I just finished Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, a coming of age tale about high school students set in 1990-91. Meno does a fantastic job of portraying all of the angst of high school: the conflict between trying to fit in and be unique at the same time, hormones run wild, parents and a loss of innocence about marriage and family continuity, and inevitability of adulthood. As reflected in the title, the characters’ hairstyles are one way that the teenagers define themselves. More interesting than their hair, though, is how music plays such an important role in their search for identity and belonging, but more so in what I would argue to be music’s role in moderating one’s emotions. Just think about how — be it metal, punk, hip-hop or dance — teenagers have always gravitated to loud music, muffling all of those conflicting voices that distract their already distracted minds.
Most of all, Hairstyles of the Damned simply reminded me of high school. Ironically, though, while so many of the characters resembled people I grew up with (I graduated one year before those in the book), my personal high school experience was completely different. For some reason, I never fell into any of those traps, for I was completely indifferent to being cool, fitting in, or listening to “cool” music. I spent my time playing soccer and listening to Reggae by myself. I was in my own world.
What I didn’t like about the book was that it made me feel old. Being a contemporary of characters set in a historic context, as mentioned in number 9 of 25, made me feel irreversibly fleeting, like the past.
2 responses to “Hairstyles of the Damned”
Hey, Eric. I’m glad you liked the book. I wondered if you would — since my enjoyment of high school angst literature hinges directly on my having experienced the high school angst. (When you and I were sitting next to each other in Spanish and Creative Writing, you must have been relaxed and bemused, whereas I was wired and fervid.) John taught high school English and drama for 9 years, and I got to know some of his students well — tutored some of them, even. It was always affirming to witness their misery and confusion, not because I wished it upon them but to remember that it’s endemic to the age. Although not for you, apparently!
Isnt’ that funny. The whole time I was thinking that you were one of the most impressive and talented people I knew . . .
I think one of the errors that parents make is to tell their kids that they are living the best time of their lives. Kids are in agony. While I don’t remember it as total agony — I admit it wasn’t easy — I would definitely not go back. My 20s were much more bearable.