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Gillette dodgers

November 12, 2009

Simon Reynolds, in yesterday’s Guardian, writes about the typically bearded appearance of bands in this dying decade – a piece that I like to think I pre-empted somewhat in my recent song Svengali’s Off-Day: “there are fifteen nineteen-year-old men with beards just living on my street”.

Now, I have nothing against a handsome beard, and I rather admire the facial hair of several of my own friends and colleagues. However, I’m curious about the adoption of this look as a uniform. What, asks Reynolds, does beardedness among young, white creative types signify? He links to a video by Fleet Foxes: “Here, beardedness is tantamount to a visual rhetoric, almost a form of authentication, as though the band are wearing their music on their faces.” (And that, for the most part, is why I remain beardless: I have no desire to hide my fake, inauthentic, mincer’s face behind good honest facial hair. I have made my own disdain for “authenticity” in music quite clear.)

Reynolds focuses mostly on beardedness amongst new American folk types, alluding to the purely theoretical longing of New Yorkers for a never-known American wilderness; he also makes the unavoidable point about the tedious and perpetual return of music to a golden age of rock. However, I also suspect that beards have become a uniform for a couple of other reasons. The male hipster is largely unadult and emasculated, and the beard is perhaps worn (with varying degrees of irony) as compensation. The beard is also, perhaps, a little glimmer of the class consciousness that North Americans reputedly lack, although a certain amount of irony confuses things here too. As I noted before, young playful Torontonians despise the city’s streetcar drivers and garbage collectors for going on strike (spraying graffiti on station walls telling drivers that they should “go to university”), but they certainly love dressing like the lumberjacks and truck-drivers that their parents never were.

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