“Hairdresser would you set me up?/Make a little wave or two/Make me into something new/Cause I am so blue/I’ll give you a chance/Cause I wanna dance/And if you really would/It would be understood/I’ll make sure I tip you good!”
Stairway To Stardom, which ran on Staten Island local cable for 15 years starting in the late-1970s, was the spiritual antecedent to American Idol and Star Search before it. One of the primary differences was that Stairway to Stardom wasn’t actually a competition as much as an exhibition of some of the most curious talent of its era. While some promising performers did appear on the program, they are of much less interest to me than the other kind, the ones who had more spirit than actual ability. Perhaps no single person exemplifies this latter designation more remarkably than a woman named Lucille Cataldo. Truth be told, in her own way she has given me as much pleasure over the years as other, better singers.
Cataldo actually appeared on the program two times, and a comparison of the two performances is, at least for me, a rewarding investment of time. The first guest shot, in 1982, features Cataldo’s urgent, playful rendition of “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do),” Christopher Cross’ number one hit that won the Oscar for Best Song. (Interesting factoid: four writers were credited on the song: legend Burt Bacharach; then-wife Carole Bayer Sager; Cross; and the late, great Peter Allen, who only contributed the line “if you get caught between the moon and New York City.” I guess if you were going to write just one line of “Arthur’s Theme,” even though it sort of makes no sense, that would be the one the one to write.)
For her “Arthur’s Theme” appearance, Lucille wears a simple blue dress that evokes nothing as much as your prim third grade teacher. Her vocal approach is at first a bit tentative, though she loosens up a bit toward the end, giving the song a reasonably satisfying finish. Note the interesting contribution of the drummer, with whom I’m fascinated, and hang on for Frank’s incisive interview on the back-end. After the jump, we’ll get the root with “Hairdresser.”
“Cut my hair it won’t behave/Set it up with gel in a wave/One or two ringlets/Keep the top a little wet/ Hey, don’t get so upset!/I think something’s wrong/You’re taking much too long/Are you sure this piece looks great?/I’m worried, I’m tired, I’m late!”
Regarding guest shot number two, the uninitiated viewer would never suspect that the “Arthur’s Theme” Lucille Cataldo actually had a “Hairdresser” Lucille Cataldo inside her, yet there she was, just two years later, dazzling and altogether reinvented. Who was this new Lucille? Gone is the nautical schoolmarm get-up, replaced by a black synthetic jump suit that screamed “danger” before Lucille, now a video vixen, even opened her mouth. Then there was the song itself: “Hairdresser”/”Tease-a Louise”—really a medley—are self-penned songs and, believe it or not, sincerely about her hairdresser. The four and half minute chop opera explores the complex relationship between cosmetologist and client and gives new meaning to “video clip.” It’s all here: personal transformation, depression, envy, remuneration, and the unique push/pull one experiences when they unwisely believe that a mere haircut can change how they feel on the inside.
Then there is the sonic whiplash of Lucille’s live vocal sung over an identical pre-recorded track, which is both disorienting and as hypnotic as a car crash. By the time Lucille starts singing about “teasing it up” and begins her segue into the swinging “Tease-a Louise,” we know her little story about the search for personal redemption through a make-over cannot end well. Lucille simply wants too much from a haircut. Yes, we’ve all been there—which is what makes this so intense—but no matter how much the hairdresser “sets us up” and “leaves the front a little wet,” we still have to deal with who we were before we sat down in the chair.
The very notion that Cataldo would even think of turning the need for personal reinvention into a nearly five minute dance song set against a cheesy synth-beat, is really quite brave. Though Madonna may have addressed the same issues in “Express Yourself,” it clearly did not occur to her to combine the idea with a visit to the beauty parlor. Here then, is Lucille Cataldo’s “Hairdresser.”
More Stairway to Stardom Redux: