Whither the mullet?

by Brian Clarey

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance last week, in an effort to de-Westernize its populace, issued “guidelines” for men’s hairstyles in the Muslim nation. The list of acceptable ’dos included the Bobby Labonte, the Mike Ditka, the Keanu Reeves (circa Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and the Muslim-style afro, AKA the “Mofro.”

Banned were the Ryan Seacrest (too much gel), the Antonio Banderas (no ponytails) and the Keanu Reeves (circa Speed — too spiky). Also on Iran’s forbidden-haircut list is that most maligned of styles, the mullet.

You know what I’m talking about: The Country

Waterfall. The Achy-Breaky. The Mudflap. The Boz. The Ape Drape. The Long Island Ice Teased. Business up front, party in the back.

Yeah, that’s the one. Frankly, I didn’t know that bad haircuts were such a problem in the Muslim world, thinking na’vely that illiteracy, roadside bombings and the “bad” kind of stonings would take precedence over hockey hair.

But you can’t be too careful, I guess, when you’re demonizing a hemisphere.

And if they were going after hairstyles, one would think that they would condemn the fauxhawk, the white-boy dreads, the Jersey Shore blowout or the Justin Bieber before coming after one of the world’s most popular and lasting cuts.

The American media latched onto the story with predictable aplomb; the outburst included a great piece in Slate tracing the genealogy of the cut back to Ancient Greece, and possibly even earlier.

It seems that some ancient art depicts versions of that most loathsome haircut on urns and murals. The article also stated that the mullet may have originated in the Middle East, which is awfully ironic.

Looks aside, the mullet is sort of practical. Chopping the sides and front keeps the hair out of your face when you’re hunting or fighting with swords and spears, while the magnificent growth in the back keeps your neck warm during long winter months. It is possible, the article opined, that cavemen wore mullets out of sheer practicality. And I personally think it’s possible that the cut was invented by accident when some prehistoric groo got a little too close to the communal fire.

My own history with the mullet goes back a scant 25 years or so, to the Long Island of the 1980s where the mullet was, to say the least, ubiquitous.

No, they didn’t invent the mullet on Long Island, just like they didn’t invent the comb-over, the shopping mall, acid-wash jeans or Members Only jackets. But, like community college, the thin-lip mustache and shoulder pads, these things were perfected there. A glance through my high school yearbook, 1998-’88, reveals that the mullet was worn by members of virtually every clique: jocks, metalheads, Deadheads, fancy boys, loners, joiners, short-bus riders, preps, dirtbags, the yearbook staff. And it wasn’t just the guys — lots of girls had them too.

This is something I’ve tried to explain to younger coworkers and friends: The mullet was a real, viable haircut before it became a punchline. And for that I place the blame squarely on Billy Ray Cyrus.

I think I was 16 when I first came home from the hairstylist with a mullet, much to the dismay of my parents, who were at the time hopelessly behind the times when it came to teenagers’ hair. I, however, was on the cutting edge. At the time — 1986 or so — the mullet was an acceptably cool hairstyle. Rock stars like David Bowie, Ric Okasek, Bono and Roger Taylor (yeah, the guy from Duran Duran) wore them, along with MTV’s coolest VJs Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn. Chuck Norris had a mullet in the 1980s, as did pretty much every hockey player, professional wrestler and hair-metal wannabe. Macgyver had a mullet. Mel Gibson wore one in the Lethal Weapon movies. Patrick Swayze rocked the mullet when he was named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1991. Keith Richards hacked his mane into a mullet back in the ’60s and kept it for almost 30 years.

My own mullet lasted until 1989 or so, as evidenced by my college meal card photo ID which I am holding in my hand right now. By this time, mine had grown into a mushroom mullet, thick and lustrous up top with a generous portion swept to the side and dense and curly down to my shoulders in the back. Party indeed. Eventually I grew it out into the Eddie Vedder.

Who knows? The mullet may come back some day — though there is plenty of evidence right here in North Carolina that it never really went away at all. Ever been to the state fair? As for me, I’m pretty sure I’ll never grow one out again — the current state of my hairline dictates that any effort at a mullet will result in a variant known as the “skullet,” and that would just be sad.