Song Writing

David Bowie Leads the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men

by Jeff Suwak

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When it comes to personal reinvention, David Bowie has everyone beat. Not even the infamously transformational Bob Dylan can compete with the number of masks that Bowie has worn or the stark differences in appearance between each one. From the avant-garde experimenter of his late '70s Berlin era to the Thin White Duke to Ziggy Stardust and everywhere in between, Bowie has packed more identities into a single lifetime than most people can even dream about. It is such a labyrinthine history of evolution and devolution that it's easy to forget that he actually started as a regular human being, one David Robert Jones of Brixton, London, born January 8, 1947. But even lesser remembered than that — nay, barely ever known at all — is the fact that David Jones' first leaps into the public spotlight came in the form of social activism, as he headed two similarly themed and similarly ludicrous organizations.

Of the two groups, little is known. Archaeological evidence for the first lies almost entirely in an article written for the November 2, 1964 edition of the Evening News by Leslie Thomas. The article is about David Jones of Plaistow Grove, Bromley, leader of The Manish Boys musical group and founder of the brand-spanking-new International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament. The article begins, "Are you hairy? If so, are you proud of being hairy and want to remain hairy? And are of you tired of people making fun of you?" It then goes on to assure these poor, harassed long-hairs that there is hope in the form of Jones and his organization. The Evening News, covering Cumbria, England, was not only a legitimate paper, but indeed a venerable and respected one that had been around for decades. So, it appears that this article, ridiculous as it seems in hindsight, was being presented as a serious piece covering a serious topic.

Evening News & Star, November 2, 1964

Are you hairy? If so, are you proud of being hairy and want to remain hairy? And are you tired of people making fun of you? If so, join a new society formed just for you and other hirsute folk – the International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament.

"It's really for the protection of pop musicians, and those who wear their hair long," explained the founder and president, David Jones, of Plaistow Grove, Bromley. "Anyone who has the courage to wear hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell. It's time we united and stood up for our curls."

David, who leads a professional pop group called The Manish Boys, is in process of enrolling members.

"Screaming Lord Sutch, P.J. Proby, The Pretty Things and, of course, The Stones and The Beatles – we want them all as members. You've no idea the indignities you have to suffer just because you've got long hair," said David, who gave up commercial art to go into the pop business. "Dozens of times I've been politely told to clear out of the lounge bar at public houses. Everybody makes jokes about you on a bus, and if you go past navvies digging in the road, it's murder!"

The International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament will give long-haired lads a sense of belonging, he thinks. It will fight their causes and encourage them when too many people are poking fun.
The second of Jones' activist groups seems to have been a direct evolution from the first. It was known as The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. Soon-to-be-rock-god Jimmy Page, who'd acted as a session musician for Bowie, was also a member. It is this group that has a bit more historical meat, as Bowie can be seen today in a 1964 BBC Tonight broadcast promoting this organization.

All of this, obviously, seems rather strange. But, that is largely because one of the cornerstones of the David Bowie mystique is that he was a sort of mad artist consumed with inspiration, defiant of public expectations and disinterested in the normal ways of the world. This eccentric character projection is tried and true marketing method in the entertainment world, but is almost never the reality. People don't climb into superstardom by accident. They need some ambition and cunning. The public likes its artists to be weird and extreme. In a way, artists themselves allow us to dramatize our deepest unconventional impulses as much as the art itself. The truth of the matter, however, is that Bowie was a savvy businessman and talented self-promoter. His father was a public relations man, after all, and young David Jones learned a lot from him.

Bowie's motivations are most likely revealed in this quote from that Evening News article: "Screaming Lord Sutch, P.J. Proby, The Pretty Things and, of course, The Stones and The Beatles — we want them all as members." Those names just happen to be among the biggest young, English (Proby was American but made his name in 1964 with success in England) musical acts of the time. The whole thing, then, appears to have been a clever attempt to not only get national press but also to meet some of the established musicians of the era. It was essentially clickbait before clickbait was a thing. Look at me, I'm a social activist and I also happen to make music and you should listen to that music! As far as we can tell, it didn't quite pan out, as almost nothing else of the organizations is still remembered today.

In her book Bowie: The Biography, Wendy Leigh makes an interesting observation that the inspiration for founding these organizations might have come from an experience that left a big impression on Bowie. Upon seeing Mick Jagger open up for Little Richard, Bowie witnessed the Rolling Stones frontman defiantly defend himself against folks who were taunting him for his hair. This might have led him to launch his social activist causes. It certainly seems a clever way to get closer to Jagger. This is all just a theory on Leigh's part, of course, but it seems to be one with some weight, and in any case one that ties strands of music history together into an interesting pattern.

David Jones had years of struggle ahead of him before making his big breakthrough. Alas, the International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men never quite achieved their full, superstar potentials. They certainly left a funny footnote for music history, though, and a glimpse at the kind of theatrics that Bowie would eventually use to launch himself to legend - in addition to his musical talent, of course.

October 29, 2015
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