Matt Morris’ short documentary above, Pickin’ & Trimmin’ has screened at more than 60 film festivals around the world, won numerous awards, and recently received a Midsouth Emmy nomination. It’s really a tremendous little film. Give it a watch.
Mr. Morris also sent this commentary about the barbershop and men that inspired the film.
A Life Well Lived: Lessons from The Barbershop
It was about 8:30 a.m. when a Harley Davidson rumbled down the empty Main Street in the small town of Drexel, NC. It pulled up to the barbershop that sits at the end of a row of abandoned storefronts. The biker cut the ignition, hit the kickstand and used some momentum to dismount his hog. When he removed his helmet, I was surprised to see the rider was a man in his 80’s. This was the first time I met Lawrence Anthony, lead barber at the shop. As he retrieved his walking cane from the custom leather strap that held it on his Harley, he pointed out his 737 TANK vanity plate. It commemorated his time in General Patton’s 3rd Army during World War II. Clearly, I’d just met one of the manliest men on earth.
I was 24 years old, an aspiring filmmaker looking for a good subject for a film. I’d heard about a unique barbershop in the Blue Ridge mountains and decided to check it out. Even though I was a perfect stranger, Lawrence welcomed me like an old friend. Straight away, he introduced me to his partner, David Shirley. Lawrence had been barbering at that shop for 59 years, and David had been with him for the last 42.
Stepping into The Barbershop is like stepping back in time. Women are welcome, but it’s a man’s world. The place is packed with sofas and chairs where men eat peanuts and tell stories while they wait for a cut and a shave. The real magic happens a few hours later, when men start showing up in the back room of the shop carrying mandolins, guitars, banjos, fiddles, and even a huge upright bass. As David says, they hang around, joke, trade knives, settle our world problems, and then get to playing music if and when they want to.
Once the jam session starts, there’s no stopping it. For 4 hours, I sat and listened to some of the best bluegrass music I’d ever heard. David wandered over to me with a twinkle in his eye. He knew that I’d never seen anything like this before.
Anyone who visits the shop will know that David is the resident philosopher. We sat and talked about the vanishing small town atmosphere in America. David shared his belief that at The Barbershop, or any gathering place, everyone should be welcome- “democrats, republicans, indian chiefs, town drunks, people who’ve got a million and people who owe a million.” The Shop is a place for fellowship and good fun, and no amount of money can buy that if you’re not happy. What struck me most about Lawrence, David, and everyone else at the shop was how happy they were. When I was their age, I wanted to be that happy.
If you told most young men that they’d spend the next sixty years cutting hair at the same barbershop in the same tiny town for no more than $8 a cut, they’d probably consider it a death sentence. We’re programmed to be competitive, to strive for money, success, and fame. I wanted to be a filmmaker. It’s what I loved to do. But most people considered it an unrealistic profession. It’s too risky. What was my back up plan?
I learned from The Barbershop that if you want to live a life well lived, there is no back up plan. Be a good person. Have fun. When you find out what you love to do, do it for the rest of your life, regardless of pay or prestige. Lawrence told me he hadn’t retired because he “didn’t know how,” but I knew better. Working at the shop was just too much fun.