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Little Bang Theory

First performed 1995 at a hotel in Leeds, England

 

I started out humbly. I cut hair at the Ferry building for nine months, got my degree at Heald’s, spent a year shampooing on a Princess Cruise Line off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, and have been a barber at Lonnie’s House of Hair for three years. I’ve put in the double shifts, learned every thing there is about conditioner, and can imitate the classics: the beehive, the brush cut, et cetera. Inevitably, though, at some point, you come to a crisis, you can’t avoid asking the question whether you’ll forever be imitating others or whether you’ll truly break out on your own. Am I just destined to be a barber, or will I ever break out as a true stylist? Lonnie says that you have to give it ten years, that you have to mature, and you have to wait for your big break.

August 1993. Richard Gere is in San Francisco to promote the first annual Seventh Day/Find a Cure Fashion Gala, and on August 14th a photograph of him appears on the front page of the San Francisco Sunday Examiner, in murky color, wearing blue jeans, a white Find a Cure T-shirt, and a brown merino wool sport coat. He’s grinning and his hair—which he had just recently let go gray—is parted at the left temple and hang nearly to his shoulders. Waking up that morning at the Westin St. Francis and seeing his gray hair in print for the first time, Richard becomes despondent, and within an hour nearly frantic. He leaves the hotel and storms around Union Square, looking for a hair salon that might be open at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning.

Now by random occurrence only, I’m at the salon to install new heat lamps in the ceiling, and the front door is open only momentarily as I am hauling a carton of lamps in from my car. Richard storms in, takes a seat in back, explains his situation, and begs me to go to work.

Now I was tired. My hands were jittery. I had been unable to sleep most of the night before, having been haunted again thinking about my Little Bang Theory.

I’d realized the obvious: with men’s hair, there are really two kinds of foreheads, those without bangs and those with Big Bangs, long thick locks that nearly reach the eyebrows. For some reason, society has deemed it acceptable for either end of the spectrum to exist, but not the middle ground. There are no little bangs. The thing is, if your hair is thick, at an inch long it’s too blunt and has no curl. But if your hair is thin, then it’s too wispy, left all alone out there on the wide expanse of your forehead.

Now as anybody knows, Richard had been wearing bangs ever since Sommersby, but he had realized that morning that bangs and gray hair do not work in tandem. But he didn’t want short hair, either. He was looking for something that showed his forehead but yet still hung naturally, with curl. I locked the front door, took up a clipper and a #3 attachment, and bravely buzzed an inch off his forehead. Then I moved his part from his temple to the crown of his head and gave his bangs a 90-second perm, like par boiling, just to give them a slight wave. Richard liked it but he wanted to know what it would look like in 2-D, so I took a Polaroid.

"A work of art," he said to me, and I beamed.

Lonnie agreed when I showed her the Polaroid. "Picasso couldn’t have done better."

I’ve talked with some of the greats, and they argue about whether fame happens because you consciously touch a nerve of our society, or whether you just cut the way you cut and one day society decides that you’re the new fad. But they all agree that famous hair requires one quality: it has to appear both conventional and daring at the same time. According to Lonnie, not only had I created just that, but I had done it with the hair of none other than one of the most photographed men in America.

With Lonnie’s introduction, I got an agent that afternoon, Jeff Ginsberg at CAA. He said we had to work fast. By the end of the day a FedEx package was on its way to the Library of Congress, registering a copyright on Richard Gere’s hair as part sculpture, part performance art. We couldn’t protect people from copying the style of Richard’s new bangs, which would have required a Trademark, but at the very least we could prevent anybody using Richard’s hair in a photograph or on film without my permission. In addition, my agent explained, in the State of California artists are given an inherent moral right to not have their artwork defaced. It’s a very serious and powerful law: in Los Angeles, it kept an abandoned building from being demolished because three years previously the city had commissioned a mural artist to paint a nativity scene on the brick exterior. So under this law, my agent explained, nobody else could cut Richard’s hair without my written consent. Not even Richard himself could trim it without risking a serious lawsuit.

We held a press conference to spread the word. That first night, as the VH1 videocameras and Mirabella photographers descended upon the fashion show, Richard’s new look was the talk of the tables and got more press than Suzie Tompkins’ fall line. I earned over eight thousand dollars in permissions alone, as well as being interviewed by Allure as "the hands behind the hair".

Within days we could see the effects. On Tuesday I walked in to the Conditionings salon in Santa Monica, and saw three Disney Studio execs getting the new look in bangs. On Tuesday night, with my permission, Richard went on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote his new role in Intersection, and when the camera jump cuts to Paul Schaeffer at the organ, Paul is wearing a long, gray haired wig with Richard-style bangs. The next morning the barber shops on Wall Street are brushing brokers’ hair down onto their foreheads. Jeff Ginsberg takes out a $2 million insurance policy on Richard’s hair with Lloyd’s of London, guaranteeing us against breakage or split ends.

 

In the afternoon, Jeff Ginsberg meets me at the headquarters of MGM/UA, where we are to meet with the producers of Richard’s new adventure film, Complete Paralysis, where Richard is to play the captain of an oil tanker that has a terrorist bomb in the fuel bays, threatening to dump 11 million barrels of Saudi crude into the Gulf of Texas. The script calls for Richard’s hair, in a gruesome scene, to be doused with gasoline by one of the terrorists and lit on fire—a scene that, if filmed, would undoubtably deface my artistic creation. Filming was halted that morning at a warehouse in Brooklyn as my CAA lawyers secured an injunction against the studio. We have the legal upper-hand, Jeff Ginsberg assures me.

"They can’t burn my art," I cry.

Jeff says, "It would be a lot of money."

My eyes widen. "How much?"

We ask for half a million up front against 1% of gross. They counter with two hundred thousand vs. 3% of net, plus incentives on foreign distribution. "Foreign is good," Jess says, and we sign on board. I am given a little extra incentive, a job on the set of making sure no root damage occurs when Richard’s hair is burned. My wage is only SAG scale but it’s worth it. In the big scene, the terrorist is played by Tim Roth, who has a gun to the head of the first mate, played by Madeleine Stowe. Richard is tied to a ladder with electrical cord. Tim Roth douses gasoline in Richard’s hair, and then he puts the gun in Madeleine Stowe’s mouth and a Bic lighter in her hand, threatening to shoot her if she doesn’t ignite Richard’s hair. Richard never uses stunt men, it’s one of the reasons directors like to work with him, but it means we’ll only get one take, which always makes the director nervous. He puts five cameras on the action, to make sure he’ll get the shot he wants. I’m standing in the wings, a fire extinguisher in my hand, the pin pulled, ready. I watch as Madeleine flicks the lighter, the flint sparks, and the butane flame jumps two inches from her thumb. Her hand trembles. Roth cocks the trigger on the pistol.

"No! No!" I scream, running into the set suddenly, blasting yellow chemical foam from my hip, the cameras rolling. A security guard leaps and tackles my legs from behind and I go down hard, landing right on the fire extinguisher, the wind goes out of me and I’m laying there spraying myself with chemicals gasping for air as I watch Madeleine’s hand touch Richard’s gray locks and my signature piece, my life’s work—my immortality—disappears in flash of flame.