14 February 2007

The World's Grumpiest Barber

When I first came to Sydney four years ago I noticed a very strange barber shop on Victoria Street in Darlinghurst. With its sign - "Continental Hair Dressers" - and some of its decor looking like remnants from the 1940s or 50s, I thought it looked very nostalgic, and that I might stop in for a haircut one day if I ever wanted to recapture that 40s or 50s look myself.

But then a closer examination confounded me completely: hanging all over the walls and lying on every available counter space were records, some old rock and roll, some reggae and soul, and quite a lot of punk. Posters, too, and weird pictures and ads cut from magazines, and just about every kind of collectible, objet d'art and/or piece of junk that you could imagine. Looking at it that way, it seemed more like something you'd see in Frisco back in the 60s and 70s, but then there was still the barber shop bit. You could find 60s or 70s Frisco hipsters in a lot of strange places, but a barber shop was not likely to be one of them.

There were a couple times I really needed a haircut, but the looks of the place made me just a little too nervous to give it a try until finally I asked a friend where he got his hair cut, and sure enough... "The guy's a little weird," I was told, "but don't let that put you off, because he's a really good barber."

So that was how I came to make the acquaintance of Michael, the World's Grumpiest Barber. Oh, it's not like he's snarling and fuming all the time, in fact, he even allows himself a smile - well, maybe more along the lines of sardonic twisted grin - from time to time, but mostly conversation with Michael consists of me making a seemingly innocuous observation and him telling me what is rubbish about it.


L: Beautiful day, isn't it.
M: You call this weather beautiful? Bloody sunshine, one day after another. No wonder everyone's walking around with blank looks on their faces, the sun's baked what brains they ever had right out of their heads.
L: Yeah, okay, I guess you could get tired of the sun after while, but it's nice for when you want to go to the beach.
M: Bloody beach. Can't stand the bloody beach. Nothing but airheads and sand getting in your shoes.
L: I guess maybe Australia isn't your ideal country then?
M: Bloody Australia, this whole country's going right down the tubes, nobody cares about anything except themselves their bloody houses. They work all week and then spend all weekend shopping for the perfect taps to put in their new bathroom.
L: But it's a generally happy country, don't you think?
M: Happy? How can you call people happy when they're brain dead? There's no culture, there's no politics, there's nothing but a bunch of smug self-satisfied gits busily crawling up their own arses.

I could go on - and in case Michael is reading this, I hasten to note that I'm very freely paraphrasing his words - but I think I've captured the general tone. But the thing is, even though Michael's Mr Negative act makes me look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (or Dr Pangloss, for the more classically inclined among you), and even though at least half his opinions are of the sort that I constantly inveigh against on this blog and elsewhere, I have such a great time getting my hair cut chez Michael that I find myself thinking what a shame it is that the stuff doesn't grow in faster.

As it is, I don't have a whole lot of hair, and I keep it very short, so in principle a barber should be able to run a clipper over the lot of it in five minutes or less. But lately my sessions have been stretching out into hour-long marathons, with him ranting and raving and me gently egging him on, knowing full well which subjects (John Howard, conservative politics in general, and the vapidness of middle class Australian life) are likely to elicit the most vituperative reaction.

This year I noticed that the "Continental Hair Dressers" sign was gone, replaced by an insurrectionary red, white and black one proclaiming "Sedition." The front window was more covered up than before, so it was hard to see inside, and what I could see was even more records than before, to the point where I wondered whether he'd given up on barbering completely in favour of running a full time record shop. But no ("I'll always cut hair, mate"), the world's grumpiest barber was still plying his trade, which I was pleased to see, because grumpy or not, he's also one of the best barbers I've ever met.

But he is trying to branch out, and now the barber/record shop has taken on a third facet: poetry dive. "Yeah, I've started having these poetry nights every Tuesday," he told me. "Nothing special, no telling who might or might not turn up, or what might or might not happen. But hey, I've gotta do something to fight the rising tide of mediocrity." Next thing I know, he's urging me to come by the following Tuesday, and when I finally agree that I might, he says, "So you'll bring something to read, won't you?"

I tried to disabuse him of the notion that I would be caught dead writing, let alone reciting poetry, but he quickly revised his invitation: "I mean, it doesn't have to be poetry, just anything, you must have something you can read."

Well, I didn't know if I did, but I went home and spent a couple hours putting together a piece about growing up in Detroit - the factories, the gangs, the music, all that stuff most of you guys who've been reading me a while have heard ad infinitum but which I thought might come as news to an Aussie audience - and showed up at the Sedition Barber, Record and Poetry Shop.

Well, there weren't a lot of people there - one guy with a horn and some poems about sex, another guy who used to be in a punk band that opened for the Dead Kennedys on their first (only?) Australian tour and had poems about sex and drugs, a woman who had a two word poem, and another woman who had a whole book of poems, and I read my Detroit thing, and I guess I was right, because everybody applauded a lot more than I'm guessing they would have if I was telling the same story to my friends back in the USA.

Upshot of it is, now I've got to go back next Tuesday and do it again, only with a new piece. I'm thinking of telling some acid dealer stories this time. Again, stuff that everyone back home has heard so many times that they start rolling their eyes if I so much as mention LSD, but which just might be of interest to folks on the other side of the world. Hell, all flippancy aside, I quite enjoyed it, and am kind of looking forward to writing something new. One of the biggest downsides of writing is that most of it's done in a vacuum, and you have no idea as to how or if it's affected people until weeks, months or years after the fact. Whereas I wrote this Detroit piece Tuesday afternoon and by Tuesday evening had people giving me loud and enthusiastic feedback.

Anyway, any Australian readers (or visitors to Australia) should feel free (and I mean free; there's no cover charge) to check it out: any Tuesday night, from 7:30 or 8 onwards. And if you're not keen on poetry/spoken word/bohemian hipster goings-on, you can still stop by any day of the week to look through the vintage records or receive one of the world's most entertaining haircuts. Sedition is located on the west side of Victoria Street, just north of Burton Street in Darlinghurst, and don't hesitate to tell the world's grumpiest barber that Larry Livermore sent you.


Amy said...

I wish I could be there. Although, I just wanna hear your bit about Detroit. The only time I ever really get nostalgic for Michigan is when someone mentions it. Are you going to post what you wrote about Detroit?

Kirsty said...

Hey Larry

Michael has been like that as long as I have known him.

(his sister)