Day 100, No. 100. Shakespeare

The Chandos portraitHAIRCUT 100: Day 100, No. 100. At last, I reach the end of my spiritual journey. I hope you note that even in these times of political upheaval, global uncertainty and sheer existential terror – not to mention bereavement, self-employment, three other blogs, a book contract and a five-year-old – I have never missed a day! I started this blog on August 11 this year. At an average of 500 words per post, that’s approximately 50,000 words written in three months. Wow. Go me. I wish the latest novel was coming together so quickly.

To recap, this has been a celebration of awesome baldness in all its forms, in honour of those of us who, for whatever reason, are a bit thin on top. For my dear friend Colin, who passed away on Day 68, it was chemotherapy what done it; for me, bloody alopecia areata universalis. Sometimes it’s part of the aging process, sometimes it’s just bad luck. I appreciate it can be a style thing or a statement, but, by and large, most of us don’t choose to go skinhead. I was a long-hair. This was never my natural look, so I needed something to guide me through the transition; compiling a cavalcade of Kojaked cultural icons was deeply therapeutic. To paraphrase the Bard, ‘Oh bald new world, that has such people in’t!’ If you are going through hair loss, or, especially, if you have a kid dealing with it, I would urge you to do the same. It really does help raise self-esteem again, and it’s actually rather fun.

Looking back at my list, it certainly betrays my age as much as my interests. I’m acutely aware of many more contemporary examples, particularly in sport and music, I might have used, but then I’ve gotta be me – make your own darn list! I am old and geeky, I did warn you, hence all those references to classic horror and sci-fi. But one way or the other, I did the ton and as a rocker of the old school that is always what it’s about…

Anyway (drum roll), here is the final entry in the original ‘Haircut 100.’ Now, this ain’t The Prisoner, so it isn’t going to turn out to be me. As well as being geeky, I am also a literary man, so, in the 400th year since his death, it is in every way appropriate to conclude this project with William Shakespeare (1564–1616): Bard of Avon, poet, playwright, and actor, and very probably the greatest writer in the English language. The son of a provincial glovemaker and a farmer’s daughter, Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two epic poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and have been performed, studied and re-interpreted consistently across the world and across the centuries, being staged more than the work of any other playwright in history. As Ben Johnson wrote in the prefatory poem to the First Folio edition of his collected plays (1623), Shakespeare was ‘not of an age, but for all time.’

Shakespeare’s early works were comedies and histories, and having mastered these genres he turned his attention to tragedy, producing such incredible plays as Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth. Well, you know who he was… Debate continues over the authorship of Shakespeare’s work, but these are essentially popular and academic conspiracy theories with very little supporting evidence. It is as if we cannot somehow accept this level of genius in a single human being who produced all these wonderful words with, as I believe Peter Ackroyd once pointed out, nothing more than a sharpened feather. If you think about it, no-one questions the ownership of the work of prolific talents like Mozart, Dickens, Picasso or David Bowie. Occasionally, once or twice in a generation, some people are simply that brilliant.

Shakespeare was recently celebrated on the BBC by the redoubtable Philomena Cunk, who noted that school must’ve been very different for him, on account of not having to study Shakespeare. ‘If Shakespeare had written Taken,’ she argued, ‘it’d be four hours long and be mainly Liam Neeson fretting and pacing and talking to bones. That’s the basic difference between Hamlet and Taken: Liam Neeson makes up his mind.’ He did, however, she concedes, give the world Romeo and Juliet, ‘easily the finest romance of the pre-Dirty Dancing era.’

So there you have it. They say Shakespeare pretty much had a word for everything, and that includes hair loss, which is covered in The Comedy of Errors (written between 1592 and 1594), Act II, Scene 2. Enjoy:

ANTIPHOLUS: Why is Time such a niggard of hair, being, as it is, so plentiful an excrement?

DROMIO: Because it is a blessing that time bestows on beasts; and what he has scanted men in hair, he hath given them in wit.

ANTIPHOLUS: Why, but there’s many a man hath more hair than wit.

DROMIO: Not a man of those but he hath the wit to lose his hair.

Thank you for reading!

Steve

(Exits, pursued by a bear)

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Day 99, No. 99. Telly Savalas

KojakHAIRCUT 100: Day 99, No. 99. Aristotelis ‘Telly’ Savalas: actor and singer; as Lt. Theo Kojak, the patron saint of baldness. Obviously, I’ve been saving this one for a place of honour. Savalas was a first generation Greek-American, born in Garden City, New York in 1922; his mother was an artist originally from Sparta and his dad owned a Greek restaurant. He was the second of five children, and when he started school he spoke no English. He attended Columbia University and graduated with a degree in Psychology. He served in the US Army during World War II, going on to work for the State Department, hosting Your Voice of America on ABC News.

He remained with ABC through the fifties, producing TV sports programmes before getting into acting in 1958, first appearing in Armstrong Circle Theatre, a CBS drama showcase, and going on to guest star in single episodes of over fifty classic shows in the sixties, including The Untouchables, Combat!, The Fugitive, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the The Twilight Zone story ‘Living Doll’; he was also a regular cast member in 77 Sunset Strip. Burt Lancaster was impressed by Savalas’ portrayal of gangster Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in the TV show The Witness, and cast him in The Young Savages in 1961, giving him his film break. He went on to act opposite Lancaster in three more movies, including The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Savalas tended to get cast as either cops or bad guys, including the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Other iconic roles from that period include Archer Maggott in The Dirty Dozen (1967) and ‘Big Joe’ in Kelley’s Heroes (1970). Savalas shaved his head to play Pontius Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), retaining the look thereafter.

But it is as the gravel-voiced, lollipop dangling New York detective Theo Kojak that Savalas will always be remembered. The series began on CBS in 1973 (I remember watching the pilot with my parents as a kid, utterly transfixed), and ran for five seasons until 1978. His younger brother, George, was a regular cast member, playing the affable Detective Stavros. Seven TV movies were made after cancellation, the last, Kojak: Flowers for Matty, in 1990. Kojak’s trademark lollipop was a prop suggested by co-star Kevin Dobson (‘Lt. Crocker’), and indicated both character and actor’s desire to quit smoking. Savalas won an Emmy and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of Kojak, and a revival seems imminent, with Universal recently announcing plans for a film with Vin Diesel taking the lead, which I think we can agree is the perfect choice.

In addition to acting, Savalas also bizarrely had a pop music career in the 70s, after his is spoken word version of Bread’s song ‘If’ reached the top of the charts in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Weird, but then he did have a fantastic voice… Another Savalas curio well worth seeking out is his appearance on the Australian paranormal witness show The Extraordinary in 1993. In a short but atmospheric interview, he relates an experience he had while still working for the State Department, when he was given a lift to a gas station by a friendly but slightly odd man driving a Caddy who, if the name and number he gave having loaned Savalas a buck for fuel was real, had been dead for two years.

Telly was diagnosed with the same type of cancer that killed his father in 1989, but he continued to work pretty much to the end. He died the day after his 72nd birthday in 1994. He is buried in the famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park; Frank Sinatra attended the funeral. ‘Who loves ya, baby?’

Day 98, No. 98. Eddie

Adrian EdmonsonHAIRCUT 100: Day 98, No. 98. I’m bringing it all back home now, as we move inextricably to the end of this epic project. So, in a bit of a change of pace from my previous run of sci-fi icons, I give you Adrian Charles ‘Ade’ Edmondson, National Treasure: comedian, actor, writer, director, musician, Yorkshireman and winner of Celebrity MasterChef 2013; AKA Sir Adrian Dangerous, Eddie Monsoon, Vyvyan Basterd, Edward Catflap, Vim Fuego, and Edward Elizabeth Hitler. This man is very close to my heart, and has been making life a bit less horrible since the post-punk alternative comedy boom of the early-80s, which was a rotten time to be young in the UK otherwise.

Edmondson studied drama at the University of Manchester, where he met best friend and long-time collaborator Rik Mayall. As ‘20th Century Coyote’ they became stars at The Comedy Store in Soho, later moving to Peter Richardson’s Comic Strip club with other Comedy Store regulars ‘The Outer Limits’ (Richardson and Nigel Planer), MC  Alexei Sayle, and French and Saunders. The popular club caught the eye of programmers at the newly formed Channel 4, and the troupe was commissioned to produce six self-contained half-hour films entitled The Comic Strip Presents… the first of which, ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset,’ was broadcast on the opening night of Channel 4 on November 2, 1982. (I remember it well. I was eighteen, with mates, and way out of my head. But I digress.) Other memorable Comic Strip shows being ‘Slags,’ a parody of Bladerunner and West Side Story, and the ‘Bad News’ saga, following an awful Heavy Metal band that are slaughtered by an angry mob after a (real) performance at the Castle Donnington ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival. (Look up ‘Warriors of Genghis Khan.’) Pretty much concurrently, the BBC signed Edmondson, Mayall, Richardson, Planer and Sayle to star in The Young Ones, an anarchic sitcom about four students in a house-share written by Ben Elton, Lise Mayer, Mayall and Sayle (Richardson later dropped out and was replaced by Christopher Ryan). Along with The Comic Strip Presents… this show represented a paradigmatic shift in television comedy, and its influence can still be felt to this day. And the rest, as they say, is history…

Edmondson and Mayall continued to work together up until Mayall’s untimely death in 2014 aged 56. Their creative zenith was probably Bottom, which married the violent slapstick of ‘alternative comedy’ with a much older tradition of the comedy double act, reminding us that Samuel Beckett was inspired to write Waiting for Godot by Laurel and Hardy. (Mayall and Edmondson in fact played Vladimir and Estragon in a West End production of Waiting for Godot at the Queen’s Theatre in 1991.) Bottom ran for three series on the BBC from 1991 to 1995, moving from screen to stage in a series of tours culminating in ‘Weapons Grade Y-Fronts’ in 2003; and back again with the surreal movie Guesthouse Paradiso (1999) – which includes an early performance by Simon Pegg – and perhaps the wisest words you will ever hear: ‘Well you see, Richie, it’s like this: You’re born, you keep your head down, and then you die. If you’re lucky.’

Edmonson was one of Mayall’s pallbearers, offering a moving tribute that encapsulated their wonderful and incredibly productive friendship: ‘There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard.’

Edmonson’s acting credits are too long to list, and he remains a familiar face on British television, nowadays often presenting, in affectionate travel documentaries like The Dales, Ade in Britain and Ade at Sea for ITV. For the last ten years, he’s focused more on music with his band The Bad Shepherds, also contributing to Pour l’Amour Des Chiens (2007), the first new studio album from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in 35 years with the surviving original line-up and other ‘New Millennium Bonzos’ Stephen Fry and Phill Jupitus. He has been married to fellow Comic Strip comedienne Jennifer Saunders since 1985 and the couple have three daughters and three grandkids. Saunders’ character Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous takes her name from Ade’s alter-ego, Eddie Monsoon, a foul-mouthed, alcoholic and self-destructive South African comic, whose unpublished autobiography concluded ‘Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Give me a drink, you bastards.’ What a guy.

NB: This post is dedicated to my bestest buds Matt and Ray at Geekshelf: ‘Rightey dokey matey bloke flap old salty seadog amigo skip-jack jockstrap piano tuner, let’s see you balls this one up!’

Day 97, No. 97. Riddick

Vin DieselHAIRCUT 100: Day 97, No. 97. Vin Diesel, actor, producer, director and screenwriter. To petrolheads everywhere, he is closely identified with the role of Dominic Toretto, engineer, ex-con and street racer in The Fast and the Furious series, which he absolutely owns, but here we celebrate him principally as Richard B. Riddick: Furyan warrior, mercenary, fugitive, ‘shiner,’ and one-time Grand Marshal of the Necromongers, because he’s just so fucking cool. Riddick exploded onto the screen in the relatively low-budget cult sleeper Pitch Black in 2000, a sci-fi/horror movie co-written and directed by David Twohy. Riddick is introduced as the highly dangerous captive of a drug-addled bounty hunter, en route to prison on an unremarkable transport ship. His eyes have been ‘shined,’ surgically altered so he can see in the dark, resulting in a sensitivity to daylight that requires him to wear welding googles, creating his signature steampunk look. In a fantastic exercise in character development, the enigmatic Riddick moves from villain to hero after the ship crash lands on a desert planet populated by vicious, raptor-like creatures that emerge during an eclipse.

This was followed by the more ambitious The Chroniclers of Riddick in 2004, and epic hero’s journey in which a personal quest for vengeance leads Riddick to overthrow the brutal religious crusade of the Necromongers, becoming the Order’s Grand Marshal. In Riddick (2013), the character is once more stripped down to his essence, fighting for survival on a desert planet against vicious alien creatures and two rival groups of mercenary bounty hunters. (There’s also an animated movie – Dark Fury – and a couple of video games.) In the original draft of the Pitch Black script by Jim and Ken Wheat, the character was a woman called Taras Krieg.

The distinctively-voiced Diesel is a fascinating actor, with much more to him than your average mainstream action hero. He has described himself as ‘of ambiguous ethnicity.’ His step-father was an acting instructor and theatre manager, and Diesel (born Mark Sinclair) started his stage career aged seven. After an uncredited part in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (1990), Diesel made the short film Multi-Facial in 1995. The film is a semi-autobiographical exploration of Diesel’s frustration at the difficulties faced by mixed-race actors seeking parts in Hollywood. He was inspired by the book Feature Films at Used Car Prices by Rick Schmidt, and wrote, directed, starred in and scored the movie on a budget of $3000. On the strength of a positive showing at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan, the film was accepted for the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Diesel went on to make the feature-length Strays in 1997, again writing, producing, directing and taking the leading role, as a small-time New York hustler searching for meaning in his life. On seeing Strays, Steven Spielberg, who had already been impressed by Multi-Facial, wrote the part of Private Adrian Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan specifically for Diesel, providing the actor with a powerful, break-out role.

Diesel has three kids, but prefers to keep his family out of the public eye stating that ‘I’m not gonna put it out there on a magazine cover like some other actors. I come from the Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino code of silence.’ Class. And as for Riddick, well he’s still doing his thing. In an alternative ending to Riddick, the character is shown on the ‘threshold to the Underverse,’ intermating that he’s going in, while Diesel confirmed earlier this year that he and David Twohy were developing a fourth movie entitled The Chronicles of Riddick: Furia. ‘You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?’

Day 96, No. 96. The Engineers

PrometheusHAIRCUT 100: Day 96, No. 96. Sticking with the Alien franchise – and why not? – The Engineers (AKA Pilots, Ossians, Mala’kak and ‘Space Jockeys’); in the Prometheus universe: God. It took a couple of watches, but I’ve got to admit I liked this movie, although the pacing was off: too much build-up followed by a hasty and inconclusive climax. That said, the cast is wonderful. Michael Fassbender as the Peter O’Toole obsessed android David owns this movie, while Idris Elba effortlessly steals every scene that he’s in and Noomi Rapace is far from terrible as the ‘Ripley’ figure. The story itself is a nice development of the so called ‘Ancient Astronaut’ hypothesis that became very popular cultural currency in the 1970s in the wake of the writings of Erich von Däniken, beginning with Chariots of the Gods in 1968, who famously argued that many archaic civilisations were visited and influenced by advanced alien cultures. Other examples of this thesis are Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles series (1976 – 2007), which introduced the ‘Nibiru’ myth in which the ‘Anunnaki’ wipe out the Neanderthals, and The Sirius Mystery (1976) by Robert Temple, who claimed that the Dogon people of Mali in Western Africa preserve a tradition of contact with intelligent extra-terrestrial beings. These are all pseudo-scientific investigations of myths involving the so called ‘First Ones.’ These ideas had already been enthusiastically explored in the pulp magazines, most notably in H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Cthulu Mythos,’ and in stories like Robert Arthur’s ‘Evolution’s End’ (1941), Eric Frank Russell’s Dreadful Sanctuary (1948), and ‘The Writing of the Rat’ by James Blish (1956). You can also see the influence in the work of Arthur C. Clarke (particularly Rendezvous with Rama and 2001), and L. Ron Hubbard, notably his ‘Galactic Confederacy’ myths.

In Ridley Scott’s epic Prometheus (2012), late-21st century archaeologists discover a star map in Scotland that matches others from several unconnected ancient cultures. They interpret this as an invitation from humanity’s forerunners, who they call the ‘Engineers,’ and follow it in search of the origins of the human race. Meeting God is a Miltonic device used in the original Frankenstein, and one apparently close to Scott’s heart, also forming the foundation of Bladerunner, in which the Replicants confront their creator, Tyrell.

The Engineers are an ancient and highly advanced extra-terrestrial species, with the technology to seed life and terraform planets. They first appear in the derelict spacecraft in Alien, the implication being that they fell victim to the ‘Xenomorph’ threat, as will the crew of the Nostromo. In the preface to the Prometheus story arc, a lone Engineer is shown drinking a chemical compound that dissolves him, his remains merging with a large body of water. Presumably, as human and Engineer DNA is later shown to be almost identical, we can read this as the creation of life on earth at the single-cellular level. As the film’s title suggests, this was not sanctioned by his people, and the ‘aliens’ are looking more and more like a biological weapon intended to cleanse planets of unwanted lifeforms. Seemingly the Engineers lost control of their fatal cargo somewhere along the way…

Physically, the Engineers are, like the Alien, Gigeresque, with design echoes from the Swiss surrealist’s Necronomicon series of paintings. They are pale, hairless and humanoid giants, with shark-like eyes and sexy biomechanical pressure suits. Whether they are gods or monsters or both remains to be seen, but it should be fun finding out. Alien: Covenant (provisionally entitled Alien: Paradise Lost) is scheduled for release next August, assuming we’re all still here.

Holloway: ‘What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even made us in the first place.’

David: ‘Why do you think your people made me?’

Holloway: ‘We made you because we could.’

David: ‘Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?’

Holloway: ‘I guess it’s good you can’t be disappointed.’