My Imaginary Afro
Haircutting is a strange business. It seems to have been normal and traditional up until the 1960s when, like many other things, it freaked out. Normal-looking guys became hippies; normal-looking barbers became hairdressers. Guys started going to salons or just forgetting about cutting it altogether. I know my hair probably grew out about fourteen to eighteen inches at the end of that decade. I went from what was called an "executive" haircut to a Jesus haircut. As I recall, I was ideally going for something similar to what Mick Jagger sported in Performance and Rock and Roll Circus, but today that looks a bit styled to me.
Anyway, in the seventies, when cops and accountants were growing their hair long, I rebelliously went back to "the executive," along with my cronies at Andy Warhol's Factory; and then, in mid-decade, with that punky feeling in the air, I went back to my boyhood hairstyle, which the barber called a "Princeton," aka "Ivy League." My friend Jean-Michel Basquiat called my hairstyle "atomic," and I called his dreadlock look "the Bullwinkle." John Lurie still calls me "Heiny," which was another nickname for the astronaut cut. It was convenient. At the height of my bohemian anti-social rebellion and victimless criminality I could easily pose as a wholesome U.S. Marine on leave.
The problem with this social upheaval was that it did almost kill off the barbering profession. Men started going to salons and getting styled and generally looked the worse for it while paying more. I learned to cut my own hair to save money, as a good barber was hard to find. I remember going to Japanese guys who couldn't speak English and trying to use sign language to indicate what I wanted.
One of my favorite songs of the early seventies was "Nassau's Gone Funky." I can still sing along. "Miniskirts, maxiskirts, and Afro hairdos… People doing their own thing, they don't care about me or you… Nassau's gone funky… Nassau's got soul…" And I loved all of the things mentioned in that song and couldn't believe it when they were gone, particularly the miniskirt and the Afro. I just assumed they would always be there. I loved the big Afros, of the Angela Davis and Sly and the Family Stone variety.
I still can't believe they haven't come back. I'm hoping Ben Webster catches on. But I figure if I had African hair it would be a tough choice between the Afro and dreadlocks. And not only would it be a tough choice, it would be a lot of work. But I'm not going to fake it. White guys don't look right in Afros, even the guy in the MC5; and dreadlocks, well, I had a friend who managed to get some but he could never wash his hair. He had to have it dry-cleaned. Too much trouble. Better to chain smoke ganja as an atomium.
I don't work on my hair anymore. I've got a Sicilian guy who's a master, just like in the old days. He doesn't call it a Princeton. He probably thinks of it as an "Augustus." But if I were black, what would I do?
I know. I would go up to Harlem, to 116th Street by Fifth Avenue, and get serviced in style at B.Braxton. This is a handsome salon, right next to the groovy Asian restaurant, Ginger, that was very recently opened by Brenda Braxton and her husband Anthony van Putten. Brenda is a great Broadway star, a Tony nominee who was in Dreamgirls, Legs Diamond, Jelly's Last Jam, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Leader of the Pack, Chicago (with Usher)… et as they say cetera. Anthony is a famous fitness trainer, although fitness trainers are never as famous as Broadway stars, but he's widely admired, and they are a great couple. And now they have this place that is not only handsome and luxurious and operated with expertise, but it is specifically designed for men who need artisinal African hair care. I couldn't believe the equipment they have for dealing with dreadlocks. It looks like something developed by NASA.
Of course the elegant and luxurious B.Braxton is a full service men's spa, and they have universal barbering expertise. In other words, this is a shop for all men. I may go there as a client myself next August when my man downtown is vacationing in Sicily, because I don't want him to do a pre-emptive scalping on me like he did this last summer, and B.Braxton is probably the coolest barbering and grooming emporium on Manhattan Island.
Anyway, here's Brenda with Rita Wilson at the star-studded (Tony winner Lillias White, Tamara Tunie of Law and Order SVI, Obba Babatunde, the adorable Bebe Neuwirth, author Brian Keith Jackson, Emil Wilbekin, and my man Huey Lewis!) opening of B.Braxton.