SOME OF THE GREATEST MUSICIANS AND PERFORMERS IN THE WORLD HAVE HAIR LOSS, EVEN IF THEY COVER IT WITH HATS AND HAIRPIECES.
Picture this if you will: It’s the Stone Age and though verbal communication has not advanced beyond a few meaningful grunts, a small group of cave men have discovered that they each possess some interesting skills. One of them can bang rocks together in a vaguely rhythmical fashion. Another has stretched some tall grass across a piece of bark, and when he plucks the individual strands, they make a noise that in some manner is pleasing. A third has found that by forcing air out of his lungs in a particular manner, his voice produces sounds that make the cave women grunt in a meaningful way.
Tonight they’ve gathered to put all their talents together. Gazing at the singer’s thick head of hair, the primitive guitarist fingers his high forehead and wonders if he should perhaps fold a lion skin over the top of his head to disguise his own thinning locks.
And so the rock band is born.
Musical careers last longer than hairlines
Clearly, musicians throughout the ages have had to confront hair loss, just as the rest of us have. But since the youth revolution of the 1960s, “balding” has been a thornier issue than ever. Many artists have felt that any evidence of aging – such as baldness – might alienate their fan base and damage their careers.
Happily, a variety of hairlines seems to have become more accepted in recent years. Most pop stars still don’t relish acknowledging hair loss, but as people like Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Paul Simon have demonstrated that careers can continue even as hairlines recede, the pressure is off a bit.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that musicians are always anxious to flaunt hairless looks. Sure, James Taylor has made no secret of his advancing scalp for years. But Elton John prefers to adorn his scalp with hair systems – high-end hairpieces, despite the common knowledge that he’s a bit gone on the top.
And of course, there are the ubiquitous hats that pop up on the former mops of so many stars. U2’s The Edge practically has one glued on at all times. Carlos Santana has some gorgeously flowing locks on the sides of his head, but he keeps a chapeau firmly planted on the top. And even Elvis Costello has in recent times taken to “locking the lid down” on a scalp that we’ve all seen coming on for years.
Naturally, these and other gentlemen do this because it makes them feel more comfortable, and that’s what’s important. After all, if I were going to stand up and perform in front of 10,000 people, I’d want to make sure I was as far into my comfort zone as I possibly could be.
Some artists are much more at home in “their skin.” Somehow, Phil Collins always seemed to be bald, even back when he had hair; he’s sold over 100,000,000 records whatever the state of his pate. Audiences accept Billy Joel just the way he is, increasing dome and all, and Sting’s receding hairline suits him very well. Peter Frampton may no longer have the mile-long locks of “Frampton Comes Alive,” but his buzz cut works for his new look.
Arguably, the “champion” of the out-of-the-closet baldies is R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. He wasn’t the first chrome-domed singer by a long shot, but somehow the loss of his hair added dimension to his visual performances, seeming to give him a fresh canvas on which to work, metaphorically.
Similarly, it was quite brave of Billy Corgan to go shaved. At the time, the Smashing Pumpkins were so intensely connected with youth that it was a risk – but one that paid off. The acceptance of his hairless look showed that younger audiences had grown more accepting of their pop icons and didn’t expect them to be ageless demi-gods.
More recently, Chris Daughtry has reiterated that lesson, sporting the bald look and still becoming one of the most popular of the growing legion of “American Idol” alumni. Will he have staying power? It’s too soon to tell, but if he fades away, it won’t be because his hair did similarly.
The creator of this year’s Grammy winner for Song of the Year, Coldplay, features the beautifully bald Chris Martin as lead vocalist. And it happens that the album that contains that Song of the Year was produced in collaboration with Brian Eno, another bald musician of note.
On the distaff side, of course, there’s the famous Sinead O’Connor, who has given so many versions of why she shaved her head that one suspects she herself has forgotten the real reason. More recently, Britney Spears sported the look, but couldn’t do so convincingly. More touching, and simultaneously more empowering, has been the sight of Melissa Etheridge, bald due to chemotherapy treatments but sporting a hairless head with pride and dignity.
The list goes on and on, of course. The unique Isaac Hayes didn’t feel Shaft-ed for having no hair, and Joe Satriani’s immensely powerful guitar work is unaffected by the presence or absence of hair. Seal ushered in a new bald look, and captured Heidi Klum in the process. Moby has found success without hair; ditto Ja Rule, ditto Benji Madden of Good Charlotte, ditto Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Ron Halford of Judas Priest.
There’s more room in today’s pop music scene for musicians with hair loss than some might have once believe. Maybe David Cook needs to rethink his combover, which seems to get more attention than his music.