Mystery of the Mullet
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S2: This podcast contains explicit language.
S1: Lauren, right, is a deejay, and for the last three years, she’s had a very particular haircut, you know, the one business in the front party in the back, I am the proud owner and wearer of a mullet.
S3: So first, can you describe what your model looks like to be like what? Nature of mullet? It’s pretty short and tight on the sides, and I’ve got some solid length in the back. So it’s kind of getting slowey. I think it’s more of the mullet that makes more people uncomfortable. You know, it’s a little less feminine. It’s definitely curly and luscious and I don’t know, I’m pretty proud of it. Lauren first encountered Mullet when she was a kid back in the 90s. So I grew up in Texas and I remember the first one I ever saw in person was in elementary school. My PE teacher, who was a woman, she was the head coach.
S4: She had this long, epic curly mullet and she had a really thick country accent. And she was always chewing gum, gold hoops, just like strong gay woman, which I didn’t really know at the time. At least twice a week, she would say, everybody line up and you get on the line and she would throw on Billy Ray Cyrus Achy Breaky Heart and we would shoot just different line dances.
S3: So it was kind of like this double mullet experience with, you know, this like strong woman with a mullet who everyone respects is having a sign up and dance to this country star with another epic mullet.
S1: These were the waning glory days of the mullet hairstyle that was once the not only of country stars and lesbians, but of rock stars, hockey players, soccer players, TV characters, school age boys across the country and people all over the world from such heights. The mullet could only fall and it fell far. By the end of the 1990s, it had become dramatically uncool, loathed, even considered to be uniquely unattractive, trashy and low class. You can see this in the 2001 comedy Joe Dirt, in which David Spade plays a sweet, beleaguered loser whose most distinctive quality is his incredible mullet. He’s constantly teased about it, as by this radio shock jock played by Dennis Miller time.
S3: He’s entertainer. You got to see this. God almighty. Manna from inbred heaven. Hey freak for nineteen seventy six called it wants its hairstyle back.
S1: The sentiment of the mullet is particularly classless. Outmoded and hideous is still the dominant one, which is exactly what the subcultures that have sporadically embraced the mullet over the last two decades. Electro punk kids, self-aware rednecks, high end fashionistas, queer people like about it the way it thumbs its nose at mainstream respectability.
S4: You know, the mullet has been deemed like traditionally very unattractive and ugly. And so, you know, as someone who doesn’t necessarily fit into traditional norms of beauty, this I identify very much. So with this haircut, it feels very powerful.
S1: The mullet is this potent, versatile cultural signifier that conveys more now almost 50 years into its existence than it did when it was totally ubiquitous. And you know what? That’s not even the craziest thing about it.
S5: What are you calling them? Mullet’s, do you remember?
S4: No, I don’t think that. I was like I was too young to kind of remember, like, the big 80s mullet style.
S5: What have I told you that the word mullet didn’t exist until 1994?
S4: I thought it would be surprising for sure, because I would think that I would think maybe in the 70s, like leading into the 80s.
S5: But are you just saying that we have we didn’t have a word for it. It just is existing out here with no label.
S6: This is Decoder Ring, a show about cracking cultural mysteries, I will have Paskin, you may think the mullet is just an unfortunate haircut, but let me tell you, it is so much more than that. And in this episode, we’re going to prove it not just by following the story of the mullet as a hairstyle, but by following the story of the word mullet to figure out how a name helped transform an omnipresent due into a national joke and altered our cultural memory in the process. So today, undercoating, what I swear turns out to be a tonsorial mystery and aesthetic mystery, a lexical mystery, a chronological mystery, and maybe even an existential mystery. Who named the mullet?
S1: I want to start at the beginning, not of the mullet, but of my interest in the mullet, which was sparked by an email from a listener with the subject line, the mystery of the mullet.
S7: My name is Oscar Sigurdson. I’m a software developer and I live in Stockholm. Oscar is really interested in language and linguistics. So I subscribe to all these like weird linguistics and lexicography blogs and things like that. And one of the blogs I was I am subscribed to is the Oxford English Dictionary Public Appeals blog, where the Oxford English Dictionary like puts out appeals to the public for like, oh, we are researching this word and we hit the wall. And and so in 2013, they put out this blog post about Edward Mullet’s in this public appeal, the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED said they couldn’t find a documented reference to the mullet as a hairstyle prior to 1994, which I was very surprised to read because nineteen ninety four, like that’s so late, like Mullet’s or the like the most 80s thing you can imagine. Like there’s nothing more emblematic of ages than a mullet. Very telling, like, but nobody used that word in the entire decade. Like nobody like it can’t be like it’s so weird and it is so weird in the popular imagination.
S1: Mullahs or as 80s as shoulder pads dynasty, Ronald Reagan, junk bonds and breakdancing. The two are totally intertwined. And to explain why, I have to go back to the other beginning, the beginning of the mullet itself. Despite its connection to the 1980s, the modern mullet was not actually birthed in that decade.
S8: It was first popularized in the early 1970s by David Bowie. Ziggy played guitar jamming good with women in her memoir, Backstage Passes.
S9: Angie Bowie, Bowie’s wife at the time, recalls that while David was working on his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, for which you would inhabit the character of Ziggy Stardust and Omnes actual glam space alien, he woke up one morning wanting a new haircut.
S1: It was Christmas week, and the hairstylist, who regularly did Bowie’s mom’s hair hit a house call. The stylist, Susie Ronson Nay Fusi told the story of what happened next as a storyteller at The Moth.
S10: David and Angie was sitting by a large bay window and they were discussing the merits of cutting his hair short. He had this long, blond, wavy hair at the time. They asked me my opinion. I said, well, you know, no one else has got short hair. You know, nobody would look really different.
S9: Bowie showed Susie a magazine photo of a Kansai Yamamoto model, Kansai Yamamoto with a Japanese designer, one of the first to show his work in London.
S1: Who would in the next few years begin a long creative collaboration with Bowie.
S10: Can you do that? Well, and I’m saying yes. I’m thinking to myself, it’s a woman’s hair style and how am I going to actually do that?
S1: The answer was some scissors. Schwarzkopf red, red hot hair dye and guard and antique dandruff treatment that made Bowie’s hair stand up in the front. When Suzy was done, Bowie had the famous Zygi haircut bright red long and flipped out at the back and short and bristling in the front. It was the perfect haircut for the extraterrestrials. Ziggy, who is not exactly male or female because the mullet was genderless, too. It’s easy to lose sight of this now, but the mullet has become so associated with a performative, aggressive machismo. But it’s a haircut that’s long and short, male and female, both and neither. At the same time, the fact that it’s not entirely straight also in the sense of not being square is what makes it cool. But as the mullet became more and more popular, it’s essential Androgenic faded into the background, and that’s because the people carrying water for the mullet in the 70s and early 80s weren’t just Mullet. Having performers like Joan Jett, Paul McCartney, Bono and Prince, they were hockey players. To illustrate how the mullet crossed over from rock stars to athletes and regular people getting bigger, all the while, I want to highlight two figures in particular.
S9: The first is the hockey player, Ron de Rendel guy awarded a penalty shot. And here he got a handsome Canadian who was married to a model played in the NHL from 1979 to 1989 and is widely credited with having one of the earliest Mullet’s in the league. You can see it in a 1979 commercial he appeared in with three of his teammates for Vidal Sassoon Jeans.
S6: In this ad, the four players strut around the ice in jerseys and dungarees. Of the four, Duggie is the only one to have a mullet, but it’s relatively understated. His sandy curly hair is definitely longer in the back, but not wildly. So it looks windswept and kind of sophisticated with a casually cool haircut. I mean, even Vidal Sassoon themselves.
S11: No wonder kids across the country.
S6: So so soon as the hairstyle caught on with the public, so did ad hoc names for it.
S1: We didn’t call it Molex. We call it hockey here.
S9: John Warner is a writer and market researcher who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. He was in high school in the mid to late 1980s and he played on the hockey team. Just about every member of his team, himself included, had hockey hair. So they called it something more specific.
S12: We call it the Dougie named after Ron Duke because he had such a good flow. You call it flow like it was called the flow. Like, how is your flow? If somebody came in? It was looking like a long and good flapping behind the helmet, say, oh, good flow was just like it was what you did. A guys performed it. I mean, they got perms of only their only their fellow guys, like walking into the locker room for practice after the curb and you could smell it. You didn’t make fun of them. It was like, oh, that’s cool.
S9: You know, he he he performed it, as you can tell, from the Perm’s. As the 80s wore on, the mullet was getting increasingly elaborate. By the end of the decade. It was huge as a trend, but also just physically huge fleecy. Jaromir Yagur.
S13: I came here in 1998 and I had the longest hair in the NHL.
S1: But don’t forget people in 1990 there was a style that’s Yagur, the legendary Czech who would play in the NHL for twenty eight seasons, talking to ESPN in 2016. When he first came into the league as an apple cheeked eighteen year old, he had an Eastern European statement mullet this mop of dark chestnut hair that cascaded down his back in a curly bouffant. It’s like the mullet a prince in a Disney movie would have if they had Mullet’s well conditioned, luxurious, somehow sparkly. And Niagara’s hairstyle, which he kept for his first nine seasons in a league, wasn’t the only one of its kind, though it may be best in class.
S13: I came to the U.S., you know, first of all, there was Motley Crue and and Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. So they all had long hair. So I want to be a rock star like them.
S1: It wasn’t just the hair metal bands rocking audacious mallets. This is the time of Andre Agassi, Lionel Richie, Michael Bolton. And one thing I want to underscore is that these attention grabbing Mullet’s didn’t just end with the 1980s. So many of the canonical Mullet’s Yeager’s Billy Ray Cyrus is Jean-Claude van Dams are not Abey’s Mullet’s at all. They’re 1990s Mullet’s.
S9: When it comes to markets, we’re suffering from a kind of distortion, one familiar from the TV show Mad Men, that series begins in the early 1960s, which looks so much more like the 1950s than what we think of as the 60s. The aesthetics we assign to decades often start Medicaid and then run into the next one. But we tend to address this decades dragway in favor of a simpler shorthand. But this simplification can actually change how we think about the past and the Mollet is an example of this. The enormous Mollet belongs as much of the early 90s to Lauran rights line dancing gym class as the late 80s, even though we don’t remember it that way.
S1: This brings us back to Oscar Sigurdson, the Swede who had been floored to hear the term mullet might not exist until 1994, which is especially late if you’re under the mistaken impression that Mullet’s more or less died out in 1989, confronted it with a claim that seemed so chronologically off, Oscar did what a curious, language obsessed person might do. He tried to find out for himself. OK, so from here on out, we’re going to dig into the lexical weeds, but I promise the payoff is worth it. So the Oxford English Dictionary had asked the public for help in finding any reference to the mullet as a hairstyle from before 1994 and Oscar set out to find one.
S7: You know, once or twice in the past, I’ve been able to find something earlier than the Oxford English Dictionary says it was printed or something. So I started doing that right. I started just putting in Mullet and Google Books and just saying, OK, between 1980 and 1989 by me, all eustress of the word. And, you know, it’s just fish. It’s all fish, fish, fish, the mullet.
S1: A family of fish is eaten all over the world.
S7: And it was I did it for like I was trying to find it once in a while. You can find, like, reference to the insult, like Mullet Head.
S2: Paul Newman is called Mulheron and it means you and he doesn’t have a mullet like these called if for being called an idiot.
S11: There’s a clip from Cheers where Sam calls Diana Multipack, who just ended that sentence with two prepositions. Don’t you have customers to deal with that ended with the preposition to? Don’t you have customers that deal with Mullet Head? So that’s it, right?
S7: You can actually find it at that point, it became like, oh, this is a fun fact.
S1: Our use of parties less efficient to use in Sweden, though it’s not that efficient in Sweden, because in Sweden, as in many of the countries where it was a phenomenon, this hairstyle is not called a mullet. The Swedish word for is hockey filler, which means hockey and hockey. Velar was is a whole thing in Sweden. There’s even a well-known 1993 Swedish rock song about it.
S7: There was a very big hit from the Swedish group The Nuclear Arsenal, which translates as the happy friends. Like it was huge. There was something that everyone knew because it’s like a real earworm and it’s like funny.
S14: And it has the chorus is just a guy singing Whoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo, Dreama.
S6: Anyway, even though it wasn’t always a smash with other Swedes, Oscar often shared this mullet factoid. And then in 2015, for no particular reason, he decided to share it on Reddit.
S7: Oscar posted information about Mollet to the today, I learned Subrata, a kind of gathering place for fun tidbits, so I’ve never had anything on Reddit blow up, but that thing blew up like it was on the front page of Reddit for like almost an entire day.
S5: Like it was the most fun 24 hours I’ve ever had on the Internet because, like, everywhere I go and then trying to solve this problem with you. Exactly.
S7: Yes. That was my favorite part. Right. Because the comments most many comments were like, this is total horseshit. Like I wasn’t there all the time.
S1: This is exactly what some of the comments on his post sound like. Bullshit. I grew up in Queens, New York City, and used the term mullet since way before 1994. One reads, another goes, I call bullshit. When Achy Breaky Heart came out in 1992, I and everyone I knew in North Dakota was referring to his haircut as a mullet.
S7: There was lots of those. But anyway, a lot of people started like doing the research and it was so much fun.
S1: Even with all these people digging around, though, no one could turn up an earlier reference. But then Oscars post got cross posted to an Australian sub Reddit, where it was framed as like, get a load of this nonsense. And one of the people reading that post, he found something a user named mate like posted a comment.
S7: Yeah. That today I learned it’s full of shit. And the perfect example of groupthink took me under an hour of browsing through my street machine collection to find this reference to a mullet as a hair salon from 1991. And yeah, and he posted this image of a magazine from the garage.
S1: The image that Topps Meat posted is of two pages from an Australian Hotrod magazine called Street Machine. They’re from a piece about a teenager named Craig Parker who built his own muscle car. The story includes a picture of him sitting on the ground, his back against the grill of a red sports car in which he has an unmistakable mullet. And then there’s an arrow added by Top’s mate pointing to this picture and another arrow pointing to a line in the text of the piece that reads. Three years ago, Craig Parker was a mullet haired teenager who wanted to build a car that could rival the best.
S9: It seemed to be a piece calling a mullet a mullet in 1991.
S14: I remember reading that and my jaw dropped like that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
S9: Oscar immediately replied to Top’s mate comment and said, This is amazing. You should submit this to the OED.
S14: This is great work. Part of me was dismissed that my cool thing I learned have been disproven by this Australia guy. But like part of the bigger part was so happy that I could, like, make it like I had had like a small part in making the contribution to the history of this term.
S1: Now, if you’re saying to yourself, 1991, that’s still so late, that’s not even the 1980s, is this really that big a contribution to the history of the term? Please keep this in mind about slang. Often it’s used in spoken language years before it ends up in the documentary record. So in 1991 usage, maybe that does mean the mullet goes back to the late 1980s. And also this was such a big deal to Oscar because he was just way down the rabbit hole.
S7: I totally internalized this fact right. Like I had done the research and I lived with this for two years and I had just spent hours defending this thesis in the comments. And then this guy comes on like, no, yeah. I just went out to my garage and found the Holy Grail. Essentially, what I think of as any pre 1994 references to Mullet’s Oscar wasn’t the only one who would feel this way about the street machine article.
S1: The Oxford English Dictionary was about to jump back into the picture.
S2: So the OED had been on the case way before Oscar, the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, it covers the whole thousand year history of English.
S1: Katherine Connor Martin is the head of product for Oxford Languages, the dictionary division of Oxford University Press, which publishes the OED, and what she began working in 2003 as an editor, working on the dictionary.
S2: And for every word in the OED, we give the first known documentary evidence for its use, not just for the word overall, but for every single meaning that the word has. In 2001, the dictionary added the word mullet or specifically mullet noun nine, its mullet, now nine, because there are eight earlier words called mullet in English, each of which has a different etymological origin.
S1: But the people at the OED weren’t totally satisfied with the etymological portion of the mullet. Now nine entry because like everybody else, 1994 sounded late to them.
S2: There seemed to be a disconnect between the lexical history of the mullet and the cultural and social history of the of the mullet. And furthermore, we had anecdotal evidence from people who were sure that they had heard or used that term in the 1980s. And as an editor, I myself felt like, well, obviously we knew this term in the 1980s. So in 2013, we decided to launch what we call an appeal to the public for further information on this word.
S1: The OED has been launching these appeals since it was founded and now they do that on the Internet, hoping that people like Oscar will find something they couldn’t for a few years, though, no one found anything and then they got a lead.
S2: Then in 2015, the plot thickens because someone posted a tip off thing.
S1: I learned thread on Reddit, the OED people don’t know Oscar, but Catherine is talking about Oscar. Someone on staff had come across his post, which had been updated with a link to the street machine article that was really exciting.
S2: And when we found out about it, we were thrilled. But the OED policy, because these first dates are so important to us, we really have to verify them. And we typically we want to verify them in print in a library, which is the gold standard.
S1: So the OED reached out to a number of Australian libraries and the librarian at the National Library of Australia found a copy of St Machine from January 1992, which would have come out in late nineteen ninety one. Catherine, read me the email the librarian sent to her.
S2: They said, I’ve checked our copy of Street Machine from January February 1992 on page 31. There is some wording that is very similar to the quote you provided, but it doesn’t mention the word mullet.
S1: Nothing if not persistent. The OED as several other Australian librarians to track down this article, none of them could find a version of it with the word mullet. But they also couldn’t find a January 1992 issue of Street Machine. They could only find a January, February 1992 double issue, which, instead of making the whole thing shadier, actually introduced some doubt.
S2: Research librarians are the greatest people. And so one of them took it upon themselves to contact the editors of St Machine magazine themselves. And they also didn’t know of a January 1992 issue, but they couldn’t say for certain that there might not have been some kind of special early version with limited circulation for a special event that might have had a slightly different text street machine, ended up posting about all of this on their Facebook page, and none of their readers could find this mention of the mullet or this January 1992 issue either.
S1: All of this sounds pretty sketchy, and that’s why it didn’t go into the OED, it was not definitive documentary proof, but for all that Catherine was suspicious of it, it’s still niggled at her. She couldn’t completely dismiss it. And that’s because she knows too much about how language works.
S2: Australian English has a history of kind of punching above its weight when it comes to colloquial English. So, for example, the word selfie originated in Australian English and then infiltrated the rest of the world. It’s entirely plausible that this word originated in Australian slang in the late 1980s and early 1990s, like all of these Australians say it did, and that it was only popularized by the Beastie Boys rather than coined by them. That wouldn’t be surprising at all.
S1: So, yeah, the first documented usage of Mollet, now nine from 1994, it doesn’t come from some random Usenet page. It comes from the Beastie Boys and.
S6: The Beastie Boys, the rap rock outfit consisting of Adam ADRAC Horovitz, Mike Mike D Diamond and Adam Yauch, who died in 2012, released the song Moledet in June 1994. The lyrics, which reference late stage mullet, Sporter Jean-Claude Van Damme, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kenny G and Joey Buttafuoco get at the idea still with us of the Mullet Havva as a particular kind of macho sleazebag, they skewer and condescend to a stereotype of lower class bridge and tunnel guys, douches with stonewashed jeans and Mullet’s driving into New York City to start fights and hook up with underage girls. The song also includes the lines. You want to know what’s a mullet? Well, I got a little story to tell about a hairstyle. That’s a way of life. Have you ever seen a mullet wife? These words are in the OED.
S9: The second documented reference to the mullet included in the edyta also comes from the Beastie Boys.
S1: It arrived in 1995 in their storied, short lived magazine, Granta Royal, which was a big enough deal at the time to be featured on MTV News with Kurt Loder.
S15: The trio has now come out with its own magazine, and it turns out to be one of the funniest reads around. Grand Royal is, as its proprietors acknowledge, a celebration of inside humor, basketball trivia, slang and blatant opinions and half baked notions.
S1: The second issue delivered on the slang. It contains a collection of articles gathered under the headline Mulling Over the mullet. Its opening essay begins. There’s nothing as bad as a bad haircut, and perhaps the worst haircut of all is a cut. We call the mullet. It goes on to include a series of mini essays about the haircut’s origins and cultural significance, focusing largely on the cheesy white guy Mullet. Though it has one section called The Political Correctness of the Mullet, which notes its popularity among blacks, Hispanics, indigenous people and women. There’s also a Q&A with a mullet. Had a defense of the mullet and synonyms for the hairstyle, including soca, rocker by level, neck warmer, ape drape mudflap hack job, the Missouri Compromise and the Kentucky waterfall only some of which were jokes. Warren Fahy is a novelist, but in the 90s he was freelance, writing and running a movie database in San Diego. He’d gone to high school with Grand Royals’ editor who got in touch about the project or, as Warren tells it, about the mission.
S16: Everyone from porn stars to Superman were sporting it suddenly, and masterstroke was to tag it with a word that would, you know, forever, hopefully abolish it from the human race.
S1: The editor asked Warren to write In ancient history of the mullet, a kind of anthropological satire. Warren agreed.
S16: Even though no one knew what a mullet was at the time, it was utterly, completely new and nobody had heard of it and everybody thought it was nuts to do it. What are you naming a hairstyle after a fish?
S1: What for the piece, he went up to Los Angeles to get a leather bound tome that he says had been permanently borrowed from the L.A. County Library system about the history of hairstyles going back to the Sumerians.
S16: I drove up to the Beastie Boys office. They had like a half court basketball court in their office while I was there might be actually came in. He had just gotten a wig on Hollywood Boulevard and went to a barbershop and got it cut into a mullet. And the barber, the barber was really upset about it. But he then drove around Hollywood Boulevard in a convertible and they did a photo shoot for the magazine with him wearing it.
S1: These photos would appear in a piece called I Was a 20 Something Mullet Head for a Day by Mike Diamond, a chronological account of Mike D and the director Spike Jones day in mullet wigs with this piece and all the rest, the Beasties were tapping into and crystallizing an already popular sentiment that this hairdo was over. If it had once been rebellious, it was increasingly conformist. If it had once been a way to signal you were an outsider, now, it was just a way to pose as one. Yes, it was still common, but it wasn’t cool. Tangentially, I think this may help explain one of the odder coincidences of all this, which is that in a period of two years, there were as many songs about this one hairstyle.
S6: Please recall that Swedish hockey herself from 1993.
S1: In 1993 and 1994, hockey hair was in a deeply transitional moment where it was popular and yet also played out, making it curious of note in a way it hadn’t been for years. And these songs they noticed. Anyway, getting back on track, if the Beasties didn’t originate the disdain for the mullet, they mainstreamed it and it’s new insulting name, but that doesn’t mean they came up with this name. As Katherine Connor Martin said, it’s totally plausible that the term mullet came from somewhere else, likely in the slang of some subculture somewhere on the English speaking globe. So now I want to turn back to the only subculture that had showed any promise, however piddling. I want to turn back to that lead we left dangling somewhere over Australia. I want to turn back to the elusive 1991 street machine.
S9: As far as we could tell, the only stone the dead had left unturned was Tops made himself the Reddit user who had originally posted the street machine pages. So we decided to reach out to him. We didn’t expect him to respond. We figured it was worth a try while we were waiting for him to get back to us.
S1: Benjamin Fresh, the producer of Decoder Ring, started digging around. First, he tried to find other places online tops mate hung out.
S9: But his only lead or the images that Topiramate had posted on Reddit, those images were all collected on the popular image hosting site called Imgur or Imager, depending on how you want to pronounce it, which allows you to click through everything someone has uploaded, then started clicking through tops made other image posts looking for something that might give him another username or an email address. And then he noticed that one post had been uploaded three years after the original Reddit post. According to imager, it has only been viewed about 300 times. And as far as we can tell, it has never been linked anywhere. Not on Reddit, not on Twitter. Oscar had never seen it. Katherine had never seen it.
S1: It had never popped up in any of the research we did for this piece. The name of the post is an apology to the Oxford English Dictionary. OK, so hi.
S5: So yeah. So I called Catherine back to tell her about it because I was like, read it to you. Yeah. Yeah. OK, so it’s from April 22nd, twenty eighteen. And it’s called an apology to the Oxford English Dictionary. And it is a few years ago I saw a post on Reddit about the origin of the word mullet. I photoshopped a nineteen ninety two magazine I had laying around to make it look like it referred to the term mullet before it was first used in print. I changed the cover to make it more difficult to trace as an issue in the archives and add more credence to my edits. I also edited the publication copyright date to nineteen ninety one, so it may have appeared as a special early edition. It says Why would I do this? I was a founding member of an online community called Anois Club, which looks for arguments on the Internet and then creates fake proofs as evidence that the person who is correct in the thread is actually wrong. We pick arguments that we have no personal stake in and involve no people we know. And for points we create images, photos, websites and interviews with false information supporting the incorrect side. Why am I admitting to this? I recently came across an entry in the OED own blog and it was a lot of work by OED staff behind the scenes trying to hunt down the special issue of the magazine. I Photoshop also dragged into it Westry Machine magazine staff and staff and multiple libraries in Australia. I think they should know I’m sorry for what I have done. I respect the OED, OED and I should not have published the edits that I did.
S17: Well, I have very mixed emotions hearing this. I mean, first of all, there is like. Validation that this always felt sort of hinky and the likelihood of it being real seemed vanishingly small. And I have to respect the game here because those things that he mentions, like changing the copyrights, would be hard. Like those were exactly the right things to do to keep that tiny shred of possibility alive, that this was real and and and it worked. But then also it’s kind of sad when a mystery ends.
S1: Catherine also pointed out another thing, that the whole thing is pretty dark. There’s an additional paragraph in the apology in which Topps Meat says he’s become disillusioned with a nightclub because it’s, quote, full of people whose only purpose in life is trolling vaccination supporters and U.S. political discussions. He goes on to say he almost died in the 80s from an infection for which there is now a vaccine. And he thinks that the political work is just empowering those who would prefer a confused populace. I want no part of the community anymore. Between 2015, when he posted the Photoshopped image and 2018 when he apologized, Topps meat, like so many people, seems to have been confronted with what it means to live in a post truth world when he was actively contributing to only to find out he didn’t like it that much. Still, he only saw fit to apologize in a hard to find image gallery that the people he was apologizing to might never have found. Is it really an apology if you don’t deliver it? Still, Catherine’s happy to have the whole thing resolved, so we this appeal.
S17: We wondered about this question, does the word mullet go back as far as our brains think it does or only as far as the documented evidence shows? And I guess from our perspective that that’s still not answered. But we’re always open for new, fresh new data at this point.
S5: I’m just like you are open to new data, but like I just feel like you guys got it.
S17: We we never say never in in this business. They’re always there are always new things that come up. But yes, I don’t think this is active anymore.
S1: I want to gently suggest there was something going on to keep it active for so long, something besides lexicographical plausibility. Call it a bit of mullet confirmation bias because it feels so much like the term to have existed before 1994. The OED put out this appeal and then when evidence of it existing before 1994 popped up, it was taken seriously, really seriously, and then ultimately, perhaps more seriously than it deserved, like multiple librarians, more seriously than it deserved. And so many people in this tale behaved this way. Reddit readers, librarians, street machine editors and readers, definitely me. We all kept digging because we couldn’t quite believe what we thought we knew was true, wasn’t true. One thing I noticed is that many of the people most devoted to the idea that the term mullet existed in the 1980s, Catherine Oscar Reddit commenters me again weren’t even fully sentient in the nineteen eighties. It wasn’t personal experience or individual memory that was driving our certainty. It was just a cliched sense of the era, which was all we had to go on in this regard. The mullet is a fun, low stakes iteration of something that is often not fun or low stakes at all. People’s warped but strongly held perceptions of the imagined past and the lengths they will go to hold onto them. So we’ve almost fully excavated the mullet, but there’s a little more to this mystery, if the term mullet wasn’t coined in Australian car culture, who actually coined it to the Beastie Boys, pluck it out of thin air, or did they get it from somewhere else? Honestly, seems like they plucked it.
S16: It was definitely coined by Mike Dee of the Beastie Boys, Warren Fahey, the writer who contributed to the Grand Royal Mullet package, again, who had noticed that this hairstyle was was impinging on civilization to a monstrous degree at that point in time. And he came up with the word mullet and said, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to devote an issue to making that word stick. So it was all quite intentional and completely planned by super genius Mike Dee.
S1: Now, obviously, I would have liked to ask my dad about this. Still would. If anyone has an in please consider this my public appeal. But he declined to speak with us. But Warren is adamant Mike Dee coined the term and the Grandville piece itself suggests everyone working on it at the time thought so, too. The article says, we’re not sure where the term mullet came from, but as usual, Mike Dee was the first to use it around here. If that implies he might have gotten it from somewhere else, the possibilities listed for where he might have gotten it, maybe he was thinking of a muskrat, for example. Don’t suggest he was borrowing slang from a buddy. Still, Mike was the most involved with the magazine, maybe the staff just hadn’t talked Mullet’s with the other members. When I ran the theory that Mike D had coined the term by the Beastie Boys publicist, a man named Steve Martin, who has known them forever and did the real life interview with a mullet head for the Grand Royal Mullet package, he’d never heard that it came specifically from Mike D. Steve said he first heard the term from Adam Yauch, likely in the early planning stages for this piece. He asked him if it had anything to do with a fish and Adam said no, whatever Beastie came up with it. The timeline supports the theory that one of them birthed it outright. I explained this all to Katherine. This is just folie like too much detail. But one of the things that is also interesting is that song Mullet Head.
S5: Like it was a deep B side, like it was originally released in nineteen ninety four in June and like an additional track on the single for the third single off communication, which is to say it’s not an album track, but it actually also makes more sense of the grand royal piece because it’s like this song came out in mid nineteen ninety four, but it would have like only been four Beastie Boy heads or people who’d bought that single.
S17: That’s such an important part of slang too. So like the appeal of slang when it comes out is that it’s, it’s an indicator of, it’s a like of ingroup ID. So like the exclusivity is what makes it tantalizing.
S5: The other thing that is sort of interesting about just date wise is that Grand Royals’, the issue that has this article about the mullet, which is so much more detailed than the song, is a yearly. So it came out in nineteen ninety five, but it’s like famously a like oh look at the publication process was way longer than it was supposed to be. Yes. And so that actually means it probably had been originally conceived in time to come out with the album which came out in mid nineteen ninety four.
S17: But then your time this up to the to make it so like seeming like very straightforward. Well done. You solved the mystery. Well you had already solved that. That’s the joke. Wasn’t a mystery at all. We just thought it was a mystery. It wasn’t a mystery.
S1: Please bear with me while I suggest there is a real mystery left, that’s answer also has to do with the Beastie Boys and it’s why do we think the mullet is so hideous? Because we do. I want to go back to something that Lauren. Right.
S4: The woman with a mullet who I spoke with at the top of the show said, you know, the mullet has been deemed like traditionally very unattractive and ugly.
S9: But for decades, as we have seen, the mullet was not thought to be unattractive and ugly at all. What happened? I think part of the answer is the term itself. When the Beasties were clowning on it, the mullet was reaching the end of its natural life cycle, so everywhere so mass that hip urbanites like the Beasties were sneering at it. But that’s not unique. This fate awaits most trends. Most styles seem unstylish as they’re falling out of style. But that’s not when most of them get their names. We don’t call bell bottoms, pizza pans. But this is exactly what happened to the mullet is a crazy to think that matters. If the Beastie Boys hadn’t named the mullet, doesn’t it seem entirely possible that we wouldn’t remember it so clearly some random hairdo with no agreed upon name and if the name changed that we see it and when we see it, couldn’t it also have changed how we see it?
S8: Maybe one of the ways this term retrofitted the past is to make us primarily associate this hairstyle with the objects of the Beasties ire. Cheesy white guys still rocking it in 1994 and not think of it as what it had been for years. A surprisingly pann gender pann racial global haircut, but had a really good run whose time was just up the mullet. The term blotted out the mullet, the hairstyle, which despite everything meant and continues to mean many different things to different groups of people. What I’m saying is maybe the solution to this last mystery, why is the mullet so ugly? Is that it isn’t really at all for the people that really get it. Appreciate it. It’s a powerful thing to have. This is Decoder Ring, I’m Willa Paskin, you could find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin, and if you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, you can email us at Decoder Ring, at Slate Dotcom. You haven’t yet subscribe and read our Feed and Apple podcast or ever you get your podcasts and even better, tell your friends. This podcast was written by Willa Paskin. It was edited by Benjamin. Fresh Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Fresh. Cleo Levin is our research assistant, thanks to Barney Hoskins, Jerry Slater, Daniel L. Schachter, Alicia Montgomery, June Thomas, Forrest Wickman and everyone else who gave us health and feedback along the way. See you in late September. Have a great rest of your summer.