For a time, I looked like a young Jerry Garcia.
I didn’t wear tie-dye shirts or join a jam band. I didn’t start hanging out with Deadheads or change my vocal inflections to accentuate the likeness.
All I did was stop getting haircuts and let my beard grow.
You could say that all I did was, literally, nothing: I simply declined to prune my hair to keep it from looking like Jerry, and in time its natural Jerryness emerged.
In fact, thanks to an intermittent journaling practice, I have fairly good records of how long the process took:
- On January 11, 2016, I buzzed my hair down to a half-inch or so.
- By December 22, 2016, eleven months and a full head of frizz later, a homeless man of a certain age stopped me to ask if I was Jerry Garcia.
When I told him I wasn’t, he received my denial with some skepticism, and then said, “Well, you look just like him.”
Delighted to look like anyone, I spent the rest of my walk repeating the details of the encounter in my head for the purpose of transcribing them faithfully when I got home.
That was the first Jerry comparison, and it was news to me.
The image of Jerry Garcia that first came to mind was that of the older, pudgier, grayer Jerry Garcia. But a bit of Googling quickly revealed that the homeless man was exactly right. With the hair/beard combo then consuming the whole of my head, I was a dead ringer for 1970s Jerry Garcia, i.e. Jerry Garcia at my own age.
(So I guess I know what I’ll look like 20 years from now, too…)
On February 4, 2017, I heard it again.
It was a man of the same certain age, i.e. old enough to have caught 1970s Jerry the first time. This time, the stranger walking toward me was bearded, with a comment to match: “And they tell me I look like Jerry Garcia!”
Ka-ching. A Jerry comparison from a bearded man ought to be worth more.
More unsolicited Jerry comparisons came in the months that followed. I relished them.
Why did it so delight me, having strangers tell me I looked like someone?
I think it was, in part, that I’ve never known quite what I should look like. Some people seem to settle on a style that works for them and then continually replicate it, maintaining a reliable brand. Their appearance is like AstroTurf. Others become known for boldly jumping from one style to the next, fully committing to each new thing; their brand is being nimble and ever-changing. They’re like a store’s holiday aisle.
I’ve always just kind of been… there. I prefer a certain shoe and feel better in a certain shirt and shave when I get tired of seeing facial hair and cut my hair when I get tired of seeing it grow, and who’s to say what looks good or goes together?
There’s not much thought of presenting a complete picture.
Also, I am not the most sociable of people. I generally take pains to smile and nod at people I see, and can usually even manage a “hi,” but beyond that I am somewhat at a loss. My experience of moving about the world tends to be a pretty insular one.
In a strange way, Jerry helped with both problems:
- Not choosing a look became a look. My hair grew, I changed nothing else, and suddenly I looked like something. I became recognizable.
- Looking like something connected me to others. My hair grew, I changed nothing else, and suddenly strangers were poking at my bubble to initiate conversations and mention Jerry Garcia.
Strangers who chanced to mention the likeness were never in a dour mood. Nobody was upset to be reminded of Jerry. On the contrary, those who mentioned it always seemed amused to have encountered me, which isn’t a bad way to start an interaction with a person you don’t know.
Beyond the Jerryness, there was a magnetic whimsy to the look itself. Even people who didn’t mention the likeness seemed to see me and need to interact.
“Hey, there’s a different-looking guy. I wonder what he’s like.”
Sometimes, I think they just needed to reassure themselves that I wasn’t insane.
A couple months ago, I was scheduled to have a new driver’s license photo taken. My previous photo had lasted 15 years, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to commit to looking like Jerry Garcia, as far as the state of California was concerned, until age 46.
So I shaved and cut my hair for the photo.
I suppose I now look more presentable in the conventional sense. I probably raise fewer eyebrows in most contexts. There is less of a question as to my sanity.
But I don’t look like anything in particular, and I pass through more of life’s scenes unnoticed, and no one ever stops me to poke at the bubble. If I want conversation, I’m more likely to have to initiate it, and I’m as bad at that as ever.
Honestly, it’s somewhat of a disappointment. I don’t see how you non-Jerry people live like this.
The earliest I can possibly be back to Jerry is nine months from now.