Saturday Single No. 234

This morning’s glance into the mirror reaffirmed what I’d decided a few days ago: It’s time for me to head down Wilson Avenue and stop in at Tom’s Barbershop. My hair is too long.

I chuckle as I think about that glance into the mirror. My hair this morning is about an inch long. It’s silvery grey at the temples and sides and pretty much non-existent on top.

And when I settle into the chair at the barbershop this morning, my instructions to Tom will be the same as they’ve been every time I’ve been there, the same as they were for the last year or so I lived in the Twin Cities: Take it down as close to the skin as you can.

It’s not quite a shaven look. Using clippers to shave a head leaves a slight bit of stubble. But with the use of razors having ended some years ago for health reasons, a slight bit of stubble is the best that my recent barbers – first Al down near Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace and now Tom on Wilson Avenue here – have been able to do. And it suffices.

There’s something amusing about the near-shaven look that I sport when I leave Tom’s these days: It’s the same haircut I had when I was a kid, the haircut I hated. It’s the haircut I worked so hard to leave behind in the mid-1960s, using all the powers of persuasion I could muster in order to be allowed longer hair.

And there was a progression: Between the beginning of seventh grade in the autumn of 1965 and my graduation from high school in the spring of 1971, I shifted in steps from a close-cropped head to having hair long enough to part and comb and to occasionally get into my eyes. About three years after that, when I came home from Denmark, my hair fell within an inch or so of my shoulders. It retreated from that point after a few years, what with the need to find a job and all that. And between 1976 and 1993, I maintained pretty much the same style.

Then came the ponytail. While I was working for the Eden Prairie newspaper, I let my hair grow out, and once it was long enough, began pulling it back into a ponytail. I left Eden Prairie and moved to other jobs with the ponytail coming along. I did have my hair cut back to a more traditional length a couple of times during the late 1990s: Once for a job interview at a newspaper in Dubuque, Iowa, and once for a photo shoot for a piece that ran in the St. Cloud Times.  But after both of those trims, the ponytail returned.

Then I got tired of it. Part of that was the time spent in maintenance; long hair took more work than I would have thought it did. I abandoned the pony tail for shoulder-length hair, still combing my hair back over the top. But combing my hair back began to look more and more odd as the thatch atop my head thinned. So one day I went over to Al’s shop on Thirty-Fourth and sat in the chair.

“What do you want today?” Al asked as he picked up his scissors. I looked at the close cut he sported, maybe a quarter-inch long.

“Do it like yours,” I said.

His eyes widened. “Are you sure?”

I hesitated and then nodded. “Yep. Take it down.”

A couple months later, even that little bit of hair was gone, as I had Al trim my head as close to the scalp as he could, just as I’ll tell Tom to do this morning. And as I write about my close-cropped head, I think of the so-called missing verse of Paul Simon’s song “The Boxer,” which notes: “After changes upon changes we are more or less the same.”

That’s certainly the case for my hair, and I suppose it’s true for a lot of other things about me as well. And that’s not all bad, it seems.

I could point here to a version of “The Boxer” with the pertinent lyric, but that doesn’t feel right. We’re talking about hair being more than just hair, so the only song that makes sense here is “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It’s from 1970’s Déjà Vu album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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6 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 234”

  1. David Lenander says:

    “the ONLY song?”!! I guessed this would be the song when I read the first line of your post on Facebook, but I figured you’d discard a whole list of other songs. How about “Hair” from the Broadway musical, whether or not you mention the hit version by the Cowsills (I guess it was a hit, I don’t remember it on the radio). Or there must be a bunch of songs that mention barbershops. Personally, I loved the hit by the Tokens, “She lets her hair down Early In the Morning,” which was also charted by somebody else at about the same time, though I didn’t hear his version till many years later. Though I suppose that song would be a lot less appropriate to your haircut. Didn’t Art Garfunkle have a SCISSORS CUT LP or something, but I don’t recall if there was a song to go with that title.
    Not to give you a hard time. Well, just to give you a hard time. Or maybe just to tell you I read it and enjoy reading your blog, when I find the time.

  2. whiteray says:

    @ David: I did think of sorting through a list of hair songs (including the Cowsills’ cover of “Hair,” which went to No. 2 in 1969), but I was keeping an eye on the clock as I wrote. Tom’s Barbershop closes at 11:30 on Saturday mornings, and the last time I showed up there at mid-morning on a Saturday, there were three other fellows ahead of me. So in the interest of actually getting my hair cut instead of just writing about it, I trimmed the post. Thanks for the note and the kinds words.

  3. Paco Malo says:

    CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu album spent a lot of time on my turntable back in the day, and I fought the same hair battles as a kid you did. And coincidentally, I think I need a hair cut right now. But despite the times and the norms about hair we shared back then, I still remember listening to Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” and thinking, “David, get a grip.” I never saw long hair as some kind of heroic statement about personal freedom. Daniel Elsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers was heroic; decisions about getting a hair cut weren’t.

    That said, great Saturday single, whiteray. Thanks for the memories.

  4. jb says:

    We need photos.

  5. Yah Shure says:

    Long hair still matters to me, but strictly for winter warmth. No haircuts from September through March spells Scruff City, but without something passing for cerebral attic insulation, the escaping heat would otherwise leave me cold all winter, in spite of pulling full-time hat duty.

    After holding off until the weather finally warmed (for all of two days, it turned out) I got the summer buzz last week, and had the usual “what have I DONE?!” horror occur one toestep outside the barber shop. The suddenly-cold back of my neck kept waking me up that first night. Is one of those funny-looking nightcaps in order?

    On the flip side, slathered sunblock does not a good fit make for longer hair, so a near-whiteray ‘do is the summer look here. +1 on the lower maintenance advantage. The ol’ mane seems more of a chore now than it did when it actually stood as a statement. Go figure.

  6. My hmphs says:

    You know you’ve found the right barber when you walk in and you don’t have to say anything – he just takes out the clippers, cuts your hair and doesn’t say anything until he’s done.

    As for songs, I’m partial to Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair.”

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