Sample: Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes – Bald & Beautiful
Isaac Hayes gave me the courage to shave my head. Sitting on the patio at the House of Blues one afternoon, watching the sun’s reflection on his wondrous dome, I realized that I could do worse than to adopt the look of the soul star when it came time for me to face the music.
They talk about the importance of female role models, black role models, disabled role models. But the bald ones don’t get the same glory. Hayes said he was the only bald, black entertainer back in the old days, and he made it safe for latter-day superstars like Michael Jordan to follow suit. “Let me tell you a secret,” he said, grimly surveying my retreating troops, “Cut it all off. They never know when you go naturally, because it’s gone anyway.”
More importantly, I asked anxiously, do the ladies like the look? “Yeah, I think so. It’s a phallic thing,” he said with a rich, southern laugh.
“I could grow it back,” he added, “but I don’t like it. It’s been way too long,” and he wondered if people would recognize him if he was sporting, say, a ’fro. A furtive analysis indicated to me that he might be disappointed with the results if he stopped shaving, just like Elaine’s swimmer boyfriend in Seinfeld. But I wasn’t going to go down that route with my newly adopted guru.
Hayes laughed a lot during our encounter, not necessarily because I was amusing company, although that couldn’t have hurt. He just seemed so relaxed, so engaged, so in love with life and with music. And when he wasn’t laughing, he was melting my heart with that deep-fried Tennessee accent.
He was on hand for promotional events tied in with the opening of the House of Blues outpost in West Hollywood in April 1994. The House of Blues was one happening spot for a good five years or so [it was eventually demolished in 2017]. The opening night alone saw Aerosmith perform a full-length blues set for the lucky 1,000 people inside. The day after our chat, it was Hayes’ turn, and he waved at me from the stage at one point. A week later, James Brown and Bruce Springsteen were jamming onstage alongside Magic Johnson. It was almost like my second home during those early years, and I burned a lot of calories striding up the steep hill from the bus stop on Santa Monica Boulevard to the venue on Sunset. Hayes would have appreciated my exertions. He had been a self-described “health fanatic” for over 20 years.
“I work out, I pump iron. I eat right. I juice. I try not to eat salt and things like that and grease and cholesterol and fats and all that junk,” he said. “It has helped me. Sometimes when you go to class reunions, it’s embarrassing because you don’t recognize somebody. And somebody else doesn’t recognize me — not because of the bald head and beard—and they say, ‘Man, you haven’t aged at all!’ There’s a reason. Remember that rabbit food you used to tease me about eating? It pays off.”
The day after our interview his grandmother turned 102 (and eventually made it to 105). He hoped her genes would rub off on to him. Sadly, they didn’t. Hayes died of a stroke 14 years later while running on his treadmill at home in Memphis. He was 10 days short of his 66th birthday.
(But wait! Isaac Hayes has more to say. Buy Strange Days here to see what happened next.)
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