British literary theorist Terry Eagleton writes of a small class of objects which "exist entirely for their own sake and for no drearily utilitarian purpose—a category which along with God includes art, evil and humanity." To this list, we might add the moustache—a superfluous efflorescence of male facial plumage that represents a rebellion against the generic bleakness of mainstream guy fashion. Isn't this all the more reason to cherish it?
Michael Eades thinks so. "There are at least 40 moustache configurations," he points out. And he ought to know. Eades is the mastermind behind Moustache May, a nationwide phenomenon that exists largely as an online social networking site, but will culminate this Saturday in a concert and "wrap party" at the Mercy Lounge.
The tribute to whiskers began life as a recurring "beard contest" Eades and friends started in college; it was later revised to a more manageable moustache challenge. A web designer, he created an Internet presence for the nascent movement, and launched Moustache May in 2004 (moustachemay.com). The site requires users to register at the beginning of the month, and encourages them to post a photo of their growth every day (or at least once a week). A visitor to the site encounters a profusion of witty and carefully composed photographs, which fellow travelers comment on in a vein of good-natured humor.
The bands performing aren't necessarily fellow enthusiasts, though. Eades, who also curates the We Own This Town music blog, selected groups he was already a fan of, and those include the hirsute fellows of Ghostfinger and And the Relatives, as well as Ross Wariner of Uncle Skeleton, who says that because he's not blessed in the facial hair department, "I'm probably gonna be sporting a fake."
Wariner is best known for his work with Kindercastle, beloved for their ELO-influenced pop songs with sweeping string arrangements. But the musician had always been a fan of electronic music, and began recording some songs as Uncle Skeleton during a months-long period of downtime between Kindercastle records. Eades, meanwhile, was interested in putting out records on a small scale. He was so impressed after hearing a few songs that he suggested releasing an album on his label, YK records.
The result is Pancho Chumley, 12 tracks that alternate between sunny, melodic pop songs and wistful atmosphere. They're tuneful, sometimes suggesting disco or Motown, but also include some hard-to-place sounds; Wariner's process is "based around the fundamentals of how everything came to be in the universe, which is random chance." Wariner will perform the material live for the first time on Saturday, with the Kindercastle string section and his brother Luke on guitar. (The album is available as a CD and free download.)
In addition to checking out this new sound, the event will offer Moustache May participants the chance to mingle, relax and (says Eades) "go back to their normal lives." But why should they be so stressed out in the first place? He explains that the month really is a challenge to some men, who encounter societal pressure to shave the damn thing off. A stigma remains because the moustache is "associated with derelicts of society."
And indeed, the moustache's cultural associations—baggage, even—are myriad and conflicting. While the most frequently cited references are to what Eades calls "the porn 'stache" and "the cop 'stache," as seen on '70s figures like John Holmes and John Oates, other prominent associations include Civil War generals, philosophers, detectives, fascist dictators, bikers, cowboys and nebbishy traditional males like Ned Flanders.
No wonder the American public is confused. Many men resort to over-the-top horseshoe, walrus and handlebar styles to make their ironic intentions clear, and even so, female companions may object. (Doyle Davis of Grimey's Records, currently taking the challenge, admits that "my girlfriend thought it was cheesy.")
Female prejudice against moustaches, it appears, is almost as common as ever. In an informal poll conducted by a reporter via email, fully half of respondents pronounced moustaches acceptable only when attached to a beard, and a few more rejected them in all cases. Of the two respondents who admitted to liking them, one included the poll conductor herself! During the survey, wounding, intolerant phrases like "totally gross," "creeps," "itchy" and "pedophile/sex cop" appeared.
Such bigotry doesn't phase Eades. He insists that there's "a large contingent of ladies that do appreciate it." And there are signs of hope—including Laurel Paul, a local paralegal who posted a Craigslist personal this April in which she proclaimed her admiration of Moustache May, and announced her intention to go "moustache hunting in East Nashville." Paul clarifies via email that she admires moustaches for their connection to Westerns and the film Tombstone. She adds, "I think a man that sports just a moustache comes off as unique and confident."
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