Christine Lavin: Prisoners of Their Hairdos
My recent run of television-related posts would suggest a discussion of The Prisoner, one of the great TV shows of the 1960s, and one of the first shows designed to blow the viewers’ minds, and I still might, but while it had a theme song (with a great credit sequence), it really wasn’t a music based show.
I’ve also recently written elsewhere about Jason Isbell’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” so that’s out. As I perused my music library, I came across this song, which I hadn’t listened to in years, and which reminded me that you don’t need to be in a cell to be a prisoner.
Christine Lavin has been on the folk scene since the 1980s, and while she has had a long, successful career as a singer-songwriter, she never had the sort of national breakout that some of her contemporaries like Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman or Shawn Colvin, although she is incredibly well respected in the folk music world. Lavin writes mostly about relationships, and while she can write seriously, she is probably best known for her sense of humor. Many of her songs are laugh out loud funny. I sometimes wonder if her lack of fame stems from the fact that women folk singers are stereotypically supposed to be sad, tortured souls, and Lavin’s humor prevents her from being taken seriously. But that’s really too bad, because she has consistently written and performed great songs, not all of which are jokey.
In addition, she has long been an incredible supporter of other musicians, playing them on the radio, and working with them. I remember listening to her as the first host of WFUV’s Sunday Breakfast, playing music by artists she liked, sometimes even unreleased tracks. Even after friend (and fellow former WPRB Program Director John Platt) took over the show, Lavin would send him music to play, and she occasionally would sub for him. As much as I loved listening to John, which I don’t get to do as much since the station, in a bad move, pushed him to Sunday evening, when sports, TV, life and dinner usually take precedence (sorry!), it was fun to hear Lavin’s unique style every once in a while.
“Prisoners of Their Hairdos” is on the funny side of Lavin’s musical spectrum, and points out that some people’s coiffures are so distinctive that:
If they changed the way they combed their hair
They'd never be recognized anywhere
Lavin lists Crystal Gayle, Dorothy Hamill, Don King, Lyle Lovett, Gloria Steinem, Stevie Nicks Leon Redbone, Pee Wee Herman, Tom Wolfe, Pope John Paul, Ted Koppel, and Mary Travers as hairdo prisoners, and I’m sure we could think of more recent ones, since the song was released in 1991. An amateur golfer/more amateur president comes to mind…..
The song points out that ZZ Top are, similarly, prisoners of their beards, and Dolly Parton is a prisoner of her…….wigs. But, on the other hand, the B-52’s beehives, she suggests, are prisoners of the band.
There was a time where I had a great deal of hair, but time and genetics has rendered me almost bald, and now I keep my hair short, for ease of care. Typically, when I go to the barber, she asks me, “what do you want to do?” And my response is usually, “there really isn’t much you can do.” My daughter’s father-in-law (English really needs a word like machatenester or consuegro) shaves his head daily, and has tried to convince me to do the same. I’ve declined, because I don’t want to become a prisoner of my baldness.