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Great moustaches in rock: Ferry and Dylan

August 20th, 2009 7 comments

ferry-moustache1

It’s true, we don’t normally think of Bryan Ferry’s upper lip as being follicularly ornamented. And if we did, we likely should want to banish the memory of the image into that remote password-protected folder buried in the operating system of our sub-conscious that produces what we hope to be infrequent nightmares. What was Bryan Ferry hoping to communicate with his ’tache? A vain man, he must have believed his ineffectual snotbreaker added a certain je ne parlez français pas to his extravagant elegance.

And who of us with the powers of beard growth have not fancied ourselves with a moustache? Maybe a thin Clark Gable number to exude the confidence of a particularly manly man’s man? Perhaps a robust Freddy Mercury, protruding macho-like from a luxuriant overbite? Maybe a Ron Jeremy porntache to camouflage the sleazy curl of the lip? Or go the whole hog and grow a Lemmy horseshoe for good luck, hoping it will evade the facial warts that lend character to a booze-worn face.

giorgio_MoroderSome men, after a few razor-free weeks, might have in the process of removing the growth experimented with various temporary beard styles. First the goatee (for the geography teacher or communist icon look). Then applying razor to chin to create the Lemmy, noting with some embarrassment that our sense of symmetry is stunted when it comes to the art of barberism. So the jowlmask goes, but slowly, piece by piece, because we need to pay brief homage to the droopy ’70s porn actor look as perfected by Italian producer Giorgio Moroder (pictured). Damn symmetry again.

And so we arrive at a probably uneven Mercury, tweaking here and there until we face the most abstruse question in all endeavours involving mucking around with overgrown stubble: shall the next step be the Clark Gable or the Hitler? If you are like me, you will pick the Hitler toothbrush look for pure comedy effect and “hilarious” photo opportunity (never to show that picture to anyone!). If you look like Clark Gable, you go for a Gable, naturally (after all, even Gable would have looked preposterous with a Hitler ’tache).

And so it must have happened that Bryan Ferry, fancying himself a worldly lady magnet, arrived at his adventurous pencil moustache. Three years earlier, in 1973, he had been crooning These Foolish Things, a song from the Gable era. It made perfect sense to our favourite foxhunting, Tory-voting glam-rocker. “It does look dashing, innit,” he might have said to his appreciative reflection as he poured another bottle of extra-virgin olive oil over his hair, cheerfully fortified by the certainty that his moustachial judgment would attract universal admiration.

ferry-moustache2

Alas, poor Ferry, for he was profoundly mistaken. From the moment the caterpillar whiskers made their public debut, they were derided as few moustaches ever had been. And how could it not be so? Sitting on Ferry’s face was not so much a moustache than a trail produced by an anorexic slug slithering along its ink-soaked ass in a state of tottery inebriation, holding on tenuously to the ridges of Ferry’s upper lip in an ultimately triumphant bid to stay on course. Bryan Ferry, so astute in matters sartorial chic, quickly realised that he looked like the mid-70s equivalent of a douchebag, and with steady hand applied the Wilkinson Sword to his lip.

Happily, Ferry failed to set a pervasive trend. Occasionally one popster or another would sport a pencil moustache (or, as Jimmy Buffett did, dream of growing one), perhaps in knowingly ironic homage to Ferry. Ron Mael, no doubt tormented by indecision in repeated experimental razor adventures, gave us both the Gable and the Hitler. But for the most part, Ferry abandoned a fashion before it could catch on. And then came Bob Dylan.

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What in the name of Errol Flynn is it that Dylan is sporting on his upper lip, and to what good purpose does it exist? Is Bob trying to create something even more revolting than his voice? Is that slither of sparse thatch intended to mimic quizzical eyebrows? Is he trying to be Zorro, defender of all virtue and avenger of widows and protector of virgins? Look like your creepy paedo uncle? Compensate for his inability to grow exorbitant Edwardian walrus whiskers by going for something similarly absurd? Simulate the motion of windscreen wipers on a drizzly afternoon as he snarls this way and that? Fail pitifully in his desperate bid to emulate fellow Wilbury George Harrison in the book of shit moustaches? Prepare for a career in stand-up comedy in which fun follicles compensate for the absence of jokes (it’s an old trick)?

Cisco Houston, allegedly inspiring a superannuated Bob Dylan

Cisco Houston, allegedly inspiring a superannuated Bob Dylan

Dylan fans have spent much mental energy contemplating the mystery of Dylan’s ’tache and its intrinsic profundity. One blogger in 2004 perhaps solved the mystery: Dylan is paying tribute to folk legend Cisco Houston, who bade this cruel world farewell just as young Bobby Zimmerman forsook the cold climes of Minnesota in favour of the hot scene of Greenwich Village’s folk cafés. If this is really so, then Dylan’s experiment in paying tribute through the medium of moustache is a bust. Should Dylan, a man in his 60s, be sincere in his desire to faithfully copy the stylings of his hero, he might want to consult Johnny Drama from the fine TV series Entourage, who revives the Cisco look with incontestable splendour.

Bob Dylan is a fan of Warren Smith’s rockabilly song Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache, recorded in 1957 for Sun Records. I won’t create a theory that it is that song which Dylan is paying tribute to (unless he drives a red Cadillac, in which case I claim credit for solving the great Dylan moustache mystery). I simply required a good reason to post that magnificent song.

And from Ferry, the musical equivalent of his moustache, a version of It’s My Party so boggling of mind that you may wonder whether Ferry had lost his when he passed it for inclusion on his 1973 album of covers, These Foolish Things. Ferry as the male Mrs Miller, with a wink and no mercy!

Giorgio Moroder, he of the porn moustache and rich line of disco production (Donna Summer!), released his From Here To Eternity album in 1977. With Kraftwerk, he is the co-inventor of the synthpop New Wave of the early 1980s, as the title track proves.

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Warren Smith – A Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache.mp3
Bob Dylan – Idiot Wind.mp3
Cisco Houston – Passing Through.mp3
Bryan Ferry – It’s My Party.mp3
Giorgio Moroder – From Here To Eternity.mp3

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Great Moustaches in Rock: Orleans

March 10th, 2009 11 comments

I offer little new insight when I register that the 1970s was the acme of nightmare-inducing moustaches. Even James Brown got in on the act, managing in the process to look even more than ever like my sister-in-law’s former mother-in-law. After a long hiatus of Great Moustaches in Rock, we turn to the misadventures in hirsute stylings perpetrated by soft-rockers Orleans.

orleans-dancewithme

To our relief (or frustration, if you are looking for comedy), Orleans’ moustachoid period was mercifully brief. Soon the tough thrashing monsters of soft rock (well, in comparison to David Gates’ soggy Bread anyway) asserted their uncompromising masculinity with thatch all over their faces, doubtless taking the lead from the diminutive stud-muffin on the far left. Then division set in as two members realised the follicular folly of their comrades’ ways and…oh, say it isn’t so…shaved! Or were the apostates in fact new members? I know little about the group, but scanning their covers, Orleans seemed to gain and shed members as rapidly Zsa Zsa Gabor’s nuptial turn-over.

And so Orleans appeared on the cover which has established them as legends in every worst-covers-of-all-time catalogue, an incongruous presence amid fundamentalist Christians, doll-killing maniacs and other assorted representatives of the psychotic recording artiste community. In most such anthologies, Orleans are the only outfit that actually sold records. Still The One remains a staple of ’70s soft rock nostalgia, and that appeared on 1976’s notoriously sleeved Waking And Dreaming album.

orleans-topless

I don’t think it’s a bad cover at all. It is a bit odd, that much is true. But what we have here are five guys who clearly like each others’ company and are not self-conscious about exhibiting their closeness, the two chaps on the right especially. The reason why it is included in those amusing covers collections is not because some Orleans members have comedy fur on their heads, or because their torsos are nauseating, but because the photo looks “gay”. More cultured observers would invoke the terminology of “homoerotic”.

I think I’ve made the point before that the generalised use of that concept is homophobic. Of course, there is such a thing as homoerotism, but it cannot be applied indiscriminately. If one describes the Orleans cover as homoerotic, then one is ascribing all manner of meaning to a snapshot in time. Perhaps the chaps on the right are indeed gay. Perhaps they are heterosexual but not embarrassed to show affection towards other men. Perhaps they were horsing around. Perhaps comedy-beard dude in front is trying to move whispy-tache’s hand away. Certainly hairy dude in front seems to be puzzled at it all.

Whatever the context, the photo cannot be arbitrarily sexualised. And even if one does so, and even if some members of Orleans are gay, including it in funny-covers collections is an act of homophobia. Intentionally or not, it communicates that being gay, or giving rise to suspicions of homsexuality, is somehow hilarious, and that men who show affection for one another are likewise “hilariously” gay. That common prejudice and the resultant compulsion by most men to avoid demonstrations of affection towards other men lest they be thought of as being homosexual is such a great loss to humanity — and reinforces anti-gay sentiments.

Of course, faced with such perceptions, the cover was ill-advised. Frontman John Hall once explained that the topless pic was entirely unplanned. The photo shoot had been going for a while when the photographer suggested our friends take their shirts off (you can’t see it, but they still have their trousers on). Obediently, they did; a few pics were taken, and two minutes later the five put their shirts back on. And of all the photos taken at the session, the record company chose that one for the cover. At least Orleans are not forgotten — indeed, in some incarnation or other, they are still touring the nostalgia circuit.

Orleans – Dance With Me.mp3
Orleans – Still The One.mp3

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