Giraffes in My Hair
written by Bruce Paley and Carol Swain
In this, the 40th year after Woodstock, there are so many recollections of the 1960s—the drugs, the music, the hair, the freedom and rebellion—that you can hardly be blamed for feeling you’ve had enough. Bruce Paley’s memoir, which is illustrated by his partner, Carol Swain, is unique, though, and soon after you pick it up, those shackles that had been raised will be lowered and you will find yourself disarmed by Paley’s simple stories and honest recollections. At least, that’s how it was for me—or perhaps I have been just too jaded about stories about the ’60s.
Either way, Giraffes in My Hair is unexpected. The book is really a collection of short vignettes of Paley’s life, beginning in 1967, when he was 18. Finding himself in love, or at least infatuated, with a young girl whose mother disapproves of their having sex, he convinces her to hitchhike their way across the U.S.A., going from New York to California. Their journey actually ends in the middle, when she chickens out and stays with family while he continues on. Young love that doesn’t last—the story is universal. The unsentimental approach to it is not.
Paley’s stories about his younger days were, it seems, all written when he was still a young man, still fresh in perspective and sometimes wistful from the experience. In regards to Paley’s life, apparently the book is the thing—and the only thing. You won’t find any other information on him here, no notes on what else he’s done, no background to help you understand why you should know or care about Bruce Paley in any way. Does he even exist? You won’t find any proof of it here, other than the meticulously crafted memoir that unfolds before your eyes. Perhaps it’s better that way; the book isn’t about star power. It’s about the experiences of the ’60s and, later, the ’70s, and both decades are presented in all their freewheeling, debauchery-laden glory. If we learned anything about those decades it’s that it isn’t right to judge how anyone made it through them. Just give them the credit they deserve for surviving.
Whatever the case may be, Giraffes in My Hair is a pleasure to read. The insights are genuine and the humanity is quite bare. Once I started reading, I didn’t stop until the book was over. This survivor’s tales were well worth the journey, once again, through two well-trodden decades.