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)

Day 88, No. 88. Picasso

Pablo PicassoHAIRCUT 100: Day 88, No. 88. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973): alongside Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp, probably the most significant, innovative, revolutionary and influential artist of the twentieth century, his work defining Modernism in painting and the plastic arts. Picasso was born in Spain – the son of an art teacher – but spent most of his life in France. As a child, he showed exceptional talent, which blossomed in Paris at the start of the new century, amidst a Bohemian atmosphere charged with the stirrings of avant-garde rebellion. The influence of Munch, Lautrec, Renoir, Gauguin, and van Gogh can be felt in his early work, dancing across the canvas and leaving behind them a passion for blue. This became the dominant colour for Picasso’s depiction of the Mysteries of Paris: the beggar, the whore, the sick and the starving.

Picasso’s stunning painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (‘The Young Ladies of Avignon,’ 1907), portrays five naked prostitutes with mask-like faces in a confrontational stance, the artist abandoning perspective in favor of a flat, two-dimensional plane that radically breaks with traditional European representation. This was a revolutionary and controversial work that already anticipated the cubism of ‘Girl with a Mandolin. (1910). Like Giotto, Michelangelo, and Bernini; Wordsworth and Coleridge; Elvis, The Beatles and The Sex Pistols, Picasso’s work stands at the beginning of a new epoch. He was as prolific as he was protean, working in different mediums and radically different styles, ranging from classical realism to cubism, primitivism, neo-classicism, surrealism and monumental archetypes. It has been estimated that Picasso produced around 50,000 pieces in his life, achieving universal recognition and a vast fortune. This year, Picasso’s painting ‘Femme Assise’ (1909) sold for £43.2 million at Sotheby’s. ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’

Day 87, No. 87. V

Original V for VendettaHAIRCUT 100: Day 87, No. 87: ‘Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.’

From the beautiful film (2006) directed by James McTeigue and written by The Wachowski Brothers (now sisters), and the even more beautiful graphic serial by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1982 – 1988, another Warrior original), which got me through many a bad night in the darkest days of Thatcherism and still movers me to tears today. OK, purists may argue that the point of this character is that we never see his or her face, in common with the other mysterious ‘V’ in the landmark postmodern novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon (1963). But as s/he is depicted as being in some way disfigured by genetic experimentation at Larkhill, and/or burnt during his/her escape, while always wearing a wig and having that whole Phantom of the Opera/Dr. Phibes things going on, I think the circumstantial evidence in favour of baldness is quite compelling. (The shaven-headed concentration camp prisoner is also a recurring image in both narratives.) Anyway, it’s November 5. And now the idea is made flesh, as the international ‘Anonymous’ network of hacktivists has taken the ‘penny-for-the-guy’ mask as their emblem, along with the ethos of the character that freedom is everything. Just as V once spoke to the people of an imagined fascist Britain that seems to be getting closer in fact every day, Anonymous broadcasts regularly to the world online. History becomes fiction becoming history again. What a world: ‘Vi veri universum vivus vici!’

Dedicated to Guy Fawkes, the last honest man to enter Parliament.

Day 85, No. 85. Ruben Blades

Rubén Blades HAIRCUT 100: Day 85, No. 85. Rubén Blades (Rubén Blades Bellido de Luna): Panamanian national treasure; singer, songwriter, musician, actor and politician. Blades is a Latin music icon and innovator, his work combining Afro-Cuban, salsa and jazz with politically charged lyrics. As an actor, you’ll probably recognise him from Predator 2 (1990), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), and Cradle Will Rock (1999), in which he played the Marxist artist Diego Rivera, husband of Frida Kahlo. He studied law at the University of Panama and also holds a Masters in Law from Harvard, not practising because, as he later said, ‘It doesn’t make sense for me to be a lawyer in a place where there is no law.’

Blades, 68, can currently be seen portraying the morally ambivalent and emotionally complex Daniel Salazar in AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, a superstitious Salvadorian refugee with a dark past who will do anything to protect his family. Blades ran for president in Panama in 1994, gaining 18% of the popular vote but losing to Ernesto Pérez Balladares of the Democratic Revolutionary Party. In September 2004, he was appointed Panamanian Minister of Tourism. ‘We had something to say. Whenever we played, people didn’t dance, they listened.’

Day 84, No. 84. Davros

DavrosHAIRCUT 100: Day 84, No. 84. Davros: Thinly disguised Hitler figure from back when British sci-fi was still always an allegory of World War Two; evil genius, doomed to invariably be destroyed by his own creation – so he’s Victor Frankenstein as well – and Dalek from the waist down. The character was conceived and written by the prolific and influential scriptwriter Terry Nation (who also created the Daleks) for the epic Tom Baker/Fourth Doctor story ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (1975). I still remember watching the first broadcast, aged eleven, and I recently saw it again with my son. Davros was horribly disabled after his laboratory was bombed during the Forever War on Skaro between the Kaleds and the Thals, who were now fighting in trenches with bows and arrows. With his domed head, withered body and life-support chair, we can see echoes of The Mekon from Dan Dare in Davros’ character design, while his tank-like wheelchair brilliantly becomes the base of a Dalek, the invention he believes will break the stalemate and win the war.

As an arch nemesis of The Doctor, Davros is apparently indestructible, despite being defeated and often seen to be killed in the second act climax; in his most recent appearance last year, he was depicted as a child whose life is saved by Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. (Nice twist. Didn’t see that one coming.) The adult Davros has been played on TV by Michael Wisher, David Gooderson, Terry Molloy, and Julian Bleach. Aside from ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ my personal favourite Davros story is ‘Revelation of the Daleks,’ a Colin Baker/Sixth Doctor two-parter from 1985 written by Eric Saward, in which Davros takes over a funeral home for the mega-rich called ‘Tranquil Repose,’ where cryogenically suspended billionaires are being secretly turned into Daleks. ‘Today, the Kaled race is ended, consumed in a fire of war. But from its ashes will rise a new race. The supreme creature, the ultimate conqueror of the universe, the Dalek!’ Cue the music; get back behind that sofa. Class.