, and it makes sense that each part of it has a hairstyle/look, from baseball capped regular dudes at Clutch shows to the studded and pierced to hell and back fellows at Kreator concerts. Paradoxically, hair has become the conventional way to identify and group music, when it started out as a way to separate them.