Notes on a photograph

I grew up in a small New Zealand town called Paraparaumu (long name, small town).  I didn’t like it.  Actually there’s nothing the matter with Paraparaumu, but I was a teenager and it was small and I wanted to be a rock star.  Hell, we didn’t even have a local movie theatre.  I played role-playing games, collected a pop music magazine called Smash Hits, and learned how to play the guitar.

Part of the plan for becoming a rockstar was to stand out.  One component in this plan was getting a rocking hair cut.  I decided to get a perm.  This is a photo taken the day I got my perm, and I am perm modelling if you will.

009 (2)

Perm aside I now take great delight in the fact that I have very un-rock’n’roll short pastel yellow shorts on and hairy legs.

I don’t really remember why, out of all the silly hairstyles in the world, I decided I would get a perm.  My mother took me to a hair salon  upstairs in Coastlands (the mall) and helped me  express myself (I was a teenage boy) to a hairdresser.  The hairdresser gave me some hair style books to look through and I obviously flicked though to the section marked “Poodles” and then we were away.

I was amazed at how long it took to get your hair permed.  You had to sit with all kinds of gloop on your head for ages, and only then  did the hairdresser begin to weave her magic on my locks.  Looking back I think this was an insight into the gruelling life of a world tour with Bon Jovi in the 80s.  Those guys must have  spent hours every single day getting  their hair done.  I think I got two, maybe three, perms in total before I lost patience with this particular exercise in vanity.

After I had been freshly coiffed I had an attack of nerves.  Perhaps, I suddenly wondered, I sort of looked like a tit.  I snuck out of the hair salon and along the balcony walkway of Coastlands.  I aimed for a set of steps I knew were very rarely used  and darted down them.  Naturally one of my best mates was standing at the bottom killing  time.  There was an awkward moment when he registered what I had done to myself,  and then he pulled himself together and we had an entire conversation in which he said nothing like: “You look like a complete dickhead”,  or “I think there’s a dead poodle on your head”.  Sometimes it’s awesome  to be a guy.

Actually I didn’t catch any crap for my hair do.  In fact, quite a few girls commented on my new “do” approvingly.  Not that I did anything about this sudden female attention.  There were further  aspects of my look to get right.

Here I am with my sensibly dressed Gran in full Kapiti coast, man-gear: stupid hair, long t-shirt (Iron Maiden = good, WHAM! = very, very, bad), black stonewashed jeans, and basketball boots.  I was not cool enough to have an Iron Maiden t-shirt.  I think the main problem was that my mother would see me wearing it and  laugh at me.  Iron Maiden t-shirts, if you are not familiar with the oeuvre, feature a corpse-like character looking satanic  and doing satanic things like hanging out in graveyards, satanically.

I once bought an album called Masters of Metal in Coastlands.  It had an utterly ridiculous cover featuring some kind of corpse with green eyes  wielding a sledgehammer (obviously influenced by Iron Maiden), and my mother in an act of sudden generosity snatched the record out of my hand and offered to buy it for me.  I was mortified.  She went up to the counter where, for some bizarre reason, there was a very matronly looking older woman working, and put the LP down on the counter.  They both looked at it, rolled their eyes and laughed.  I was at the back of the shop trying to hide behind a cardboard display case of Piano by Candlelight cassettes.

Possibly my lamest form of protest was through the previously ignored vehicle for youth rebellion: the knitted  jersey (sweater, whatever, we call them jerseys).  Once you tear yourself away from my shapely legs and deflated perm, you will notice the jersey.  This was the first in a line  of jerseys that I wore and I can tell you that this was pretty fashion-forward for Kapiti in the late 80s.  In my defense please remember that The Cosby Show was popular at this time and Bill Cosby was taking the humble jersey to strange, garish new places.  Anyway, back to this particular jersey.  I had a friend  who particularly admired it and asked for the pattern (Christ! this sounds so laughable – how could I possibly be cool if I had friends who were asking to borrow the knitting  patterns for my jerseys?).  So I gave him the pattern  and he passed it on to his grandmother who… refused to knit it because the picture on the cover of the pattern showed a woman wearing the jersey.

I ask you, does this jersey look feminine to you?  I was incensed.  My manhood was impugned (my permed, jersey-wearing manhood).  I raged against such judgements.  I ordered another jersey from my Gran for next winter.  It was massive, it was lurid, I wore it defiantly in front of my friend on muftiday.  I rubbed his face in the yarn of gender-bending defiance.  Oh, the heady, heady days of youth.

What am I saying here?  I’m saying, on my knees, hands clasped, “don’t judge me”.  I’m saying, sitting forward, chin cupped in hands, “you must understand this photo in its proper context.”  I’m saying, hand caught in doorjam, crying big man tears, “man it was great to be young.”

Published by


I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

15 thoughts on “Notes on a photograph”

  1. Guts.

    That’s a very positive way of looking at it. Thanks.

    “Recongnising my capability for mistakes” is actually my family motto (sounds great in Latin)

  2. It takes guts for a guy to get a perm. I applaud you for that. I also applaud you for recognizing that you are capable of making mistakes like everyone else.

  3. “I think that if Richard has to hear my legwarmer story again he will drive across town and slap me.”
    Actually, it’s the shorts.
    Richard (of RBB) gets in his car. He drives down Hine Road. Soon he is going over the Nuova Lazio hill. He can see that sad old city called Lower Hutt. Soon he is on State Highway 2 and heading towards Wellington.
    Through the tunnel and right into Taranaki Street. John Street, then right. Almost at the zoo, he takes a right. Soon he is in Herald Tce and rings a door bell. For once JY beats his beautiful elder daughter to the door.
    “Hello, what an unexpected surprise!”
    “Don’t ever wear those shorts again!”

  4. The most disappointing thing about the whole exercise was that after you washed it the hair do was never quite the same as it was on the day of the cut.

  5. Which makes me think other readers may wonder why I thought I looked like a breast when I had a perm, which I didn’t – look like a breast that is – I looked like a tit, which curiously can also be translated as a dick. All very sexual.

  6. LOL I especially like the phrase “I sort of looked like a tit” because I haven’t heard that since I left England. I kinda had my hair combed back in the 80’s – it wasn’t quite like Rick Astley, but it wasn’t far off, either…

    If the 70’s was the decade that style forgot, then the 80’s was the decade that style found again, like a long lost child, and then completely disowned and walked away in disgust.

  7. Speaker 7, I believe you’re describing what the kids once called “spiral perms”. Apparently these newfangled perms were the cat’s pajamas circa 1989. I tried to explain this to my small town 60 year-old hair stylist and just ended up with cat’s pajamas. On my head. (Eat your heart out, Darla).

  8. The 1980s…ah….the 1980s…so fun to come of age during the 1980s. I remember my perm, it was like I had a head full of rotini pasta. We all looked really good.

  9. If there isn’t one, there needs to be one… a blog that goes through every single one of Bill’s sweaters post by painful post.

  10. This was hysterical. You know, because I totally understand. Some of my brothers also sported a perm or Bill Cosby sweater at one point. I had a perm in my high school senior pictures that really did resemble a dead cat. My brothers still use that line all the time, “Oh! remember when you went around with a dead cat on your head?” Yeah, they’re pretty cruel. And the acid washed jeans? Guilty. I think we all were guilty of this stuff back then.

  11. Actually, in this context, I think the perm is quite fetching. The last picture where it is less symmetrical makes it appear rather Michael Hutchence (RIP) at the height of INXS’ glory days. But I’m sorry to say that the black acid-washed jeans pretty much cancelled out the cool factor of sporting a rock star ‘do.

    A Cosby sweater indeed. The bit about you passing along the pattern of it to your friend’s grandmother? That is about the pinnacle of awkward teen hilarity right there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s