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Photo of Bob Kobres

Photo of Bob Kobres

This year marks 50 years ago that a ground-breaking musical opened in New York. Staged in the Public Theater by Joseph Papp, the producer of the Shakespeare Festival, “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” was a far cry from Elizabethan theater. Hair wasn’t a usual topic for musical theater, but in this case it took center stage as a symbol of generational, cultural and political divisions in a turbulent time for America.

The play’s sometimes obscene language, easy acceptance of drug use, protest against the Vietnam war, and free-wheeling attitude toward sexuality seemed scandalous to many Americans. But, the play was a breath of fresh air to some of a younger generation who sought release from what they saw as the buttoned-down drabness of their parents’ post-war lives.

Walk across the UGA campus these days, and no one seems to notice or care about the variety of hairstyles on male students and staff. But many of the men who lived through the tumult depicted in the musical have vivid memories of how they were judged by the way they wore their hair, and the clashes that could break out between the “freaks” and the “straights.”

For some, the stereotypical beliefs about what hair meant were true. John Gingerich, 67, an artist and occasional model, said, “I’m an old hippie. I went to Woodstock. I’ve always lived sort of out of the mainstream.”

Gingerich, a slim 6-foot-4, has long, curly red and gray locks down to his shoulders and a red beard.

“I haven’t shaved since 1972,” he said, and the only times he’s cut his hair since then are the half-dozen occasions when he donated it to Locks of Love, a charity that collects hair to be made into wigs and hairpieces for children with medical hair loss.

He recalled one time when he applied for a job with the post office, met all the qualifications and was on a list of acceptable applicants, only to be told by a supervisor that he wouldn’t be hired “looking like that.” Only after a union representative intervened did he actually get the job – and keep the long hair and beard.

Gingerich said the way he wore his hair wasn’t so much a political statement as a preference for naturalness and ease of maintenance, but for many African-American men in the 1960s, a hair style was both a protest and a declaration of identity.

“In the 1950s, and into the early ’60s, it was ‘fried, dyed and laid to the side,’” said Charlie Maddox, 70, a minister and veteran civil rights activist, referring to the “processing” of hair to make it straight. By the mid-’60s, though, many younger black men adopted the afro, a more natural style that could crown a man’s head with an impressive wreath of hair.

“At first, that was seen as defiant and threatening, even by some people in our families,” Maddox said. Many older family members thought it was dangerous for young black men to stand out too much and call attention to themselves,” he explained.

Photo of Charlie Maddox

Photo of Charlie Maddox

For white men, having long hair often was seen as rebellion against their fathers. The shaggy Beatles cut Bob Kobres wore in the 1960s caused friction in his family and Gingerich’s father told him many times he needed to cut his hair.

Kobres, 69, and now retired from the UGA library, also butted heads with his military bosses. He once got into trouble when he was in the Air Force for not keeping his hair cut as short as regulations required. He challenged the requirement, prevailed, and when he got out of the service, he let it grow – since then he has worn it long. Now he wears his white hair either in a ponytail or gathered into a bun.

“It’s a little bit of a statement of independence, to some degree,” he said, but it’s also easy to deal with. “I don’t have to do much to it, just wash it and dry it, and it’s fine.”

Hair Article - John Gingerich

While Kobres and Gingerich have worn their hair long for decades, for many men, including Maddox, it was a short-lived choice. “In the world of work, it was frowned on,” he said, so for the last 40 years, he’s gone to the same barber and had the same close cut he sports now.

Hairstyles these days aren’t as likely to lead to conflict as in the ’60s, but still, “it’s interesting to see people react differently if you’re older and have long hair,” Kobres said.

“It startles some people,” Gingerich said. “They think of Santa Claus or a biker, even though I’ve never ridden a motorcycle in my life.”

So, just as much of the music of “Hair” continues to sound contemporary, it’s worth remembering that a man’s hair choices still can have meaning in lots of ways.

Changing hairstyles put lots of barber shops out of business
Hair Article - Homer Wilson Talmadge WilsonYoung white men with long, flowing locks and young black men with afros had a big impact on the business of barbering. An industry group says 20,000 barbers left the field in the 1960s and ’70s.
Herschel Reeves began working in 1948 in his father’s 10-chair shop when haircuts were 35 cents. He himself had a five-chair shop in Five Points that too diminished once rebellious young men began growing their hair.
“It put a lot of barbers out of business,” he recalls, noting that men turned to women stylists to trim their hair in what became known as unisex salons.
African-American barbers Homer Wilson, 70, and his brother Talmadge, 61, have seen their business change also. Like Reeves, they learned their trade in their father’s shop in downtown Athens. Homer began barbering in the ninth grade while Talmadge shined shoes in the shop in the fifth grade.
“We did processing to relax the hair,” Homer recalls, “then we would do individual finger waves or S-curls.” The afro changed all that, although it did require some maintaining, he says, using chemicals or heat for blow-outs.
Today, “everybody wants to be different,” Talmadge says. “Afros, boxes (once called flat tops) and fades (the military’s ‘high and tight’). And now many want color, sometimes three colors, but neither man does that “because it takes too long.”
And when the talk in an all-male gathering gets boisterous, Homer says he yells, “fellas!” and Talmadge says loudly, “How ’bout them Dawgs!”

 

Bill Griswold, retired UGA journalism professor, Then and Now.

Bill Griswold, retired UGA journalism professor, Then and Now.

After two years in the army, having to get a white-sidewalls haircut every week, when I got out I swore I ‘d never cut my hair again. And that vow held through two years of college, a job at a radio station in Atlanta, and then a fall and winter back in Columbus GA. By that summer, it was too hot to have a mop of insulation on my head, and since then I’ve had normal, medium-length hair — thought it does get shaggy sometimes, because I still hate getting haircuts.

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“Yoga? ME?”

It was never something I’d considered doing. Isn’t yoga for slim, trim young ladies in stretchy pants and leotards?

I wasn’t a stranger to exercise. In my long‐ago college days, I’d run 5 or 6 miles a day, I enjoyed playing tennis, and for nearly three decades I played basketball with friends at the UGA gyms.

“Yeah,” my wife kept reminding me, ” and didn’t every major injury you ever had come from basketball?”

After I had total hip replacement surgery in 2014, running and jumping on hard surfaces doesn’t work well for my 68‐year‐old body anymore, so I was ready when the publishers of BoomAthens suggested that I try yoga and write about the experience.

Baby Boomer Mens Yoga - BoomAthens

Bill Griswold begins class with a cross-legged pose even after hip surgery. Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

That’s how I wound up at the entrance to Five Points Yoga, introducing myself to Chet Thomas, who would be leading the morning session. I was a bit nervous, wondering whether I’d be embarrassed if I couldn’t turn myself into a pretzel like the others in the class.

“Grab a mat, a couple of blankets, and blocks,” Chet said. “You’ll do fine.”

Athens 5 Points Yoga Instructor Chet Thomas begins class in a cross-legged pose

Yoga classes often begin with a cross‐legged pose (ask for folded blankets and
pillows to help stiff muscles in seated poses). Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

Chet, who is 58 years old and has been in Athens since 1994, is trained as an instructor in Iyengar yoga, named after the man who created this form. Like all forms of yoga, Iyengar is aimed at increasing physical and mental well‐being through the use of bodily postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Iyengar emphasizes that “yoga is for everybody, regardless of age or ability,” Chet wrote to me later.

In the high‐ceilinged main room, about 14 of us spread mats on the floor and sat quietly waiting. Along with the dozen or more women, most of whom appeared to be in their 40s or older, I was one of the two men in the class. I later learned the other was Avrom Robin, an attorney from New York who said he was so “addicted” to yoga that he and his daughter had made sure to find classes they could go to while they were visiting Athens.

The class began with breathing exercises, and yes, saying “Om” while exhaling. The point of that appears to be focusing the mind on what the body is doing, and concentrating on what is happening in the moment.

Bill Griswold Balancing Pose Yoga BoomAthens

Roger Bailey works on balance at the Center for Active Living.

As the class moved on, we were guided through a series of asanas, or bodily poses, that reminded me of how inflexible my body had become. The “downward dog” asana ‐‐ hands and feet on the floor, bottom pointed up, making an inverted V shape ‐‐ let me know how tight my hamstrings are, since I couldn’t keep my legs straight.

But, unlike my memories of physical education classes in high school and Army physical training, no one yelled at me, made fun of me, or laughed at me. Chet came over and showed how using plastic blocks could make the pose easier and relieve some of the strain on my legs. And as we moved into other asanas, standing or kneeling or lying on our mats, we all were urged to pay attention to our bodies, and not to hurt ourselves.

“Men may be reluctant to go to a yoga class, thinking they will be embarrassed by a room full of flexible women,” Chet told me. “It’s important to know yoga equally emphasizes strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. Not being flexible is not a valid excuse [to not attend]; you go to improve flexibility. Also, everyone generally pays attention to their own practice during class, not what other students are doing.”

Half-Moon Yoga Pose

A foam block and the wall aid Half‐moon pose. Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

The session ended with several minutes of quiet meditation. As we cleared away the mats and other equipment, I realized that an hour and a half had gone by much faster than it had seemed. It was invigorating and more strenuous than I had expected. I had worked muscles that had been dormant for too long, and I felt better for it.

I enjoyed it ‐‐ so much so that a week later I was in another class, this time in the activity room of the Center for Active Living, a program run by the Athens Community Council on Aging. I was encouraged to see that several men were in the class, all older than I am, but again I found that, although I was sometimes challenged to keep up in some of the poses, I felt both energized and relaxed after the class.

Spinal Twist Yoga Apparatus Tools Aides BoomAthens

Spinal twists are easier in a chair. Photo Credit: Larry Petroff

I had been told that every instructor teaches his or her class differently than others, and the two sessions I attended were different ‐‐ more emphasis on physical exercise in the first, and more chanting and mental focus in the second ‐‐ but I found value in each.

So I guess now the answer to “Yoga? Me?” is “Yes,” yoga is for men, even old dogs like me, and I’ll be checking out several of the many opportunities to do yoga in Athens, to find which fits me best. Boom Athens Logo - Favicon (Recolor) - 75px

Editor’s Note: For the skeptics, read The Science of Yoga, by William J. Broad.

How to Get Started in Yoga in or Near Athens:
The best way, according to many people I talked to, is to go to a class. You can start with a “slow,” “gentle,” or “restorative” class with a teacher who knows you’re a beginner. Let the teacher know of any health conditions you have, and modifications can be made for individual needs during class.
You can find out a lot about what kind of classes are offered by Googling “yoga studios in Athens” or your community) or call and talk with someone about what to expect and which classes are best for first‐timers.
Many teachers offer private lessons for those who need individual instruction or don’t want to be in classes with others.
The cost can vary from $10 ‐ $17 per drop‐in session, for instance, to free (after an annual $45 registration fee) at the Athens Community Council on Aging’s Center for Active Living. A few studios operate by donations.
You’ll need a mat, to cushion your bones against the floor, and you can find one at most sporting goods stores, or even at Walmart. Often, studios have mats for new students. It’s best to wear close‐fitting clothes, so that they don’t sag or get in the way of certain poses. No special shoes are required; you’ll do the classes barefoot or in socks.
Five Points Yoga, 706‐355‐3114
The Center for Active Living, 706‐549‐4850
(PLUS,  the YMCA, the YWCO, and the UGA Ramsey Center offer classes in addition to numerous private studios.)