New brood of tough guys decides fierce, mean goatee can't be beat

August 16, 1994|By John Marshall | John Marshall,Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Suddenly, they're everywhere -- on rock stars on MTV, on baseball stars on ESPN, on film stars on talk shows, and even on real men in real life. This has become, believe it or not, the Summer of the Goatee, perhaps the high-water mark of goatee popularity in all of goatee history.

That outlaw form of facial hair is growing out on male faces all over America.

For centuries, these weird beardlets have been favored by those on the societal fringe -- poets, revolutionaries, jazzmen, beatniks, fencers and folksingers (Peter, Paul minus Mary).

But suddenly this summer, goatees have surfaced on the faces of so many twentysomethings, thirtysomethings and oldersomethings that the goatee, of all things, seems precariously close to becoming mainstream.

It's almost as if half of the guys in America are suddenly caught up in looking like those wild-and-crazy Dutch Masters.

In resplendent goateedom, it's now Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, actor Bruce Willis, director Spike Lee, Cy Young Award-winning pitcher "Black Jack" McDowell of the Chicago White Sox. And it's also bossman Bruce Springsteen, actor Brad Pitt, rocker John Mellencamp and writer Tom Robbins.

The goatee, of course, isn't supposed to make you look trendy. It's supposed to make you look mean.

That was exactly the look that pitcher Bobby Ayala was looking for when he was traded this year to the Seattle Mariners. At his former team, the Cincinnati Reds, players were not allowed to wear facial hair, nor was Mr. Ayala the featured relief pitcher, that much-feared species, The Closer.

But that was the role Mr. Ayala was expected to fill with the Mariners, so out came the facial hair in the form of a goatee. As Mr. Ayala explains, "I think it makes me look more intimidating and I'm in the role of the closer, so I want to look as mean as I can. I don't know if others think I look meaner. But I think I do and that's all that matters."

Teammate Jay Buhner, the Mariners' rightfielder, became infamous briefly this year for his new haircut, first unveiled at spring training, a kind of bi-level whitewall skin-job that was dubbed the "Buhner buzz."

But Mr. Buhner, even in his pre-buzz days, was known for his Billy Goat Gruff goatee, which he grew for much the same reason as Mr. Ayala.

"I just like the way it looks and it can be intimidating," Mr. Buhner says. "If it gives you a little extra advantage [with your opponents], you take advantage of that. Because that's what you're looking for in this game."

Pro athletes, particularly baseball players, such as Orioles closer Lee Smith, seem to be in the forefront of the goatee explosion, with at least a few on almost every major league team joining in. But musicians and film stars are not far behind.

While most goatee wearers would hate the idea of being trendy, Rene Strange has no such concerns. The 68-year-old jazz singer has had a goatee, most of the time, for decades. It is a voluminous white goatee now, so distinctive that it often prompts compliments, although that is not why he wears it.

Facial-hair styles for men may come and go, but Mr. Strange says he has just grown accustomed to his goateed face.

Nor is Tom Robbins, the best-selling writer, affected by the whims of facial-hair fashion. He had a goatee throughout the 1960s and has a goatee again now, after a goatee-less hiatus of many years.

Mr. Robbins is, in fact, one of the very few men who claim: "I was born with a goatee, but they shaved it off before they showed me to my mother."

To Mr. Robbins, the current popularity of goatees matters no more than a thimbleful of frog saliva.

"The goatee is the badge of the true bohemian and that explains my attraction to it," Mr. Robbins says.

"I know that those who are wearing goatees now as a fashion statement, as a fad, will quickly move on to something equally as foolish. But we true bohemians will continue to wear our goatees well into the next century."

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