About the most rebellious thing I did in my teenage years was grow out my sideburns like Ray Manzarek.
You might know Ray Manzarek as the keyboardist for the Doors. You might know the Doors as the psychedelic rock group that did “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” or “Light My Fire,” or “The End,” or any number of other rock radio staples.
I discovered the man and the group because of the music they made. But at a purely cosmetic level, I really admired Ray Manzarek’s sideburns.
Refer to the picture above. Ray’s sideburns were long and straight and perfectly symmetrical. To me, they were an almost artistic continuation of hair down to the jaw. It’s easy to grow out a beard or a mustache, but sideburns are different; they require a certain finesse, a certain style to really get right.
I kind of just went ahead and assumed I had the required finesse and style. It didn’t take long for my sideburns to grow. They probably grew a little too much.
My sideburns had a texture similar to bristles on a brush. I was afraid that if I trimmed them I’d ruin them, so they just grew. And grew. They grew outward, to the point that they began to protrude from either side of my head, sort of like wings.
I’d show you a picture, only I feel like that would be equivalent to a horror director showing the monster in the very first scene. What you come up with in your mind is always more frightening, anyway.
Suffice it to say that my sideburns really didn’t look very good.
That fact, however, wasn’t especially important to me. What was important was that no one else at school looked like me, and I didn’t look like anyone else. I had basically walked into a party that had ended forty years ago, but whatever.
I think pretty much every American high school kid goes through this phase at some point in adolescence, this phase where we copy a behavior or a trend that seems cool and different, even though we’re conforming to the trend by doing it.
Only for my phase, I copied an anachronistic (and kind of gross) hairstyle.
I remember re-watching an old tape of myself playing basketball during the sideburn era, one that my dad had filmed. He’s talking with my cousin in the background, and my cousin asks where I am on the court. My dad says something like, “The floppy hair and the sideburns.” There’s a pause, and then my cousin says something like, “That’s an interesting look.” And then nobody says anything.
The sideburns died sometime near the end of my sophomore year. My mom politely handed me an electric razor and encouraged me to at least trim the sideburns if I wanted to keep them.
Instead I took them off completely. The magic of the sideburns had dissipated. I’d been getting enough grief from my parents and my friends. And besides, they were getting itchy.
It’s funny how important those sideburns were for the short time that I had them. The allure of facial hair to a teenage kid is something like tattoos to college students; it’s a form of self expression that goes beyond others because it’s right there on your skin, out where everyone can see it.
I still have sideburns, though now I trim them from time to time and they’re more or less level with my eyes. I’ve attempted other hairstyles imitating other musicians; when I discovered Iron Maiden I very seriously wanted to grow my hair past my shoulders, a la Bruce Dickinson. It always grew outward but never downward, so eventually I gave up.
For now I’ve settled on a flip in the front. It’s a look that a lot of other guys have, sure, but that’s alright. A lesson I learned in high school: hair is just hair, no matter how you make it grow.
Also, my current hairstyle is a little more manageable than those other ones.