Reviving Ziggy Stardust and Coming of Age OR: The Dye is CastBy Todd R. Nelson
The Araboolies lived on Liberty Street. They came from ‘an island far away where people are born with colorful skin,’ and they were never the same color from day to day. They had wonderful pets: anteaters, porcupines, elephants, walruses and sloths; ‘a wok, a few popalocks and a wild barumpuss!’
They made for wonderful neighbors. Me and my kids read about them every night in Sam Swope’s book The Araboolies of Liberty Street. And then an Araboolie moved in to our family. Or perhaps it was my son who had moved in with the Araboolies. At any rate, my high schooler’s hair color was suddenly never the same from day to day.
One day it was Blue Hawaii, a deep azure shade similar to the color of Papa Smurf. The next day, would opt for Lime Spyder, the color of Gatorade. These are not colors found in nature, although there are certain parrots and cockatiels that come close. And perhaps that’s the point. This is, after all, male plumage.
I drove my son and two friends to a movie when this color rotation began. David Bowie (am I dating myself? Good! Insert whatever cultural icon necessary here) would have been proud: Three teenage males in the back of my car on the way to a movie, talking with great zeal about hair color and hair color products. Not their natural hair color, but their adopted color. Their manufactured color. . . ‘Rock Star hair colors’ as it said on the side of one bottle of coloring potion.
Their technical knowledge was impressive. The young men discussed dilemmas such as how to dye naturally dark hair fluorescent hues of purple, or how to obtain spikes like a wild barumpuss, and how to use gel products to hold linguini-like swirls of naturally curly hair. Listening to accounts of their washing and dyeing episodes at home made me wonder whether they had equal expertise in returning the family towels to their original color. I foresaw Lime Spyder towels at our house.
Chaperoning at school dance for 6-8th graders, I continued my observations of the rock star hair color phenomenon. Boys from around town traipsed into the school gym with all manner of colors and coiffures, looking outrageous and loving it: platinum, spiked, Appaloosa, gelled, slicked, sculpted; exuberantly paraded, matching their tight, hoppity dancing to the dj’s groove. They even enjoyed being photographed. And at a developmental stage traditionally characterized by the great bipolar tension between a desire to distinguish oneself and the desire to simply blend in!
I remember this ironic phase—my life as a groovy 8th grader in the time zone between “Are You Experienced?” and “Space Oddity.” (Need help? Hendrix to Bowie). Experimenting with rock star hair was a great preoccupation. However, back then we boys were severely limited in our grooming options, just like the rock stars were. Pushing the fashion envelope simply meant not grooming — neglecting our hair. And fending off dad’s pressure to cut it. Today’s trendy boys have tech support: a rainbow of colors, both permanent and temporary; sparkles; strong gel; the marvel of their peers; tired parents. We could only grow longer hair, leading to some unfortunate yearbook photos from the 1970’s. ‘Dad! You were such a geek!’ my daughters inform me, thumbing through my senior pages and discovering my 12th grade ‘fro. Funny, I only recollect being way cool.
I do grant that my 8th grade cohorts and I did not dance with the grace, rhythmic athleticism and lack of self-consciousness I observed at the dance. Even at the time, we felt lucky to speak coherently, shifting from foot to foot as Led Zep played ‘Black Dog,’ much less achieve hairdos like Ziggy Stardust. In the time before MTV, only the most outrageous rock stars had authorization to push the fashion envelope. Shock-grooming tactics of the current middle school male—flamboyant, bright coloring of the male plumage worthy of birds of paradise—must be the enactment of an ancient ritual of our species. Every generation must achieve new ways to shock its parents—a rite of passage extending back, in my life time at least, to Elvis, the first rock star to act as Adolescent-Orc-at-Large in our culture; the first Araboolie.
Could this code de plumage be linked in some way to survival of the species, producing stronger, more capable generations? The search for longer lasting glow-in-the-dark colors, better streaks and dappling, higher and more interesting spikes, therefore, an assurance of the perpetuity of humankind’s flamboyance and funky dance steps? Who is to say what this generation may accomplish as purple haired 40-something males? The dye is cast.
Such fantastic privileges are wasted on the young, who lack the experience to understand the rights and responsibilities of their innovations. It is we mature men of the tribe—alas, too staid now to signify our life force with popalock headdresses— who have the wisdom to grasp its meaning. We must be content to blend. But we cannot say we didn’t have our chance, unaware of the grander design in our grooming outrages. I just hope these young men will endure suitably embarrassing yearbook photos 20 years from now! That too is a rite of passage. Long live Blue Hawaii and Lime Spyder. Araboolies forever.
About the author
Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, PA. In addition to his monthly column for Teachers.Net Gazette, Todd R. Nelson writes for the Christian Science Monitor.
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