Thursday, July 22, 2021


There’s a telling scene in Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s grainy 1967 documentary of Bob Dylan’s stormy 1965 tour of England. Dylan is in a hotel filled with tour members, local celebs, musicians, and varieties of hangers-on. The Maestro is rifling through a British paper and happens upon an article on Donovan, the Scottish singer-songwriter who’d been gigging around the folk scene in the Isles and had recently scored a sizeable with his song “Catch the Wind.”

He was about 19 years old, and the influence of Dylan on the younger singer was obvious in the hit with its acoustic guitar and Donovan’s nasal, twangy singing of the especially poetic lyrics. The only article missing from the song was a wheezy, crestfallen harmonica break. The tune's success led journalists to call him “the new Dylan” or “England’s answer to Bob Dylan.” Dylan was reportedly bemused at how the press seemed to call for younger folkies to knock him from his supposed throne. This is where we find him in Don’t Look Back, staring at Donovan’s picture in the paper. Alan Price, the former keyboardist for the Animals, who was along for much of the tour, sits next to Dylan, a bit drunk, and gives the American the lowdown on the man in the newspaper. 

“…He’s a perfect guitar player,” says Price as he weaves to and fro. “He’s better than you.” 
“Yeah,” says Dylan. “Right away, I hate him.”

It’s not likely Dylan hated Donovan in any sense. Donovan instead became part of the entourage that followed the charismatic Maestro around. Later, a scene has the Scottish minstrel in another crowded hotel room with Dylan. Donovan plays guitar and sings “To Sing for You,” which earns him a round of friendly applause. The guitar winds up in Dylan’s hands, who then gives a snarling version of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” Eyes are on Dylan, and the room is rapt as the harsh surrealism rings from Dylan’s mouth. 

Donovan didn’t fall prey to the fate of many other “new Dylans” who wound up in relative obscurity after an initial flash of attention. In short order, over the next couple of years, he shed his emulation of the Man from Hibbing and evolved into a diverse artist. His lyrics remained on the poetic side but gone were the feigned mannerism of rural expression. Rather than pretend he was from the backwoods, he became more urbane, worldly. His voice matured, becoming more supple, melodic, versatile, and expressive in the wide swath of styles in the eclecticism that became his calling card. His songwriting came to us elements of jazz, pop, blues, a distinct form of acid-rock, and alluring takes on what soon would be called world music. Fans and pundits stopped comparing him to Dylan as Donovan’s personality and broad style came into their own There was a time in the artist’s career when other local pop music snobs and I thought Donovan had jumped the shark a bit with his 1967 release From a Flower to a Garden, notable, among other things, for being rock’s first double studio album. Though, the two discs stressed the nerve endings of too-serious teens like yours truly who wanted it grim, dark, and bleakly existential. Donovan had caught the Summer of Love virus with this release, appearing to go off the rails. He was now the Uber Hippie, transcendental in all matters in the Age of Aquarius. Flowing robes that dragged along the floor, an overkill of love beads, an equal overkill of fresh-cut flowers, bare feet, a haircut that made it looked like the man had combed his mane with an eggbeater—all this plus an expensive acoustic guitar are clues to someone of considerable talent who had started to take himself too seriously. 

His career, however, has been remarkable for his capacity to change styles and meld diverse ways of writing and singing about the world and the larger spiritual universe. The musical baseline was in continual flux, morphing in sound, mood, attitude. And there is, to be sure, a refreshing strain of skepticism, aesthetic distance, and a firm grasp of irony in much of his songwriting that has gone overlooked. The image of Donovan, the counterculture seer, still tends to cloud much of the public reception when we approach his songwriting craft. His oeuvre needs a major reappraisal by professional critics and high-minded fans, as there are wonderfully made and even sardonic masterpieces among the glitzy paraphernalia of the Youth Quake. Let’s take a look at three songs: “Sunny Goodge Street” (from his second album’s1965 Fairytale), “Epistle to Dippy” (a single released in 1967), and “Young Girl Blues” (from the Mellow Yellow disc in 1966) are quite a bit more cynical and knowing than his later reputation suggests. 

“Sunny Goodge Street” is a panorama of a particular urban hip scene commonly portrayed in flashy and groovy terms in the ’60s. Still, Donovan’s version of it makes it seem unpredictable, violent, paranoid, and incoherent. It is closer to William Burroughs than to Scott McKenzie’s version of John Phillip’s saccharine paean to hippiedom, “If You’re Going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).” As with Burroughs, the air appears to depict a drugged-out state on its own terms. Donovan seemed to understand that the counterculture was as much a creep scene as it was a gathering moment for truth seekers, poets, and sensualists who desired both sex and innocence. While the cost of reaching all sorts of forbidden knowledge, drugs, and the attending hype was unknown, and Donovan had a foreboding rarely expressed by a generation of musicians that was self-infatuated. It has a jazz-ballad feel—slow, swaying, almost precariously—the lyrics suggesting a denizen who’s smoked too much trying to stay awake until he finishes saying what he’s determined to get out. 

On the firefly platform on Sunny Goodge Street
Violent hash smokers shook a chocolate machine
Involved in an eating scene 
Smashing into neon streets in their stoned ness
Smearing their eyes on the crazy Kali goddess
Listenin’ to sounds of Mingus mellow fantastic 
My, my, they sigh, my, they sigh 
In dollhouse rooms with colored lights swingin’
Strange music boxes sadly tinklin’
Drink in the sun, shining all around you 
My, my, they sigh
My, my, they sigh 
The magician, he sparkles in satin and velvet
You gaze at his splendor with eyes you’ve not used ye
I tell you his name is love, love, love 

My, my, they sigh

My, my, they sigh 

Nothing specific, profound, or stirring uttered, though, as each sentence chops off the sentence that came before, one idea and detail of the street canceling out the other, the details are blurred rather than a vivid impression of the neighborhood. This probably is what Donovan meant, preferring to give us an indefinite scenario rather than words extolling drug use or hippie culture. We find here that Donovan has mastered the Great Poet’s superpower, as did Eliot and Ashbery and Elizabeth Bishop, which is to rise to the challenge of not making literal sense in the subject matter yet still giving us a sense of what the experience was like. No lecture, no propaganda, an accord shattered and pieced back together. Under the sweet music of the lyrics lurks a dead zone of imagination; it is among the more disturbing I remember from ’60s FM radio. 

“Epistle to Dippy” is nothing less than a direct address of a try-anything scene maker who dashes from drug to scene to fad in an irrational attempt to outrun their own vacuity, their utter lack of soul or genuine sensibility. In his liner notes for a Donovan box-set Troubadour, writer Brian Hogg relates the song, written in letter form to a friend, which abounds with a strong pacifist message while teeming with psychedelic imagery. Hogg further writes that the song's actual subject, who was serving in the British military, soon resigned from the service after hearing Donovan’s words that convey a strong extolling of pacifist philosophy. That is the story behind the headline, but I felt something darker into the song since my first listen decades ago. This is a cutting critique, more potent than the Beatles’ polite poo-poohing tune along the same theme, “Nowhere Man.” 

Look on yonder misty mountain.
See the young monk meditating rhododendron forest
Over dusty years, I ask you
What has it’s been like being you?

Through all levels, you’ve been changing.
Getting a little bit better, no doubt
The doctor bit was so far out
Looking through crystal spectacles
I can see I had your fun

Doing us the paperback reader.
Made the teacher suspicious about insanity
Fingers always touching, girl.

Through all levels, you’ve been changing.
Getting a little bit better, no doubt
The doctor bit was so far out
Looking through all kinds of windows
I can see I had your fun
Looking through all kinds of windows
I can see I had your fun

Looking through crystal spectacles
I can see I had your fun
Looking through crystal spectacles
I can see I had your fun

Rebelling against society,
Such a tiny speculating whether to be a hip or
Skip along quite merrily

Through all levels, you’ve been changing.
Elevator in the brain hotel
Broken down but just as well-a
Looking through crystal spectacles,
I can see you’ve had your fun…

“Young Girl Blues” is a doleful, world-weary observation, a bittersweet recollection of an ingenue who had gotten tired of her own hipness and the chronic scene-making. The details are spare, bone tired. They create a bleak view of such a noisy and hip scene of the fever-pitched Sixties. Donovan senses the isolation—none of the scene makers can break away from or cure with brand names, loud music, and chemicals. There is through it all. An implied yet emphatic sense that youth and beauty fade and that the impulsiveness and egocentricity of being young must evolve into maturity lest someone, a young girl or young man, remain stunted, incomplete in their humanity.

It’s Saturday night
It feels like a Sunday in some ways
If you had any sense
You’d maybe go ‘way for a few days
Be that as it may
You can only say you were lonely
You are but a young girl
Working your way through the phonies

Coffee on, milk gone
Such a sad light unfading
Yourself you touch
But not too much
You hear it’s degrading

The flowers on your stockings
Wilting away in the midnight
The book you are reading
Is one man’s opinion of moonlight
Your skin is so white

You’d like maybe to go to bed soon
Just closing your eyes
If you’re to rise up before noon

High heels, car wheels
All the losers are grooving
Your dream, strange scene
Images are moving

Donovan is a perceptive witness to what unfolded. He skillfully sets a scene with telling details, artfully establishes the era's mood, and is not reluctant to examine the emotional and psychic dead ends that fester under the utopian hoopla. Donovan realized he was observing a generation waste its potential on trivial frolics. “Young Girl Blues” crystalizes the unwelcome truth that beauty and youth fade and the weight and of existence must be faced. This is The Bard’s way of letting listeners know that one can grow up or grow old. He has the skill to insinuate an anonymous narrator, privy to and sympathetic with the character’s internal struggles, and adroitly outline a small cataclysm as the protagonist journeys from self-delusion to an inevitable rueful clarity. Donovan is a master of compressed tragedy. 

Donovan has been given the short shrift among the immensely popular songwriters who emerged from the Sixties revolution. Hardly ignored, of course, but it’s a mystery that there hasn’t been much in the way of broadly circulated critical reappraisals of his music and lyrics considering his extraordinary evolution as an artist. The work has varied in quality over the decades, but what good musician’s work hasn’t run hot and cold in a career that lasted five and a half decades? Donovan very much merits another visit. A closer look, another listen, a reacquaintance of this man’s remarkable oeuvre will bring more masterpieces to the fore, a better sense of what a bright young talent comprehended during a complicated era. It’s my hope that his best and most interesting music, created through fad and fancy of a great many years, finds a broader listenership.

The songwriter’s best work holds up, and it holds up for the same reason Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night or Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test hold up; each is an exquisitely etched portrait of the Sixties that bypassed the mass-mediated brainwashing fostered by Time and Life magazines, which spoke of Youth Culture and revolution that was as problematic as the Establishment activists and idealists said needing radical changing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021


 Rock is subject to and suitable for analytical methods derived from literary studies and criticisms. It was proclaimed that rock and pop lyrics were the new poetry in the Sixties, and though not many writers have made a big deal over that issue lately, the close reading, interpretation and subjective critique of lyrics is central for the majority of rock writers to this day, regardless of the genres they prefer. There are areas where musical knowledge is helpful in assessing how well a band writes songs, does its arrangements, and how well (or how poorly) their instrumental skills accomplish their intentions. All that , though, is in service to matters of attitude, world view, social impact, the expression of experience. Rock lyrics, like real poetry, try to express the unexpressable in terms of the unforgettable, to paraphrase John Ciardi.

 Audiences want songs they can "relate" to on some visceral level, and applying literary habits of mind to the lyrics seems the surest way to comprehend what a lyricist is trying to tell the masses. Jazz is pretty much a different matter, as it has been around for over a century constantly evolving, morphing, with succeding generations of jazz players adding their innovations to a rich and complex history. As jazz players and composers constantly cite, musically, works and styles that came before them and adapt them for more contemporary use, writing about jazz, either as journalist or critic, requires a working knowledge of the forms, the styles, the players could on and on about this. 

Jazz has become America's Art Music, our own version of the European classical traditions , and though it might come across as knee-jerkingly elitist to say, I think it's the obligation of anyone who wants to write competently rendered reviews and analysis of jazz to know the music evolution and history, have familarity with styles, to know the canon, the landmark recordings, the iconic innovators. Rock and roll criticism can be as rigorous as one wants to be, but there is a large amount of room for hot-takes and other ways of winging it ; the impulse of many rock writers through the decades has been to become known as literary writers of some measure, hence a lot of prose has been written under the guise being a critique that is more about the writer's emtional life than the actual music or the artist. This approach borders on outright autobiography, and is valid only if the writer has had a life quite different than most people, and if they write sufficiently well to hold a reader's interest. Lester Bangs kind of exhausted that method (not always to good effect).Jazz writing leaves no room for those indulgences or flourishes. One can study and speak of jazz in larger cultural/political framework, but that is a matter done best if , again, the writer has knowledge, more than passing, of musical traditions and how jazz was an effective element in changing the musical and social landscape.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021


 I have a number of live Cream bootlegs, and the quality of the playing from night to night varies wildly. Much of that is due to the fact that Bruce and Baker considered themselves jazz musicians above all else and were going to play around with three , sometimes four chord changes the way they would approach more complex and subtle things by Mingus or Dolphy. They played around with the beat, playing every coherent note that related to the chords, rather than lock into the changes like must rock rhythm sections did and give the singer / lead player a solid and dependable backing while they performed. I give Clapton credit for what he was able to do with the dueling improvisations Jack and Ginger were tossing at him.

 On Spoonful, I'm so Glad and especially Crossroads (WoF and Goodbye releases) he upped his game and at times made his limitations a virtue. His machine gun ostinatos, rapidly picked, created excitement . But the bootlegs reveal the limits of the approach when you have a guitarist who is technically outclassed by the rhythm section. He repeats his ideas, his energy level obviously drops , his playing becomes messy, bad enough that you wish Larry Coryell or John McLaughlin were in the guitar spot and not poor Eric. And, lets be clear that Clapton was using an awful lot of heroin back in the day, a drug that never gave anyone musician a long term benefit. 

A big guilty pleasure of mine is live Cream, especially this track, Spoonful, from Wheels of Fire. Sixteen minutes of loud, plodding, colliding, rolling, intermittingly brilliant riffing based on the two-chord Willie Dixon masterpiece. Jazzbos Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker , by Bruce's own admission, wanted Clapton to be their Albert Ayler. Clapton, alas, was just a blues guitarist with a great tone and solid sense of phrase and skilled in creating tension and release during a solo, but he wasn't a jazz player. He had, in fact, a pretty limited scope as a player, but in concert Bruce and Baker went to town on their lead player, shifting rhythms, playing counter melodies, weaving bass and drum patterns around Clapton's stunted -albeit gloriously expressed riffing. The style and temperament of the guitarist would have made for a different sound, for sure. Bloomfield could play the blues far better than could Clapton, but he was definitely jazzy, a man who does not get enough recognition for his contributions to jazz -rock fusion's creation with his work on EAST/WEST. The long improvisations would have been more fluid, jazzier. Something like I'm So Glad, for example, might have the guitar sound resemble Bloomfield's guitar break in the Electric Flag's "Another Country".

The maximal improvisations of Bruce and Baker forced Clapton to play harder, faster, slicing and dicing his minimalist blues playing, creating, in their best moments of hyped up jamming, a beautiful mesh of sonic assault. Spoonful is a amorphous mass of rampaging dissonance struggling to break free into some free jazz phantasm , but never growing the wings to soar as they must. The beauty was in how hard they tried to b e something more than a blues based band, encumbered by the fact that the blues wouldn't let them go. I get mocked for liking their live records much more than their studio efforts, but I don't care.

THIS JUST IN: "Some Girls" is a fine Rolling Stones album

SOME GIRLS is a fine rock and roll record that revives the quality that marked their best work, "ragged but right." The addition of Ron Wood on guitar began to pay out some king-size dividends, and it's my belief that his gritty chord work woke up a 'til-then somnambulant Keith Richards. Watts and Wyman never worked better as a rhythm section as well. As the story goes, they had something to prove with the influx of punk rock, and prove it they did. The album has some stone-cold gems on it, "Beast of Burden," "Just My Imagination," When the Whip Comes Down," "Lies," and certainly the fantastically pulsating "Shattered." The insistent throb, the grind of the rhythm, and the low-slung riffing give a manic foundation for Jagger's speedy, hyperlinked yowling of verbal shrapnel is more than enough to put this on the same level with any of the Stones' canonical work.


 Lately, considering this list, I've been attracted again to "Queen Jane Approximately," one of Dylan's best "list-making" songs. One the sharpest songs on his 1966 double-album Blonde on Blonde, this love-sick lament is deceptively simple, It first reads as the moaning agony of a young man moaning in the moonlight, but the closer look, the harder listen avails us a tour of the troubled sideroads and detours a saddened might wander. The song is a lament, a plea, the wishful thinking of a rejected suitor holding out the hope for reconciliation for a lover who has left. Dylan's lyrics on Blonde on Blonde were the best he wrote during his long and quarrelsome career. They were a sardonic mash-up of kitchen sync surrealism and hallucinogenic Symbolism that brought the demented perceptions of Rimbaud and Verlaine into the American idiom.
The album is to be felt, not understood. It's a visceral experience.  The lyrics defied literal interpretation but still resonated with you in ways that made you think of your circumstances that defy the easy explanation. "Queen Jane Approximately" stands out for the opposite reasons; the language is simple, direct, and sharp. The lyrics, with only the lightest surreal tint attached to them, investigate a purely human experience. The stanzas are an inventory of interpersonal failures, the collapse of a world upon someone who imagined they were the center of it. Being the center of the universe is too much because gravity will eventually crush you.
When your mother sends back all your invitations
And your father, to your sister, he explains
That you're tired of yourself and all of your creations
Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?
Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?
The basic idea is that we have a personality at the center of this entreaty, someone suffering the agonies of frustration, unfulfilled dreams, incredible, horrible ennui who, it seems, has been in stasis for a very long time. We are hearing someone assessing how their life has gone wrong and what choices made have to make it a different and more beneficial situation, a contemplation so severe that we witness, I suspect, the "paralysis of analysis." The estrangement of even the most severe narcissist from the self-gratifying, self-admiring activities that gave them their most precious reason to live which drags one to the bottom floor of their devastated justification to continue breathing the same air as the rest of us: a life in tatters, shattered, cursed with an acute view of self-designed schemes, agendas, world-classifying agendas that failed one after another, Queen Jane, we suppose, is slump-shouldered, smoking too many cigarettes, engaging in various means of self-destruction by the inch. Dylan's narrator, a former lover perhaps, a jilted suitor who realizes what a full-blown mess this person is and yet still desires company, intimacy, still strives to be a rock to anchor her despair upon, offers himself, his fellowship, his support quite despite all the sharply described failures he recounts as he makes his offer.
Now, when all of the flower ladies want back what they have lent you
And the smell of their roses does not remain
And all of your children start to resent you
Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?
Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?

 This is Dylan's lyric writing at its best, a bit disgusted, surreal in ways that match the speechless experiences of the soul without the lard of banal introspection. There is an endearing and enduring. This is fatalism, and "Queen Jane Approximately" is discreetly the song of a man who is a glutton for punishment. Even without the profession of unconditional love, there is the sense of a young man deep in his intoxication.  He imagines himself as a saint, a martyr for a more significant cause, the delicious delusion that one has an inexhaustible store of patience to accept the consequences of loving a person committed to making decisions based on self and garnering misery and self-pity as the reward. This is a preview of a tragedy under construction. The suitor is as damaged as the woman he is making his overtures.
Now, when all the clowns that you have commissioned
Have died in battle or in vain
And you're sick of all this repetition
Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?
Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?
  The language is a finessed balance between comprehensible plain-speak and Dylan's penchant for surreal sizing the details; this makes the situation plain as glass yet quaintly familiar. And the fact the guitar and piano sound a bit sour, out of tune (perhaps) adds to the alluring strangeness. This is what one sees at the intersection of Desolation Row and Positively 4th Street.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


 Speaking of the evolution of country-rock fusion, it seemed some years ago that the movement has gotten to the point where the songs, the arrangements, are painted by numbers affair, a kind of assembly line professionalism where songs contain elements of rock and country--power chords, blues guitar licks, hard backbeats for rock, pedal steel guitars, fiddles, harmonica flourishes for the country--that lack all authenticity or conviction. I am thinking specifically of Shania Twain, a Canadian who is an outstanding example of country pop-rock that has been calculated to appeal to a broad audience. Quantity, remember, reduces quality.

 It seems the same thing happened to the exhilarating jazz-rock genre when it got formalized to a very recognizable set of riffs, solos, resolutions, all-flash, speed, and no improvisation in a short period. "Rock this Country" likewise is all riffs and no heart, teeter-tottering between the rock accents and the country lilts. It is a Frankenstein monster, neither alive nor dead, ganglia of nerves pulling the beast in different confusing directions. Maybe the saddest part of this whole Cuisinart method of music for mass audiences is the engineered homogeneity of the music. Which is to say, strains of melody and phrases vaguely familiar but rootless and inspiring no listener reflection nor reaction (save for a twitch of a muscle that might have been stimulated to get up and dance), is it leaves one void after listening. It's like nasty sex, in the respect that after the Big Event, one or both partners stare at the ceiling or rise from the bed wordlessly, exchanging no sounds except for frustrated grunts. Critics come up with a string of songs like this one and find themselves challenged to add anything new to a genre that refuses to up its game. All one can do is rewrite the initial invective, reword it, try to reshape arguments already made elsewhere until such a time that the critic resigns their post to seek honest work as a carnival worker. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021


Ode to Billy Joe by Bobby Gentry is    a song I go back to at times and wind up rediscovering what an amazing  song it is all around, from the sad, simple melody, Gentry's smoky , country embossed vocal and the subtly insinuating string arrangement that actually manages to enhance the lyric's feeling of a small town's buried secrets. 

While much has been made trying to decipher a lot of sophomore surrealism in the early years of lyrics-as-poetry , focusing  on songs and albums that honestly haven't aged well over the decades, Gentry's stanzas are simple but not  dumb, being convincingly idiomatic, a first person narration with a encroaching oddness  worthy of Flannery O'Conner or Carson McCullers. Hemingway would have been impressed with the deceptive ease of  the writing; there is no poetic language to adorn this tale, no lead-footed adverbs, no creaky stabs at philosophical sophistication. It's a one act play, nearly, in the guise of a single narrator's voice which recollects the gossipy tone, the snotty opinions on the behavior and character of others, the sudden intrusions of gestures or abrupt interruptions . "Ode to Billy Joe" has an intense air of the things, the facts, the truth of things not said . Someone in this room, around this table is doubtlessly dying to utter what will not be named , but the silence is maintained, the pact is kept. What is unsaid seems to suck the life out of the room, reducing family talk to empty, distracted banter.

It's a wonderful telling of a world we  recognize, it has the quality of an intriguing conversation or snippy gossip we might lean closer to overhear. The setting of a family meal as the present tense location and the telling details--pass the black eyed peas, wipe your feet--and the fragmented chatter about Billie Jo McAllister which subtly brings you back in time to some blurrily recollected event--have a cinematic effect.There is a tragedy in this narrative that begs to be revealed, but Gentry, like the discussants in the song, isn't offering the big reveal. What works for the alluring mystery is that perhaps the song's narrator does not herself know anymore than anyone else around the or in the community. She tells what she knows in simple, effective language Hemingway would have admired, perhaps withholding information, keeping secrets, compelled by various small town mores to keep her mouth closed.  This element of does-she-or-doesn't-she know something makes this song even more confounding.

Saturday, July 3, 2021


I was gullible enough in the formative 70s to have a shag haircut for a year or so d. I borrowed twenty bucks from my Dad, who thought I was going to get a flat top and thus appear neat-as-a-doctor's office coffee table, and paid a guitarist who called himself Ramada to take the scissors to what was then an impressive, shoulder length cascade of curls. Ramada was also a badass guitarist for a local band called Madame Beast, who specialized in British rock--Small Faces, Spooky Tooth--and over all , I thought he looked cool, bitchen, the shit. I couldn't play guitar, but damn, I wanted his hair cut. A half hour later, I emerged from the bath room, tight ringlets of clipped curls on the floor waiting to be swept up, a skinny, glasses-wearing kid in jeans and a layered hair cut that made me look, well, ridiculous. And chubby-cheeked. And incredibly self conscious. I would try the trick of trying to catch my profile as I passed store windows, I'd linger in Sears clothing sections checking myself out from many sides in the three-mirrored fitting rooms, I would spend time in the bathroom trying to get my hair to seem to fall just so, like Keith Richard or Ron Wood. My Dad was pleased with neither the haircut nor the time I spent in the bathroom doing, apparently...nothing. No, the haircut didn't make me a hit with the ladies. But I did get stared at a lot.

The Sixties died when rednecks starting wearing their hair long, and you knew that the bloom was forever off the rose for British rock and roll when the shag haircut morphed into the mullet, a style intended for the ambivalent white twenty somethings stranded between a gas station and a pancake shop just off the interstate who couldn't decide which was a better ideal to live up to, military respect or rebel-yell hoo-hah. As with a conflation of two bad choices, we have results that are worse than if one chose to do nothing at all. The mullet does not look good on anyone, at any time, in any era. Like much of American life itself, where the fabled opportunities and boundless avenues of choice have shrunk to the most scant options, the mullet is a haircut that isn't selected to someone so much as assigned, like a military issue. It's symbolic of one's willingness to dedicate themselves, in order, to family , flag, and God and yet retain the revolutionary spirit of our country's founding, a nice trick if you can manage it, but too often what we see are listless and angry young men working against their own interests, ready to bash gays, blacks, beat wives, girl friends, any one they suspect of being a terrorist merely because they don't resemble them in skin tone , speech, or accent. And perhaps also because they aren't wearing a mullet.