Around the age of eight I began to petition Mother Reddick so that I might get one; however, Mother Reddick firmly believed that eight year olds did not get man perms. She said I had to wait until I was at least twelve. She was ultra-conservative that way.
But anyway, by the time I turned twelve, the classic man perm had fallen out of vogue, and everyone sported Jheri curls. Jheri curls are like perms, only wetter and messier. During this time I made a pact with a friend, a traditionalist like me, to not follow the Jheri curled masses and go back to the basic, traditional man perm. But he happened to get his man perm before I got my man perm, and after the other students made fun of him, I abandoned the plan altogether, leaving him to bear the ridicule on his own. He hasn’t spoken to be again to this day.
And, of course, I could not get a perm in the military, but I planned to get one the moment I got out. However, wouldn’t you know it, early male pattern baldness runs in my mother’s family, and I began to lose my hair early thereby thwarting my plans. A man perm with a big hole in it ain’t classy.
So, in my disappointment I turned to the study of man perms. Over the last twenty years, I have studied man perms extensively until I have emerged as an expert. And it is with that authority that I present you “The Greatest Man Perms of All Time: An Evolutionary History by Max Reddick.”
7. Little Richard (Richard Penniman)
Certainly, Little Richard did not invent the man perm, but he took it to new heights. He took it to places it might otherwise never have gone. And can you just imagine what Little Richard’s man perm has done and what it has seen? In fact, I am currently doing research for a new book: If This Perm Could Talk: The Life of Little Richard as Told by His Hair. It promises to be an instant best seller.
If Little Richard is nothing else, he is an originator and an innovator. According to Little Richard, American culture owes him recognition for inventing rock n' roll and any number of other things. I don't know about all that, but I do know he rocks a mean man perm, even to this day. And to those who don't agree, Shut up!
6. James Brown
Little Richard gave the man perm to the world; James Brown gave the man perm soul. Not only that, he made the man perm manly. But it is something I have been curious about all these years. In my studies of the man perm, I have watched hours and hours of James Brown performance tape, and I cannot figure out just how his perm stayed in place. I mean, he would give these spectacular performances, and five minutes into the performance he would be sweating like a slave, but his perm always stayed in tact.
Most regular perms would have frizzled at the edges or drawn up completely as the hair reverted to its natural state under the heat and moisture, but his did not. And now that he is gone he is not here to share his hair care secrets with the world. But of course everyone remembers the infamous James Brown Thunder Cat mugshot; however, this picture does nothing to cheapen his legacy. Everyone has a bad hair day.
5. Al Sharpton
Al Sharpton’s perm is a direct descendant of the James Brown school of man perms. In fact, Sharpton has often credited James Brown, his actual god father, as inspiring and encouraging his signature hair style.
But Sharpton’s man perm tale is actually the tale of two perms. You have the early Sharpton perm. The early Sharpton man perm was a huge, multi-layered affair he often sported with a jogging suit and a big medallion. I am not quite sure, but an overweight black man in a jogging suit is an oxymoron, isn’t it? But the big man perm and the big medallion seemed to match the larger than life persona Sharpton seemed to be working to cultivate at the time.
However, as Sharpton evolved, so did his man perm. As he moved into the mainstream, he lost weight, got rid of the jogging suits, and went for a more subdued, stream-lined man perm look. And it works for him.
More than anything else, Al Sharpton took the perm mainstream. He is still perhaps the only commentator you will find on mainstream news programs all permed out.
4. Superfly (Ron O’Neal)
The character of Superfly, portrayed by actor Ron O’Neal, perhaps predates Al Sharpton’s emergence as a public figure and man perm nation representative; however, he ranks ahead of Sharpton because of his innovation. Ron O’Neal single handedly sparked the innovation in man perms known as the “Jesus Perm.”
In the early to mid 1970’s, following Ron O’Neal’s lead, man perm wearers began to value length over volume. They began to eschew the large stacked perms of Little Richard, or the tightly curled, stiff perms of James Brown and Sharpton, and went with the long flowing locks, forever changing the man perm game.
However, later in life, unfortunately male pattern baldness caught up with Ron O’Neal too, and his long flowing locks became all but a distant memory. However, we thank him for his invaluable contribution to the game.
Prince, like Sharpton, is the tale of two perms. Early in his career, he followed the lead of Ron O’Neal and went with the Jesus Perm. And this fit his stage persona very well. Each night he would take the concert stage and give the crowd the show of their lives, wearing a long trench coat, knee high boots, and tiny, shiny bikini drawers.
But as he matured, so did his man perm. Now we see an older, more mature Prince, fully clothed and coifed with a shorter man perm style. And if I may be perfectly frank, Prince's hair often looks better than most women. However, his stage presence remains large, and his perm remains very much an important part of the act.
2. Snoop Doggy Dogg
Snoop Dogg represents the younger generation of the man perm enthusiasts. Before the arrival of Snoop, the art of the man perm was quickly dying out; however, Snoop revived the man perm and made it relevant again. If anything, Snoop should be considered a revolutionary, metaphorically speaking. He may have actually altered the course of history just by putting dangerous chemicals in his hair.
Snoop tore down the Berlin wall of men’s hairstyles, ended the apartheid of the ‘do, and sat in the front of the coif bus. Snoop’s man perm is a perm that commands attention; it’s almost as if he’s saying “Yeah, I probably sat in a chair for hours to get my hair to lay down like this. Yeah, it is womanly. But you know what? I scratched my head for an hour before I did this. Why? Because I’m the Snoop D-O double G. Chuch. ”
Reader, Imma let you finish reading this post, but this is the greatest man perm of all time.
This is the postmodern perm, and it represents both the best and worst of the man perm game. First of all, while respectful to the existing man perm schools, the Little Richard/James Brown school and the “Jesus Perm” school, it embarks on a direction of its own. It charts its own course.
In the same instance, it reveals just how political the man perm game really is. Have you ever heard of Tafari? Exactly. That’s what I am trying to say. With a perm like that, Tafari should be a household name. Somewhere there should be a monument dedicated to this man and his contributions to the science of man perms, something like “A Shrine of the Immaculate Perm.”
Evidently, to get recognition for your man perm, you must be connected in some way to the world of entertainment. However, this is unfair to all those brothers in the street keeping the game alive and rocking the man perms despite what the world says.
The real loser in all this is the man perm game. Tafari has now left the man perm game and rocks the dreads. Also, currently he blogs at Tafari’s Mindspill and is an excellent photographer. Go check out his work at Photography by Tafari Stevenson-Howard.