Thursday, 10 December 2009

Boys' Own Makeup Manual

 Slow backstage with co-conspirators after backing up The Cramps in 1986. Tom Anselmi, John Armstrong, Mary-Jo Armstrong, Stephen Hamm, Terry Russell, your very own Miss Brown, Ziggy Sigmund and Christian Thorvaldson: we all dressed as nurses. John was guest guitarist and we girly girls sang backups on "Pills." (photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, courtesy Scott Beadle)

by Miss Justine Brown

The Skool is a girls' school, but we sneak boys in for fun. Punk and goth boys have style stories aplenty. Take the tale of Al J for instance. When Miss Brown was fourteen, she had the run of an apartment below her mother's place. Al was a regular visitor. A pretty, funny, sweet, smart singer in the iron grip of a treacherous love for booze, Al used the now-classic recipe of sugar mixed with a little water to achieve his chaotic spikes. Add some black eyeliner and--voila!-- Al was an oil painting.

Another frequent visitor was Andrew Miller, a school friend.That old picture of Miss Brown and Andrew (see the Punk Rock Hair post) brought a vivid image back into her mind, something that epitomizes Vancouver punk style for her. The two of them made a spectacle of themselves in the hallways of their highschool by day, and went out to the Windmill and the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret to pogo to bands at night. People often told him he looked like Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. He did, actually. He even got into a few clubs on the strength of it (that and a little eyeliner). And when Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones were notoriously ensconced at the Denman Place Hotel to make a movie, Andrew really went to town.

Andrew had sandy-coloured hair, light enough that he could dye it green with food colouring and the grassy pigment was actually visible! One perennial problem, however, was the winter rain in Vancouver. Andrew covered up with either a) an old lady's cream-coloured faux-fur hat, or b) a simple plastic bag. This plastic bag didn't quite do the trick, and the green dye stained the standing-up collar of his white "business guy" shirt--worn flapping outside his waistband, of course. That leaking hair is the detail that, if tugged, brings the whole of the early Pacific Northwest punk rock scene with it-- the lack of readymade products, the resulting inspired  solutions, our lack of money, the hilarity... and the pitiless rain which always threatened to undo our meticulous styling work.
 Vancouver or Venice? Sometimes, it rained SO hard, people took boats instead.

Punks with cars to protect their look were pretty thin on the ground (especially among the 14-year-olds). Bands had cars-- or more likely-- vans. Getting wheels was tantamount to starting a band, and bands were at the pinnacle of our social hierarchy. So vehicles were prestigious in more ways than one. (Looking back, Miss Brown is struck by the force of that hierarchy. Everyone had a niche, and plenty of us struggled to keep our rung on the ladder. Once in a while someone would make a break for the top.)

DOA guitarist Dave Gregg, Miss Brown's boyfriend (ahem) from her sixteenth to twenty-first years, took a contrary approach to his own good looks. A contrarian amongst contrarians, his look could be described as  anti-anti-fashion. One of his favourite pairs of trousers was polyester with an elastisized waist, the kind heavy people wear when they have simply given up. The pants were big and baggy.They were also too short, like so many of Dave's pants (he was 6' 4"). No Mr Big 'n' Tall for Dave! He preferred naked ankles.But the most striking thing about this particular piece of polyester attire was the pattern. Picture this: plaid overlaid with big yellow daisies. Miss Brown dubbed these the Test Pants. If your love could survive the visual torture that was these pants, Miss Brown reasoned, then your love had passed the test.

Miss Brown's platonic ideal of Dave included a short back-and-sides bleached-out hairdo. She was sorely of course disappointed most of the time. Dave took his hair into realms of ugliness none of the rest of the punks would even dream of. Mainstream folk found us ugly, but we sure didn't. Dave's hairdos were another matter, however.

Consider the following incident: one night at 3am Dave pulled up outside Miss Brown's house in his van. He cut the motor and climbed the fire escape to her room at the top of the house, gently tapped on the window, and was admitted. He had just returned from a three-month tour (the theme to Gilligan's Island cues up in her head). Miss Brown was ecstatic, albeit a little weirded out. It had been so long. Things got weirder when, still in darkness, she stroked his head. It seemed to be bald.

Turning on the light, she was horribly dismayed to behold The Haircut. Dave was tittering, pleased with himself. He had really defeated his natural handsomeness this time. Not only did he have a Hari Krishna-style tuft at the crown (all the better for the deity to pull you up to heaven with, my dear), he had let the hair grow in a bit, then reshaved it, leaving a thin circle around the circumference of his hairline. The effect was vaguely target-like and monstrous in her eyes. And to think of the planning that had gone into it! It was an assault in the first degree on Miss Brown's overweening aesthetic sense. Add the fact that he was on some kind of shower fast and boys oh boys, was it hard to get re-acquainted with Dave after THAT tour.

Nowadays, of course, metrosexuality has come and (sort of) gone, and men think nothing of making up their faces and wearing sexy white nurses' uniforms to work every day, and cosmetic lines are specially designed for the urban dude. Soap and Glory ( recently come out with a laddish collection of bath and shaving products. This excellent line, sold at reasonable prices through Boots the Chemist, was designed by Marcia Kilgore, the lovely cosmetics sorceress who founded Bliss in the States, made her fortune and moved to London to spread cheer among the British with her playfully packaged-- think Benefit-- and generally fantastic makeup, skin and bath products (the products are available in North America now). Miss Brown's spouse has been gamely road-testing their Clean of England Shower Gel, which he says smells "herby" (that would be the goldenrod, ginseng and guarana extracts listed) and "not girly" in addition to keeping him squeaky. And is Mr. Brown happy to keep using it? Yes indeed. And that,folks, that is a man.


  1. {{Fabulous photograph}}

    Boys don't wear make-up like they used to
    and even if they did,girls these days would
    not appreciate it like some of us girls did,
    back in the day ;)

  2. The photo cracked me up! And yes, Alistair was crafty with the do and seemed to maintain his same 'outfits' from the time I knew him ( high school). very consistent, very sweet.
    Fun posting, Miss Brown.

  3. Yes, quite a photo. I think that is Bruce, the bleached blonde Bruce, who's legs you see just behind Tom, and that is me, Rosebud, AKA Rachel Davis, in the back.