Friday, 7 May 2010

Beyond the Valley of the New York Dolls

article and illustration by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
When I was twelve years old I wanted to be adopted by David Bowie. Not only did I want him for a dad, I wanted him as my mom too. I reasoned that along with the male protection of a father I would also score make-up tips that weren’t even on my mother’s radar. Plus there would be the added bonus of him bankrolling all the best cosmetics. I was completely infatuated with him and his Ziggy Stardust alter ego-- so I wasn’t sure how that whole parenting thing was going to work. I’m no Sigmund Freud, but I didn’t need a crash course on the psychosexual stages of development to tell me that this might be a bad idea-- eventually I kept it to a crush and abandoned the whole adoption fantasy.
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

But what was it about fellows and make-up? Not you, Elton. The initiated were far more interesting than their uptight conservative-looking counterparts. Maybe having been raised as a hippie kid I was predisposed to being offended by the powder blue leisure suit-clad Six Million Dollar man machismo of the mid 1970s. Sure, plenty of guys in my high school were sporting their softer side with long locks. Some had even taken to feathering their hair. Their behavior was nothing short of peacock-like: it wasn't unusual to see a comb protruding from the back pocket of a pair of Seafarer flared jeans. 

Note, Skoolers, this is not the same cool little black comb the Fonz would use. No, this was a comb of a different color, literally. They were often bright green, pink, blue, etc. With a big flat handle and wide teeth, there were no secrets about the comb-size these boys were packing. The owner would reach his hand round to his back pocket and in one swift motion whip out his large- handled plastic instrument and with a flick of the wrist ‘re-feather’ first one side of the head then the other, returning the comb to its home. And perhaps because this hair care action seemed a tad on the prissy side, often these high school boys would compensate for it by walking in a more macho swagger or affect a deep Moose-like or Lee Majors tone in their voices right after the act. This topic doesn’t concern you Elton, put your hand down.

A 1970s teen dude in all his glory

If the comb had mistakenly been left at home the three-time forward shake of the head would suffice in reviving a feathered hairdo. But even that was a skill because you had to snap your head upright more vigorously than when bringing it forward in order to take full advantage of the aerodynamic wind-generating movement that produced the perfect effect. (Randy Rampage would use this maneuver in his punk heyday, particularly while performing on stage. Same move, different hairstyle). Probably the worst crime in male hair accessory vanity, though, was swapping out the bright colored comb for a big old hairbrush causing a rear protrusion of unnatural proportions resulting in justifiable high school hall snickering. 

Nevertheless, you still wouldn’t find the guys at my high school preening beyond their hair. So I admired those rock stars who ventured into their moms’ big cosmetic bag. But let’s be clear here: as much as I enjoyed KISS army, their use of make-up was purely theatrical, and I got the sense that they did not continue on to the bar in their slap after a show. I was convinced, however, that the New York Dolls did not own make-up remover or that they weren’t even aware that there was such a thing. Instead I reckoned it just wore off, eventually, by natural causes, and was then reapplied. This seemed somewhat more committed and authentic, if not a little hazardous to the overall complexion. People often mistook Johnny Thunders' acne challenges as a result of drug abuse when, in fact, it was really a disregard for a good face scrub, exfoliater, toner and turnaround moisturizing cream at the end of a night. Skoolers, if only he’d taken the time. Respeck. 

Both groups get bonus points for their ability to strut in towering platform heels. But before I get  ahead of myself I must give a nod to Alice Cooper. He may not win any prizes for overall even application, but he does get points for expressive use of eyeliner. Unfortunately, points are deducted due to an unenthusiastic, not to mention creepy, hair presentation. Skool was out for summer before the lesson plan on Hot Oil Treatment was devised for Alice. KISS also scores low in the hairstyle arena-- way too much frizz. But Skoolers, this lesson today is not a KISS vs. Dolls comparison; instead it is an exploration of the aesthetics of influential rock dudes. Elton, please take your seat, maybe sit on the piano bench next to Liberace. 

Which leads me back to David Bowie, idol, icon and not my dad-- unfortunately. Rice powder for the face and old school mascara-- the kind you wet and brush on, are just some of his tricks. An important tool in his cosmetic arsenal: eyeliner, kohl or otherwise... seriously, is there anyone who shouldn’t use it? But be careful with those lightning bolts down the face. Sure it looks classy on him, but it could look a tad garish on, say, Meatloaf. 

And what of the punk scene? Well, our West Coast Canadian boys didn’t exactly embrace the use of make-up. Once in awhile a cheap eye pencil might get passed among band members before taking the stage but rarely among the green plaid Mac jacket-wearing crew. There was no chance of mistaking the Subhumans for the Braineaters. Or any punk bands fancy enough to own lipliner. In the east, Toronto to be exact, drugstores couldn’t get their shelves stocked fast enough with eyeliner for bands like the Viletones. And as the music got darker, moodier, gothier in the 1980s, so, too, did the use of make-up among some of our local bands.

Evidenced in the photo below is the guitarist of Der Mittlegang, a shadowy Vancouver group who occasionally paid homage to artists such as my old hero David Bowie by wearing creative face paint. I decided to marry him (not Bowie as Iman had already sunk her claws into him) as long as he promised to finance most of our cosmetics and get his own eye pencils.

Class, meet Mr Chris Nicol!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, T.T-N. Seafarer jeans. Haven't thought about those in a long time. Owned a few pairs. Never got as far as face paint, though. Too square maybe. Too jock-ish. Later, in the 80s, did as a matter of fact catch Der Mittlegang's act a couple of times. Down in Gastown, as it was and is called. The band had a damn good drummer and as for that guitarist, he kind of pissed me off because I knew him and he'd managed to achieve something I could ever only fantasize about--the status of guitar legend. I hope, and trust, he's still out there somewhere pickin' nice tunes. Regards from VCR.