Hair. Always been a big deal to me. I accomplished hormonal lift-off at 11 and immediately shifted into hyper hair-awareness mode. I simultaneously stumbled upon my first rebel role model — James Dean. I became fascinated with him, not for his work in film — Who knew what a method actor was? — but for his bohemian, New York-based lifestyle as represented in the only fan magazine I ever owned.
Through the fan mag’s photos and a detailed bio, James Dean introduced me to my cultural mecca — Greenwich Village — and saved me from a devastating hairstyle dilemma.
Most of my comrades had begun to sport DAs, pomade-laden artifiacts that swept backwards into a stunning representation of a duck’s ass. The front of a DA featured oily ringlets of hair that dangled down the forehead, Sal Mineo-style. This baroque rendering required copious amounts of Brylcreem and frequent visits to the boys’ room to keep the entire mechanism in perfect form.
DAs worked best if you were dark-haired and Italian. I was neither. Nevertheless, I set out to cultivate my own DA.
A terrible obstacle discouraged my DA grooming attempts. I had a cowlick that wreaked havoc with the left side of my scalp, a tornado swath of untamable hair that ran from front to back. No amount of Vaseline, Brylcreem, or motor oil would tame my hair into the DA’s required contortions. But then I met my fan mag hero, James Dean. Jeez!! His hair was a mess but he still looked totally cool! And he wore glasses, just like me!
Not many of my classmates knew about James Dean. He was my secret. And if anybody cracked wise about my hair, I’d just show them this picture, tell ’em he was a movie star and walk away, secure in the authenticity of my own weirdness.
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Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles.
Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.