meredith graves on getting sober, shaving her head, and moving on
How the Perfect Pussy front woman came to stop drinking and dyeing her nights away.
i-D Hair Week is an exploration of how our hairstyles start conversations about identity, culture, and the times we live in.
At fourteen, I would do anything my best friend told me to do. She introduced me to Alice Neel and made cassettes she called "love bites," full of Sonic Youth and Rusted Shut and Cadallaca. Trawling church thrifts in outlying towns to see if any of the locally deceased were a size 7 fan of Prada shoes; yodeling out the window to 'Flowers On the Wall'; smoking cigarettes from a soft pack. She took me to the beauty supply store and taught me how to bleach my hair without using a box, because the boxes were awfully inefficient.
She did everything, everything, herself-- cutting and dyeing her own hair, decorating her dumpy thrifted sister-wife skirts with LYDIA LUNCH written in purple puff paint. I taught myself guitar and started writing awful songs. I played drums (and oh wow I am a garbage drummer) for a boyfriend. I learned to sew. I loved her. I wanted to be her. And by the grace of god or whatever, she wanted to help me be like her. So she cut my bangs in the bathroom, and it changed my life.
My teenage boredom, along with curiosity, plus the internet, led to years of endless experimentation. I think I wanted to learn what hair could do, released from the mythologies of sex and power. I have cut a lot of hair over the years: girls in my dorm, bands in my living room.
Somewhere in the midwest on tour, I shaved the back of Jesse's head-- Jesse, who coincidentally just got a full-color portrait tattoo of Bald Britney circa 2007. We parked the van and plugged clippers into the power strip under the backseat, leaving fistfuls of red hair on grass.
I remember deciding about halfway through a European tour that I had to dye my hair from white to black after I did precisely that in a dream. I bought shoe-black hair dye at a supermarket in Belgium. I prayed I wouldn't stain the porcelain.
I got a silver bowl cut thinking it would make me feel better after a breakup, which I hacked into a close-cropped Seberg 'do shortly thereafter as my band began to play shows and start touring. I felt I'd grown out of true baldness in the same way I grew out of high heels and thin eyebrows.
The new cut was manageable, and I didn't hate the way it looked in photographs, which felt important as suddenly there were photographs. In most of them I am drunk, and look as if I am grieving horribly, screaming and red faced, veins bulging horribly from my face and neck, a capillary road map between my head and heart, and no hair behind which to hide.
In April of 2016, I quit drinking. One week later, I shaved my head again. I didn't really want to do either, but in both cases the time had come. My hair and life felt inexpressive and shapeless, decimated as much by my constant meddling fuckery as by living in a drafty funeral home with radiator heat where I habitually smoked indoors.
And being in a touring band means constant exposure to alcohol, a drug commonly used to treat the painful symptoms that come with being in a touring band; side effects include increased tolerance to environmental idiocy and a greater likelihood of drunken hotel bathroom haircuts. It had come to a point where alcohol, like dyeing my hair, had just stopped feeling right for me. I didn't need to look like a new person every two weeks. I didn't need to burn my dark hours forever trying to feel something new.
Cheesy true crime TV has instilled in me an understanding that human hair is a lot like the witness marks used by horologists to repair and reassemble antique clocks (thanks, S-Town). When analyzed closely, hair can give investigators a timeline for substance abuse or even poisoning with startling accuracy. The act of shaving my head was a means by which to erase this sort of immediate past. Ridding myself of anything contaminated by alcohol or the striations created by dyeing felt like it could somehow obliterate a logbook of mistakes.
Warmed by the mania of newfound sobriety, I clippered my hair off in front of a sunny mirror. I had to refocus. No more rollercoaster. I needed self control.
And a couple of days later I got a phone call about a job on TV, because of course.
I remember saying, "Um." followed by what felt like an eternal pause. "... I'm bald."
It was okay. I spent my first few months in broadcast journalism as a hairless kitten. Everyone bitches about growing their hair out; now think about growing out a shaved head while also appearing regularly on camera. I had a lot of help and also a lot of bad hair days-- and it's all documented, including that whole shaved-bangs thing, which I'm still working through.
I swore at some point I'd never permanently dye my hair again, then excitedly agreed to have it professionally bleached for the first time ever back in February, in an attempt to become more beautiful for a fancy work trip to the Grammys (only the best for Enya and Lil Yachty). I have willfully and knowingly destroyed my own hair more times than I can count on all my fingers and toes and yet still felt the icy, posture-improving grip of fear as I put my head in Jeanise's capable hands. I spent an entire day with her at Seagull as she slowly and carefully brought my mousey, wheaty mop up to a snow-capped white.
As it grows out, I've started to temporarily dye the bleached parts bright colors. Right now, it's a Manic Panic color called Sunshine. Little kids and old ladies on the train seem to like it, and that's more or less my target audience anyway.
Despite being easily suckered by a sweet self-help narrative, I rarely feel inclined to write my own. But I've been sober for a little bit over a year now and my (longer) hair exists as a sort of testament to that. In both cases, I managed to keep my promise for the most part, which is insane given that growing my hair out and getting clean are two things everybody probably assumed I'd never be able to do. I no longer feel like I'm re-entering myself into the proverbial witless protection program every few weeks after slurring something stupid in front of someone I like. Plus, wow, it's so much fun now that I can curl it, throw it in a misshapen donut hole of a bun, or braid it back. So what if I look like Easter grass, a cloud of fluffy scrambled eggs, Patti Mayonnaise? So what if I'm still dreaming? Where I was once waylaid by constant anxiety, the fear that I'd done something I couldn't remember, now I'm allowed to own my choices: to know they're right in real time, as I'm making them, doing them, myself.
And today, right on time, I find this:
Text Meredith Graves
Photographs courtesy Meredith Graves