Ken Burns has changed his haircut. He didn’t announce this change as part of a promotion for a documentary series about trends in American hairstyles since the 18th century. Nor did he make a big deal at all about the fact, seismic to those of us who assumed Burns was perfectly content never to abandon his traditional mop, that he switched things up at all. While he may be content to spend time discussing far less important things, like his and co-director Lynn Novick’s upcoming Ernest Hemingway series or many other excellent documentaries, GQ understands that none of us are going to be able to concentrate on history lessons until we know more about the filmmaker’s new ’do.
In an interview almost exclusively about Burns’ hair, we learn that the man’s well-known, bowl cut-adjacent style is the result of him loyally heading to the same hairdresser since 1975. Even as this hairdresser moved, Burns kept going to her. When she retired, he started getting trims at her home. He attributes his nearly half century of consistent, Beatles-esque cuts to the fact that he had his hair styled that way when his mother died and that the next time he went to the barbershop, after years of letting his hair grow out as a teenager and young adult, he wanted to keep the same look he had during such a monumental moment in his life.
His new, longer hair is the result of COVID-19, as you might have guessed. Burns has only had one cut in the last year and, after getting used to having a bare forehead “for the first time since the late ’60s,” he decided to stay the long-haired course. The reception, as tweets commenting on his appearances over the last few months have shown, is pretty positive.
When asked if he plans to keep the new style, Burns says he’ll “see what happens when things open up and we get back in the world,” but that he’s “not sure I can go back to John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Ken.” Unlike so many other changes we’ve been forced to grapple with over the last year, Burns’ new look is one we can accept. Hopefully he agrees, continuing to share his forehead with us for years to come.
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