Isaac Hayes and Posters on the Wall

I’ve just written a piece for an anthology on “the Black Body” where I described the posters of The Who, Queen and Led Zeppelin on my childhood walls in Irvine, CA. But today I was thinking of Isaac Hayes and stumbled across this picture and remembered it hanging on my wall at some point. I’m pretty sure it was pre-‘burbs. But it was nice to remember that there was a time when black men held my imagination in the same way that curly-headed white men did in my childhood imagination.

Isaac Hayes as Black Moses

A few years ago, I rediscovered the Black Moses album. I don’t know what drew me back to Isaac Hayes. My father and I share the middle name “Hayes,” so I guess he was never too far away… The story I always heard was that Pops was named after Roland Hayes, the great tenor who’d stayed with our family in Mississippi when there were no hotels for blacks. But after reading the Black Moses disc liner notes, I determined that Isaac Hayes had to be my uncle. Dad and Isaac both had a mother named Eula and the father was a wandering sort in the same Tennessee and Mississippi area. More than that, when I was a kid I always thought my dad had a lot of Isaac in him. Maybe it was because he’d mouth the words along with Shaft or something like that. Dad was definitely that cool, fashionable, player. But my head was completely screwed up by Isaac Hayes’ Penthouse magazine layout that I found in my dad’s stash.

I think what I like most about this photo is that is seems so organic. Isaac Hayes was known for his sexy bald head, muscles and precious metals. But here he’s in wool and cotton, his arms are open for embrace, he’s looking towards heaven beneath those shades. Sure it could be just a jokey, almost blasphemous visual pun. But as a kid that was the sort of image I wanted of my dad, not the flash, but the open, loving spirit. They were both imperfect men, and the flash out-shined some of the substance. But both Isaac and my pops inspired me to open my arms to embrace the large universe they showed me, a universe that transcended the humble beginnings of sons of a Eula with wandering fathers.

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