Thursday, November 12, 2009

more on beards

wouldyabelieve it, another article on iconic beards that came out on exactly the same morning as mine

who knew it was National Beard Month and/or (are they the same thing?) No Shave November?

here (from a few years ago) a female pogonophobe perspective

Matt on "the Shoreditch Moustache"


In the comments my old colleague Jonh Wilde had a funny story about his time at Sounds (just before he jumped ship for Melody Maker in '87) and how alarmed his colleague Andy Hurt was when "a band with beards, namely Zodiac Mindwarp, were about to appear" on Sounds's front cover. "Andy voiced his concerns at the weekly meeting, even going so far as to suggest that nobody sporting a beard should be rewarded with coverage in Sounds. "We didn't fight the punk wars for THIS!" he exclaimed."

That rang true to me: as I remember it there had been this entire era of music--1977 to 1985, i.e. coterminous with my youth, with my getting into music and then getting into the music press--during which you virtually never saw a young group with facial hair. There was Dave Greenfield the keyboard whiz in the Stranglers (who had a raven's-wing-oily and vaguely menacing tache) and also the drummer Jet Black, who was another generation entirely, and there was Peter Hook, and that was it, pretty much.

Thought I might be misremembering this, though, so I had a flick through these two densely pictorial books, Roger Crimlis & Alwyn W. Turner's Cult Rock Posters (which starts with glam but goes through punk, New Wave, New Romance, Goth, and includes all kinds of flyers, posters, album inserts etc) and Chris Sullivan & Stephen Colegrave's Punk (tons of photographs, follows the after-punk diaspora well into the Eighties) and sure enough, it was a virtually fuzz-free period. Punk rejected them as hippie and Virgin Records-y; postpunks and Goths didn't want to hide their pallor; New Popsters were supposed to be fresh-faced. In those days the only furry faces in NME were the roots reggae bands (or the very occasional Black American funk/soul band like EWF or Gap Band--generally speaking the semiotics of beards have a completely different valence in black music). Or it'd be someone like John Martyn or Richard Thompson, i.e. survivors of a different era, folk-rockers and such.

Same applied to the general youth populace. At my college the only beard-wearers were a bunch of hippies, same age as me but utterly dedicated to living in 1968 (they listened to The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter). Apart from these committed anachronists, the only other occurrences of facial hair among the young were rare and fell into precise categories. The guy who was short and slight and sick of being offered half-price on buses. An expression of radical self-neglect (often accompanied by body-odour or scurvy). The insignia of born-again Christianity (beard expressive of both Jesus-identification and a lack of vanity). Being a geology student (possibly a totally unfair stereotype, but a widespread and indelible one).

By the mid-to-late Eighties, as Jonh noted, beards started to creep back into rock as a daring, semiotically-freighted gesture. You had the vaguely-Satanic, "R-U-ready-to-rock?" beard, worn ironically by Zodiac Mindwarp and then in deadly earnest by Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. By the Nineties there were soul-patches and goatees and the "hemp beard" (Cypress Hill). And there was weirdy-beardy electronica (Richard D. James, Luke Vibert), perhaps indicating "too busy twiddling me knobs" to bother shaving, or being a variant of the stoner hemp/hair connection (Vibert's chin-carpet always seemed vaguely resinous).

Somewhere in there you'd also get instances of the I-am-above-such-trifling-things-as-image beard, e.g. the brambles that over-ran the face of Elvis Costello circa Mighty Like A Rose, seemingly an act of pique at the fact that he wasn't getting chart hits anymore.

(Paddy MacAloon's present look is an extreme version of this ex-popstar, just-don't-care-anymore beard; originally his neat'n'tidy bieard signified a kind of hip-to-be-square, cooler-than-the-cool stance that paralleled what Prefab were doing musically and was a bit like that soft-rock-redolent/Andrew Gold-esque beard that you see with your French electronic types nowadays and also on Jarvis Cocker, a style move which I must say really surprised me).

Like black music, metal is a whole other zone really, there's always been a hairy undercurrent, people like Lemmy. But certainly facial hair of ever-increasing complexity did seem to surge in metal during the Nineties both on the underground (thrash, black, doom, etc) and mainstream (nu-metal), perhaps signifying the resurgence of "real" metal that brought to an end the Eighties hair metal era (when pretty-boy rockers's faces were as smooth as their long locks were silky)... bristles signifying virility, and various shadings of i-am-sinister-me, paganism/barbarianism, biker-echoes...

Then acoustic guitars and folk came back... facial hair took over indie, which in C86-era was totally beardless and boy-man oriented.


I've never really got on with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy/Palace Bros/etc (now Fleet Foxes, I was surprised to find myself enjoying quite a bit) but I must say as an actor Will Oldham was very good as a sort of gone-to-seed, lost-his-way slacker/hippie type in Old Joy, which I saw a few weeks ago and which still vaguely haunts and disquiets me.