Until this February, my two hairstyles were Buzz Cut and Overgrown Toddler. Every few months, I would shave my head using the shortest setting my clippers provided, and then spend about three weeks as a bad Phil Anselmo impersonator before my fluffy Irish curls would rebloom and make me look like a Greek god who'd lost his job. I’d eventually break out the clippers again, and the circle of life would begin anew.
I thought it was a solid enough system, but it all came to screeching halt last month when my fiancé, tired of dating either Nosferatu or Serpico, said, “What if you got a haircut? A real haircut. Like at a barbershop.”
My first reaction was deepest contempt. As a metalhead, hair means something. Over the past couple of decades, I’ve seen stupid trends come and go, and the ultimate sign that a metal subculture has begun its descent into washed-up cliché is when haircuts become its calling card. With nu-metal, it was white-boy dreads and spikes. With metalcore, it was emo swoops and rainbow highlights. And hair metal… well, it’s called "hair metal." Eventually, the hair outweighed the music.
The ultimate example of a change in hair signaling the loss of true metal cred is Metallica’s hard rock period in the Nineties. If those dudes had cut their hair while recording Master of Puppets, it would’ve been one thing, but the fact that their close-cropped cuts coincided with their newfound unthreatening radio-friendly biker rock sound made their new look feel a lot more drastic than it should’ve. Was that what I was about to do? Was my fiancé asking me to release Reload?
As far as I was concerned, if I got a haircut, it meant I gave a shit about how I looked. If I gave a shit about how I looked, it meant I was some normal fucking dude. And if I was some normal dude, it meant I wasn’t in touch with the true meaning of metal.
For me, that meaning is a bestial one. Metal is primal for me, the sonic interpretation of humanity devoid of all the unnecessary bullshit and accessories with which we surround our lives. Beasts don’t waste time styling their stripes, they just do their best to fuck and not die. That’s where metal hair comes from, long and wild in the style of Tarzan or Conan or one of those other badasses who was raised by predatory animals.
To be fair, I don’t have a metalhead’s traditional hair. As a jaunty Irishman, my hair grows out, not down, meaning I’ve never had hair I could windmill in unison to Cannibal Corpse riffs. But for metalheads, a haircut isn’t about changing one’s look, it’s about changing one’s ways. My whole life has been spent hearing that I’d be so handsome if I looked a little more conservative. A haircut would admit to the world that in at least some ways I was the thing I hated the most: a person who was just like everyone else.
So why did I keep thinking about doing it? Surely part of it was to please my fiancé, who I love to death for everything she is. But part of it was curiosity. Chris with a haircut! A Chris I hadn’t seen in ten years! Would he still be able to slay, or would he come home to find all of his death metal vinyl replaced by a note from his dad reading, ‘ONE OF US’?
I wore myself down until, finally, the time came: I’d just returned from a metal festival, and was a little heshered out after five straight days of raging. With my convictions weakened, I put on my coat and went out to get a haircut.
First things first, I had to find a barbershop. What I dreamed of was the place I’d gone to as a kid, D. & V. Barbershop in Hoboken, NJ. The place was run by two old Italian dudes named Dominic and Vincent who spent most of their time yelling at either each other or a soccer game playing on a tube television sitting on a chair by the back door. I wanted a place like that—no frills, no suit vests, no one who considered themselves a stylist. A leather chair, an old man, some green goo in a jar. If it cost more than twenty bucks, I was being taken for a fool.
If I got a haircut, it meant I gave a shit about how I looked. If I gave a shit about how I looked, it meant I was some normal fucking dude. And if I was some normal dude, it meant I wasn’t in touch with the true meaning of metal.
Finally, I spotted my target: Romulo Barbershop in Washington Heights, Manhattan. When Romulo himself ushered me into a red leather chair, he immediately got out the blow dryer and began blasting my neck. He then sprayed a piece of tissue with some alcoholic substance and motioned for me to wipe my forehead. “You sweat,” he said.
He was right, I was sweating my ass off. I was buzzing with anxiety. This was ridiculous. Why was I more nervous here than I’ve ever been at any of the tattoo parlors I regularly visit, where someone plans to carefully hurt me for hundreds of my dollars? Saying it was because I’d power-walked back and forth outside of the shop for thirty minutes to make sure the place was legit would've just raised an entirely different set of questions.
It was because I was a stranger here. I had no control, no knowledge of what was to come. At least with tattoos, I could sit there knowing I was doing something cool that would have badass results. I understood tattoos. Who knew how I’d come out on the other side of this experience?
Romulo held up my hair and asked me some questions. I replied vaguely. It quickly became apparent that he spoke little English, and my Spanish leaves much to be desired.
Finally, he said, “Normal man’s haircut?”
“Normal man’s haircut,” I replied with a thumbs-up.
Then it began. Romulo worked me over—clippers, scissors, various minty ointments rubbed through my hair, even a straight razor to square the edges. By the end, I had a close-cropped version of every dude’s hair—short on the sides, a little longer up top, cleaned up in the back. He brushed my neck, wheeled my chair around, and said, “Twenty.” I tipped him five bucks and shook his hand.
The haircut didn’t look exactly how I’d pictured it, and for a few days I stared at myself in the mirror with vague dissatisfaction. But I also felt something else, looking at my hair. Not happy, exactly. After a few days, it dawned on me: I was relieved.
Here I was with a haircut, the same tattooed, hard-boozing, Satan-obsessed weirdo I’d always been. I’d broken with my own tradition, and had come out the other side looking different—but feeling the same, and knowing more. By worrying that I was focusing too much on my appearance, I’d wasted time focusing on my appearance. All of my self-imposed standards and personal habits had become sacred in my mind, and if there’s one thing that metal should do regularly, it’s tear down sacred concepts, just because it can.
So, metalheads, I urge you: tonight, blaspheme against your own religion. Put on a suit and tie. Check out an EDM party. Go to a metal show and stay sober. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, get a haircut.
You’re right, maybe you won’t be the same after you cut it all off. Maybe you’ll be better.
Chris Krovatin is on Twitter and is about due for a trim.