The Bookworm: ‘Twisted’ Gets Pretty Tangled

“Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles” by Bert Ashe
c.2015, Agate $15 250 pages

The path to something important is never straight. You may take that first step forward … then backward, decide one way, then another, changing your mind like you change clothes.

Knowing your desires will eventually get you there, yes, but you might flirt with the idea awhile before you take the leap.

For author Bert Ashe, a new look on his head sat in his head for years. In his new book “Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles,” he explains.

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Who invented dreadlocks? That question was on Ashe’s mind when he pondered, once again, the idea of growing out his hair. Humans began adorning their bodies and shearing their hair some 5,000 years ago – so, he thought, maybe 1998 was the year to take the leap with a new ’do.

Ashe had grown up in Los Angeles, on a street that was filled with residents of many backgrounds. He never gave much thought to his own culture until he went away to school and realized that he’d been “cocooned.” He began to expand.

That was in the ’80s, and a Jamaican girlfriend talked him out of having dreadlocks. Since he wasn’t Rastafarian, she claimed, growing dreads was an insult, so Ashe tabled that idea.

Every now and again, he got the urge to try dreads but didn’t: the timing was wrong or his job was new or it just didn’t seem like a good idea. He never was all that into reggae – was that a prerequisite? Was it as easy as not combing his hair anymore? Having cut his own hair for years, Ashe decided to quietly find out.

That was in early March of 1998 and, within days, his wife noticed that he was growing his hair. His children saw, too, and were less than thrilled. Even his parents were taken aback, but Ashe stayed the course.

Having dreads took time, he learned, and it wasn’t cheap; it wasn’t easy, either, since he could neither shampoo his hair nor touch his head for weeks, which became a challenge.

“I loved dreadlocks long before I wore them,” he says. And once he wore them, he was surprised to learn that he loved them even more.

In his introduction, the author says that this memoir of hair “is not linear, cannot be linear…”

That’s a pretty big understatement: for the first couple dozen pages, “Twisted” rambles quite a bit. Once you’re used to that, however, the stream-of-consciousness feel fades and Ashe’s thoughts eventually coalesce into somewhat of a meditation on Black history and Black hair.

As his mane grows and twists, Ashe does likewise with his tales, with his thoughts, and, delightfully, with the process of the style, the reasons why he waited to grow his dreads, and why (at the time of the writing) he’s kept them.

Students of culture and people-watching readers will enjoy this book, I think, as will anyone who’s pondered a change of pace. Be aware, again, that it may take perseverance: though it ends well, in its beginning, “Twisted” is exactly that.
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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.

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