From Hair to Eternity


“Can we get rid of all this?” asks Fredrick Hodges of Mingus Salon on La Guardia Place, wadding up a clump of my weirdly cut and tragically highlighted hair. After 25 years, the man has an eye for what to cut and what to keep. But his ability to dispense healing, aesthetic and otherwise, is informed by something deeper. Hodges, former tap dancer and gospel singer, ex­drug addict and incest survivor, is four years into a degree in pastoral counseling. “Your church is wherever you are,” he says. “It’s what you do every day.”

Village Voice: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Fred Hodges: I sang, I drew, I tap-danced. I wanted to be a star, basically. Fortunately, I had teachers who knew I was unique early on, from reading scores or whatever, and they told my parents and really encouraged me. I also knew I was gay, not that I knew what that meant, but to my parents’ credit, they just let me be. Typical story: they’d be sitting downstairs watching Ed Sullivan and they’d hear this “click, click, click” and know I was upstairs in my mother’s high heels, doing the catwalk. When I was five, I made a fashion magazine for my mother, which I gave her along with a couple of quarters to get herself a fur coat. But when I thought about music as a career, my mother was the one who pointed me back to something more practical. We were really poor, and there was a lot of shame attached to that. Music just wasn’t something people in our family did, so my mother planted it in my head that I’d be a haircutter. Hell, at seven, I already had a standing appointment to do my grandmother’s hair. I had a music scholarship, which at least got me out of town; when that ran out it was cut hair or starve. I was a success right off, but there was still this sense of shame. Then I moved to New York, where I became a bigger success and a raging drug addict.

Where does the spirituality come in? I was sexually abused as a child, and I had a child’s fervent need to believe in something, since I couldn’t confide in anyone else. I turned away when I got older, but I never lost it completely. It just took a while before I was ready to sober up and do the work. I was in San Francisco, studying at a psychoanalytic institute. At the same time, I was involved in this great church out there, Glide Memorial, where I was in the gospel choir. I ended up doing outreach with the homeless through them. I wanted the spiritual side, but I really needed it to have a practical application.

What’s happening now? I don’t know if I’ll finish the degree. My mother’s terminally ill; I’ll see how I feel when there’s less going on. It’s not like the training turned me into a new person but it did strengthen what was already there, and I guess it still suits some oddly practical side of me that I can combine the two. I cut hair at a nursing home three days a week, and while, yeah, it’s definitely work, it’s very spiritual. Some of the people there, it’s amazing how at peace they are.

What comforts you? I’ve had so much loss in my life. I’ve lost all of my close friends to AIDS. I held my best friend in my arms when he died, and now my mother is dying. I was so angry at her for so long for looking the other way when I was being abused, for never apologizing. But loss and acceptance are part of life. At least I did achieve a healed relationship with her, and nothing can take that away.