My Hair Piece
That quote above is from the Rush album Caress of Steel, released in 1975 when the band members were at the well-advanced age of (checks notes) 22 and 23. This was the band’s second studio album and already they were hitting that strongest trope of rock and roll songs, male pattern baldness.
The three guys in Rush, who went on to have a career spanning another 40 years after this album was released, never actually lost their hair. To this day, while it may be receding, the remaining members are still rocking significant coifs. So what’s the deal?
Why were they so worried about losing their hair? Why are any of us?
For as long as I can remember, anytime I went to the barber, I was told my hair was thinning and I should appreciate it now because it wasn’t long for this world. And yet, while it may be thin, it’s still here. My dad, on the other hand, has been sporting a chrome dome since the 70s, and now, at 80, he’s letting his Franciscan Friar Fringe grow out into a ponytail! Let that freak flag fly, pops!
At the very least, he’ll have enough for a comb over, right? I mean, that’s where we are, as a society, that if we don’t embrace that baldness, we try to do everything we can to hide the fact it’s there. That’s what the comb over is all about – it’s taking the hair you do have and flipping it up and over the bare spots, like pulling a blanket up in the middle of a cold winter’s night.
Where does this insecurity come from? Is it biblical? I remember when I was in Sunday school and learning all about the various stories, the heroes and villains in these pieces, one of the standouts was Samson. Here was a guy whose entire strength – his entire identity, really – was wrapped up in his head of hair. To be fair, every time you saw Samson rendered, he looked like a cover model for any one of a number of romance novels. That hair made him so strong he could literally bring down the granite pillars of buildings and his great undoing came about when Delilah gave him a little trim. Lose the split ends, lose the super strength.
Long hair and virility, then, seem to go hand in hand, right. Therefore, it only makes sense to discover we might have gotten it completely wrong? It seems there’s a relationship between testosterone and baldness, or so the story goes. The logical extension here says that the more testosterone one has in their system, the more likely they are to go bald which creates the corollary then, that the more testosterone one has, the more virile they are (including a stronger sex drive). It would seem, if this were the case, if you were looking for a strong, able-bodied man just check under the hood. If it’s looking like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, you’ll know the guy has got the goods.
Except that’s not true either. There is no physical proof that having or not having hair equates to virility in any way. This myth has been debunked repeatedly and yet it keeps cropping back up. It’s almost like we, as men, are so afraid of not having hair, we’re do anything we can to alleviate the stigma. But why are we so concerned about it?
To be honest, I’m not sure, but it’s been going on for a while.
Seems that even Hippocrates himself, the “father of modern medicine” from about 2500 years ago, had his own way of dealing with the problem. Allegedly, he suffered from male pattern baldness and since his own prescription for what a physician should look like included the phrase “healthy,” we can assume, maybe, that not having a full head of hair was not playing into this image. So, he came up with a “cure.” This cure involved a number of different ingredients but always included pigeon droppings. Go with what’s plentiful, I guess? Or maybe he noticed that guys who had a full head of hair were always getting pooped on by passing pigeons and did some deductive reasoning? I’m pretty sure we’ll never know. Beyond that though, depending on the source, you could be mixing those droppings with anything from cumin or other spices to horseradish or beetroot or even opium.
Even before the old Greek, the Egyptians were also getting into the hair restoration act. The Ebers Papyrus, a medical text from around 1000 years before Hippocrates, lists not one, not two, but 12 different remedies to cure baldness, from the relatively boring application of a bunch of fish guts to the head of the patient or mixing hedgehog hair and oil and rubbing that into the scalp for four days. It does get a bit more complex with one possible remedy requiring the mixture of the fat of a few different animals, including a lion, hippo, crocodile, snake, mountain ibex, and a cat (it’s ancient Egypt, there had to be a cat in there somewhere).
All to make yourself look a little better. Maybe it is all about self-image. That ancient text listed the reason for needing hair to grow is because baldness was a sign of old age. Is all of this really due to a nostalgic desire to return to our youth?
Of course, we all know now these ancient cures are a lot of hogwash and might even be dangerous, right? As the saying goes, we must be careful of snake oil salesmen, because they mean us no good…unless what they’re pedaling is real snake oil?
You gotta be kidding me!
While researching this hair piece, I came across literal Snake Oil, which, according to Amazon, “is for growing hair product.” The reviews say it all: “When I used this item, my skin itching.” And yet, it’s still there, still for sale. And I’d bet someone has it in their virtual shopping cart at this very moment. Such is the draw of making sure we don’t succumb to looking old.
Back in the 80s, there was a commercial running all the time featuring Sy Sperling, president of Hair Club for Men, which ended with the fully follicled Mr. Sperling showing an older picture of himself with a shiny pate and exclaiming “I’m not just the president, I’m also a client.” By most accounts, Hair Club does work, at least to some extent. They have several different procedures, all of which are medically tested and approved.
But at the same time Sperling was running his ads, there were also ads promoting Hair in a Can, which is basically spray painting your head and hoping no one gets close enough to figure it out. Time Magazine, in 2010, named Hair in a Can as one of the worst inventions of all time. Sure, the technology has improved these days, to a powder-like substance brushed over your head and adhering to whatever follicles are still there, but it’s just a quick fix. It’s not for restoration or permanent replacement.
Yes, there are medically approved resources to help with hair restoration, but nothing is 100% guaranteed to work. Ultimately, if your head stays covered by hair is based on a number of factors including genetics and whether or not you’ve done anything to damage the scalp in that misspent youth of yours.
But even if you don’t use a medically approved method, if you want to keep your youthful looks there are other ways to achieve it. We’ve already mentioned the comb over, a method used to varying degrees of effectiveness throughout the years. The late Johnny Thompson, a former Las Vegas based magician, was so adept at getting his hair to cover his baldness that Penn & Teller featured him on one of their programs to show off the method, which is nothing short of magical. Then you have others, politicians and media personalities who you can name for yourself, whose vain attempts at tossing three strands of oily hair across their scalps and calling it a day, should be called out for lack of trying.
Ultimately, yeah, having hair does make you look a bit younger. But it’s a fact that a high percentage of men (and some women) are going to lose some or all of their hair by the time they reach 35 and it’s only going to get worse as they get older.
If you’re one of these people, you’re left with a choice. Either start looking for a steady source of hippo fat or embrace the new look. Showing any kind of confidence in yourself always makes you look and feel better, and if you can do that with own baldness there’s nothing in the world that can stop you.
Not even a 70s era rock band who seem to be speaking directly into your soul.
Jaq’s dad sporting his ponytail
Capillus laser hair growth stimulation cap
A male hairpiece solution
Rogaine, a 5% Minoxidil topical solution