A few weeks back, haggard with a particularly brutal wave of Oktoberfest aftershocks, I awoke to the sound of Kenny Rogers. Everybody’s favorite gambler was crooning out of my record player, his smoky voice a perfect complement to yet another brilliantly sun-soaked, hungover Santa Barbara morning. Stumbling around my living room, I noticed the album cover leaning against a crate of records. Like a tuning fork to my soul, Kenny’s silver-flecked mullet spoke to me, offering me hairdo salvation and inspiration all at once. As the song “Lucille” crackled across the speakers, I found myself in a trance, staring in the mirror, scissors in hand, ready, willing, and able to join the storied ranks of those with mullets. Nine snips of the scissors later, and the deal was done.
After more than three years of hair farming, I had left the world of long-haired freaky people and joined the elite company of some of the world’s greatest minds. I could feel the lineage of Beethoven, Napoleon, David Bowie, and Chuck Norris pulsing through my veins. Smiling at my reflection like I was meeting a long lost friend, I couldn’t help but stand up a little straighter. After all, I was no longer going through this life alone; I now had a mullet with me.
Throughout history, the mullet haircut has gone by many names — Tennessee top hat, Kentucky waterfall, and the ape cape immediately come to mind. Its characteristic business-in-the-front and party-in-the-back styling has borne witness to countless revolutions, historic document signings, bar brawls, and incestuous relationships. From Greek gods and Roman gladiators to Braveheart and America’s own founding fathers, the mullet has been front and center for centuries. But the appeal of the mullet is far from reserved for the historically significant. With mullets adorning the heads of men and women at truck stops the world over, it is truly the cut of the common person (urban legend suggests the name mullet comes from the Nordic fishers who developed the style to keep their necks warm and their vision clear while hunting fish).
Newly shorn, I quickly forgot my hangover and ventured out to tackle a long list of weekend errands and show off my new do. After catching a few funny looks and a heartfelt “Right on man!” from a Ford truck-driving guy at the gas station, I found myself in the medicine aisle of Rite Aid. Looking for allergy pills that would be suitable for my dog, I had several boxes of medicine spilled out in front of me as I examined their ingredients. Just as I was narrowing down my choices, an older female employee approached me and in a hesitant but firm voice offered her help. Before I could answer, however, she continued, “Now sir, you know we have a limit on the number of boxes you can buy, and of course we will have to see your ID as well.” At first I was confused by her statement but then, remembering the nefarious role Sudafed plays in the production of crystal meth and catching a glimpse of myself in the security mirror — unshaven, mullet flowing, Coors Light T-shirt, and no doubt an alcohol aroma — I realized what she was getting at with her comments. I let out a little laugh, which in hindsight probably made things worse, and answered, “Oh no, actually it’s for my dog.”
Living in Mulletville proved colorful and entertaining. At times I would forget my haircut, going about my job as a news reporter with nary a second thought to my coif. I would interview school board candidates, talk to members of the City Council, attend press conferences, go out to lunch with environmentalists, and get my iced coffee fix at Java Jones. I would spy authentic mullets and feel like an imposter in their mulleted world as I mentally critiqued the length, girth, and curl of their respective hairstyles. But then something would happen that made the power of my haircut so apparent it couldn’t be ignored.
For example, when former President Bill Clinton came to town I had the opportunity to press the flesh with Slick Willy and pay my respects. As I approached, my arm outstretched to shake his hand, his security detail — no doubt considering my appearance to be sketchy — stepped forward, giving me three sets of hairy eyeballs so skeptical it made my palms sweat. Also, there were literally dozens of celebrity moments where I was asked to pose for pictures with complete strangers who, I can only assume, wanted to forever hold onto the magic of my mullet — or at least put it on their MySpace page. But perhaps my favorite moment came at the Arlington Theatre during a Sunday night rock show. Drinking beer at a set break, I was standing alone when the person closest to me — a gentleman probably about 30 years old with long hair down past his shoulders — was approached by a stranger who asked him for a cigarette.
After the long-haired fellow coughed up a Camel Light, the recipient asked the Camel smoker if I was his brother. Confused, the guy looked at me standing some four or five feet away, my mullet in full effect, and shook his head no. To which the response was, “Oh. I just thought that since you both have mullets you must be related.” Visibly disgusted with being labeled a mullethead, the long-haired dude snatched his smoke back from the guy and hissed at him, “You are such an asshole,” before hastily walking away. Despite the never-ending lessons in the polarizing power of the mullet, the real significance of my haircut escaped me until I had it professionally removed by hairstylist Svetlana Dayal at Chandlers in the Funk Zone. Sitting in the barber’s chair, sipping on an ice cold Heineken, I once again found myself staring down my mulleted reflection. Svetlana, who admittedly had never killed a mullet before but had “created a few” in recent years, seemed upset as she switched on the clippers. Looking me in my eyes through the reflection, she said, “Today, I feel like a murderer” as she made the first pass over my head.
At that moment, sadness washed over me. Watching my mullet fall to the ground below, I realized I was once again moving back toward the ordinary. As empowering as it was to create the mullet, it was equally demoralizing to lose it. We have choices each day in life and too often we choose the ordinary when it comes to our hair. Gone are the days of pony-tailed radicals and bald-headed fashion crusaders, with short hairs and long hairs alike riding comfortably in the middle of the road. But, as it has been since the dawn of humankind, there continue to be those brave souls unafraid to walk in both worlds.
Simultaneously intoxicating and infuriating, it is no coincidence that the “achy breaky big mistakey” has been worn by some of history’s most prominent figures. And to have walked in their footsteps, albeit for a short period of time, was an experience of a lifetime.