Not all that long ago I decided to grow out my hair. It had been over forty plus years since I last had long hair. Hair that cascaded over my shoulders. Hair that I could pull back, and gather up into a ponytail and fasten with a lacker band. When I decided to grow my hair the undercut top, not ponytail, man bun, and ponytail with a side part were just starting to show up on every wannabe hipster’s head. I wasn’t interested in following the latest men’s hair fashions, and I didn’t need long hair for a comb-over. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could once again grow my hair below the shoulder; just the way the young john mcadam did.
I don’t remember when I first went to the barber’s shop in Ferguson Street that was just down from the Hoyts picture theatre and a few shops up from Douglas Parade; I think I was either in first or second form at Williamstown Tech. When mum decided it was time for a haircut she would give us the money for the barber when we left for school in the morning. From when I first started at Williamstown Tech I rode my bike to school; riding up Peel Street into Wilkins Street, and then up to Melbourne Road and into Power Street. Houses lined one side of Power Street, and the Newport Workshops and railway lines the other side; all the way up to the North Williamstown Station. Williamstown Tech was a couple of pedal pushes down Kororoit Creek Road from the station.
The fifteen-minute morning bike ride was no big deal; except when it rained, or if a North wind was blowing. We set off every morning in our school uniform. The winter uniform was long woollen grey trousers, a grey shirt with tie, a light maroon v-neck jumper, a light maroon blazer, and a cap. If it was raining we wore a lightweight see-through plastic raincoat and rolled the legs of our long trousers up above the knee so they wouldn’t get wet. Your cap never got wet. All of the boys folded their caps and pushed them into their back trouser pocket with the tip of the cap just sticking out; making it easy to quickly slip the cap out and onto your head in case of a sudden school cap inspection. We’d all keep our raincoats on until the locker bell rang; as you headed for your locker you’d drip water onto the floor, producing small puddles of water the length of the corridors. You’d drip more water as you took your books for the morning classes out of your locker. Most of us shook our raincoats before stuffing them, still somewhat wet, into our lockers. And we didn’t care about our wet, drenched, straggling hair; we sat in the first period classroom with bedraggled rain slickened hair and waited for it to dry into an uncombed snarled mop. And today generous amounts of hair gel and glossing spray are used to produce the wet hair look that we obtained by riding our bikes to school in a Melbourne winter’s cold rain.
I was in the fifth form when I started questioning my hairstyle; surveying it with the demanding eye of a teenager, and the insight of peer pressure. It was a pot cut; short on the sides and back, and looking as though the barber had put a pot on my head, and then cut off all the hair he could see. It was the sixties, and so with a proud act of defiance, I rejected the pot cut.
I started my rebellious life’s journey at Footscray Technical College by getting rid of all traces of my pot cut. I set my sights on being an unkempt, eccentric, brilliant Industrial Chemist relentlessly chasing reactions waiting to be discovered; dismissing all pressures to be a clean, efficient and organised, white lab-coated scientist performing everyday experiments. Even though I enjoyed the thrill of putting a pipette into my mouth and sucking an acid or a base into the pipette bowl, and then to just above the graduated marks on the stem, I lost interest in the meniscus. I no longer cared if it was concave or convex. My fascinations turned to the student drama club, hotels along Nicholson Street, The British Invasion, and growing my hair. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the message of dissatisfaction the Rolling Stones embraced in I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, instead, I focused on Mick Jagger’s hair. With the same strong commitment I had made to be an outstanding scruffy Industrial Chemist I ignored mum’s emotional haircut pleadings and pronouncements.
john it’s about that time for you to get your hair cut
john have you thought about getting a haircut
john will you please get your hair cut
john you used to look so nice when you got your haircut
john you look so handsome when you get a haircut
With my desire to be a dishevelled Industrial Chemist waning I was able to focus on growing my hair and finding other ways to nourish my newfound creativity; the success of my efforts was captured in the review of the college drama club’s yearly production.
The college year was again “blessed” with the advent of unusual performances by members of the Drama Club. There were many old faces, but lots of new stars were born when the Group performed the one-act plays “Passion, Poison and Petrification” and “The Crimson Coconut” supported by an extremely well-written revue called Lady Loverly’s Chatter.
The main new star to arise this year was John McAdam. John’s ready made beard and flowing locks, along with his untamed flare for the melo-dramatic, presented the audience with a convincing villain, who was both evil and yet passionate, but nevertheless perfect to hiss and boo at. John made an extremely good job of his part and some mused that he wasn’t really acting nut being himself. However, this displays the creativeness and sensitivity of his nature, which could quite possibly take him to the theatre in time to come.
Drama Club Notes. Blue and Gold 1965. Magazine of Footscray Technical College.
My growing hair was a symbol of my rebellion against an authoritarian culture; I in defiance of mum, the old ways she stood for, and the haircuts that she had forced upon us. It was the sixties when All You Need Is Love. I don’t remember any haircuts after Footscray Technical College even though I would have had them as I whiled away four years working as a white lab-coated Industrial Chemist performing everyday experiments. and teaching Math and Science.
I set off on the Aussie hallowed right of passage with neat, shaggy mop-top hair, and smartly trimmed mutton chops; they grew into a beard and long tangled hair as I searched for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. I thought of my hair as a symbol of my self-determination, and I admired the ragged, weathered, tired, frizzy look of my long hair; especially the ends as they flowed over my shoulders. My hair had been without products, or trimming, for two years and more.
Time went by, and eventually, I had my wild free-wheeling long hair, trimmed and shortened at a barber’s school. The young barber in training confidently explained how the bounce in my hair was caused by split ends. I remember dismissing the suggestion from the yet to be barber because the only split ends I knew about were the New Zealand band who renamed themselves the Split Enz; sometimes described as a twitchy weirdo cult band. Before I left Australia to traipse around South East Asia and the Middle East I had my shortened hair trimmed once again; throughout the next few years, it grew and was without products. I maintained the belief that my hair was an expression of my thoughts and an extension of me.
The mullet, flat top and let’s look like my favourite hairband, welcomed me to the US. My hair was introduced to shampooing, styling, the blow dryer, and hair care products at a Lincoln, Nebraska, hair salon. It was my first time in a hair salon and I remember being mystified when the stylist, after draping me with a cape, gave a warning that she was going to adjust the chair. And I thought I was just getting a haircut. She explained that she was going to shampoo my hair before styling it. It became short but not short; shorter than the Beatle’s mop tops, but as long on top as the pot cut I got from the Ferguson Street barber. The sides were also longer and layered into the top. She styled my hair for as long as we lived in Lincoln and Omaha.
Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, oh
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
After spending five years in Omaha we moved to Illinois; returning after a two-year absence. Over the next thirty years, the same hairdresser pampered my hair. They styled it as a mullet, through to full length on the sides and back and spiky on top, to a ponytail fastened with a lacker band, Then came their retirement; I was in a tonsorial wasteland. I was wracked with indecision about what to do with my hair; would it be haphazardly layered into beautiful chaos, styled into an amorphous blob with my eyes peering out, or would it be fashioned as a long blond streaked messy comb-over. I strode with purpose into a strip mall barbershop and confidently announced I want hair so short that I’ll be mistaken for Brad Pitt in Mr and Mrs Smith.
When I think back I should have acknowledged mum’s innate understanding of male hair fashion more than I did; she was introducing her young teenage boy to the long hair undercut. My hair is now the shortest it has ever been for as long as I can remember, but it does bring a certain ruggedness to my personality. I need to start ordering three eggs lightly scrambled, bacon, and toast with marmalade for breakfast.