Haircut at 10:43pm

by Andrew Patterson

I’d gone without a haircut for at least two months. I’d been cutting it myself for a few years until I met L. She’s the queen of the mushroom cut and, when I asked her if she could cut my hair, she became enthused about the prospect of learning how to fade. She’s been cutting my hair for almost a year now. Over the last few weeks, we’d been playing phone tag and running into each other; making vague plans for an appointment, but they kept slipping away unrealized. Yesterday, I received a photo with a note scrawled on the back of it in my mailbox.

It was a photo of L’s partner and his bandmate. The note instructed me to appear at her house between the hours of 5pm and 11pm if I wanted a cut, and to bring the photo along. After a long day (and a dinner that took longer to prepare than expected), I biked over to L’s place as fast as I could at around twenty to eleven. I brought a two beers in my backpack and decided that if it was too late, I’d be equally glad to split a drink or two and head home.

Upon arriving, L and her partner greeted me warmly. We sat down at her kitchen table and caught up. We chatted about school, and work and new homes. I glanced at the iTunes library displayed on the computer atop the kitchen counter. I can’t recall what was playing; what I noticed was the album below whatever was playing. She had The Mountain GoatsTallahassee amidst her digital collection. I couldn’t help but comment on it.

“For so long, I didn’t know which album ‘No Children‘ was on.” L replied.

I went through a pretty intense obsession with The Mountain Goats last year. I downloaded their (his) entire discography and worked my way through it systematically.  There is a lot of material worth skipping over (actually, a lot of pretty horrendous stuff), but the gold is pure, unadulterated gold and The Mountain Goats is a project that benefits from a bit of perspective and story arch. There are plenty of reoccurring themes, in-jokes, and character development over long periods of time. If you spend some time and focus some attention, it’s those sorts of things that give Darnielle’s lyrics a quality not unlike a great, sprawling novel.

I was surprised to find it in L’s collection, and it being my favorite Mountain Goats record, I got a little excited. I began unleashing all sorts of praise on it and started asking questions in an attempt to figure out how closely she had listened to the record. It was one of those times where my enthusiasm could have gone overboard; could have caused boredom or alienation.

I decided it was best not to start talking about the lyrical idiosyncrasies of John Darnielle or to start explaining that The Mountain Goats had released an equally mesmerizing (though much more lo-fi) record that same year called All Hail West Texas (my third favorite, after 2005’s The Sunset Tree).

After L cut some holes in a garbage bag, I sat down on a stool at the center of her kitchen. We gossiped, her roommate came and sat in on the conversation for a while, we nibbled on leftover Halloween candy, and little bits of my hair fell by the wayside. After about 20 minutes of haircut, L’s partner put on Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, a record I haven’t really given a fair shake.

The song ‘Big Poppa‘ came on and a couplet in the third verse jumped out at me:

[How ya livin Biggie Smallz?] In mansion and Benz’s
Givin ends to my friends and it feels stupendous

I’d heard those words elsewhere. John Darnielle references it in one of his finest/funniest/saddest songs, ‘Fall Of The Star High School Running Back‘ (which appears on All Hail West Texas):

Sophomore year
You rushed for an average
Of 8 1/3 yards per carry
All eyes were on you

Junior year
You blew your knee out
At an out-of-town game
Nowhere to go but
Down, down, down
Nothing but the ground
for you to fall to

By July
You’d made a whole bunch of new friends
People you used to look down on
And you’d figured out
A way to make real money
Giving ends to your friends
And it felt stupendous:
Chrome spokes on your Japanese bike
But selling acid was a bad idea
And selling it to a cop was a worse one
And new laws said that
17-year-olds could do federal time
You were the first one,
so I sing this song for you
William Standaforth Donahue
Your grandfather rode the boat
Over from Ireland, but
You made a bad decision or two.

The above is a great example of the magic of the Mountain Goats: the words don’t look like much, but combined with pitch perfect music and a great sense of timing and delivery, they become an irresistible vision.