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Dick Tracy, 12/2/09

So it turns out that one of my earlier assumptions — that Dick’s reference to “long hair stuff” meant that he and his wife would be attending one of those subversive rock and roll shows, put on by some damn hippie band — was off by several centuries. It turns out, intriguingly enough, that up until the 1960s “long-hair music” denoted classical music. You can find the etymology here, but the gist is that 19th century artists and intellectuals (the damn hippies of their day, like this shaggy-haired punk here) tended to wear their hair long; by the 20th century, the term came to denote intellectuals generally, most of whom by now had gotten respectable haircuts, and by the 1930s it was being used by jazz musicians and journalists to refer to classical musicians, who apparently appealed to a more high-falutin’ educated audience.

Obviously this whole association between classical music and long hair in American vernacular English was abruptly and definitively ended by the advent of the aforementioned long-haired hippies and their rock and roll music. Thus, Dick’s persistent use of it is revealing. Like all right-thinking American law enforcement officials, he hates hippies with every particle of his being; in his fight against what they and their dope-smoking have done to this nation’s moral fiber, he simply refuses to even acknowledge their existence, and will speak as if the 1960s never happened and everyone associates long hair with tempestuous 19th century German artists.

Almost as interesting as all this social etymology is how depressed Dick looks in panel two. “Am I ready for long-hair music?” he asks himself, as if this was the last stage in a man’s life before death. “Normally the only music I listen to is made up of perps begging for mercy as their bones are shattered. Has it really come to this?”

Mary Worth, 12/2/09