Years ago, before he was dead, I interviewed Kurt Cobain for a French girl's punk rock fanzine. I found a copy of it the other day and it's probably the worst Nirvana interview - ever. But I did get a couple of things out of it.
The first was the $300 a dodgy friend who worked for a dodgy record company gave me for the tape (they sold thousands of "interview discs" in Japan, apparently), the second was the shock of my life. Cobain - who was still alive at this point - looked very, very strange.
It might have been the jet lag, it could have been the head cold he appeared to be suffering from, but it was more probably the makeup. It took me a while to work it out but he was wearing makeup. Eyeliner. I was a young man then, fresh from the country, not that attuned to the ways of the big city and I was shocked. But I wouldn't be now, though. Everyone's doing it.
Makeup for men is big business - and it's getting bigger. According to a report in The Daily Beast, Americans spent more than $5 billion on grooming products in 2012 - and that figure's doubled since 1997. And as the report points out, it's not all shaving cream and anti-perspirant. More than half of that $5 billion is being spent on skincare and cosmetics. Like I said - makeup for men is big business.
The picture is the same for Australia. According to a similar report on trends down here from market data firm Euromonitor International: "Men are increasingly comfortable shopping for grooming products, ranging from basic shaving products and deodorants to more sophisticated products such as anti-wrinkle and skin regeneration products. Some of the grooming products which are growing in men's grooming, mirror those of their female counterparts. These products are centred on specific parts of the body, such as eyes and lips."
But you won't find it called makeup. Oh no.
Most men won't admit to wearing makeup but they're happy to borrow from girlfriends, try and maybe buy for themselves the following: "pore blurrers", "skin primers", "BB creams" (that's "blemish balms"), "self tanners" or "tinted moisturisers" - all of which are classified by women's magazines as "foundations". They're all makeup but, as far as men are concerned they aren't - so that's OK, then. One young man we know was told by a girlfriend to have a go with a pore refiner from Benefit - a groovy San Francisco label. He loved it and now uses it all the time and, he says, "no one ever knows".
These days skincare products (think: moisturisers) can be tinted providing subtle colour and coverage. They can make pores look smaller, lines less liney and blackheads virtually disappear. And, guess what guys, it's not makeup. The technology is such that many men's skincare products come tinted so you look better rather than worse for wear after a night out.
Whenever there's stories about makeup and men there are comments such as these: "I'm in my early 30s and find a little concealer is always useful to hide those bags under the eyes after a big night." Or this: "Most guys I know who wear makeup do so to hide bad skin."
But there's more of them like this: "It is a disgrace"; "Just when I thought our culture could sink no lower, this bit of news comes along". And the classic: "Australian men, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves."
Well, I think that's what many Australian men are doing - having a good, long look in the mirror and finding they like what they see - but like it a whole lot more with a little dab of this and a little splash of that.