In the tribe of the mohawk people, Chuck Mosely is the great elder.

The Cleveland resident and rock musician has rocked the ubiquitous hairstyle since 1980 -- so long that it has become part of his being.

And so long that the hair is really long: The strip of dreads in the middle of his head measures more than a foot in length and they rope down his face when they aren't pulled up in pink and blue scrunchies.

"I was reading this book on primitive cultures," said Mosely, a Los Angeles native who moved to Cleveland in 1996. "And it inspired me to do something totally different with my hair -- something that'll make me stand out."

Uh, it worked.

His friends started hailing him as "The Chief." Others preferred "Mohawk." His Hispanic friends would call him "Senior T" -- after Mr. T, who made the mohawk famous in the 1982 flick "Rocky III."

When his band Faith No More rocked the national charts in the late '80s, Mosely's mohawk was adored by thousands of fans, including some who got one to be like him.

Nonfans just gave him weird looks.

"I'd get on the bus, and people would stop talking and just stare at me," he said. "I did it before it became fashionable or acceptable."

Fashionable, yes. The 'do has spiked in popularity; everyone from Samuel Jackson to Angelina Jolie's adopted son, Maddox, has rocked it.

Even Cleveland Cavaliers announcer Fred McLeod has accepted a dare by team owner Dan Gilbert to get a mohawk if the Cavs win it all this year.

But acceptable?

Last month, 6-year-old Bryan Ruda was suspended from Ohio's Parma Community School for wearing a mohawk. The board of Constellation Community Schools, which oversees the charter school, contended that the mohawk violates the dress code because it was "disruptive or offensive to the conduct of education."

The trouble started when Ruda received a bit too much attention from the other kids.

The stir for the mohawk comes not just from its look, but also from its colorful past. Long associated with American Indian tribes, the mohawk was made notorious by social misfits in the 1970s.

Chief among them was Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver," who got one when he decided to assassinate a presidential candidate.

Punk rockers such as Wendy O. Williams followed suit, adopting the haircut to match her confrontational image. British bands such as GBH and the Exploited made it look even wilder: They not only dyed their mohawks, but also used egg whites, shoe polish and hair gel to create footlong spikes.

By the mid-'80s, Joe Strummer of the Clash and Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow made the mohawk stylish.

David Beckham made it mainstream. The soccer star is credited with popularizing the "fauxhawk," which involves gelling the hair in the middle of the head upward.

Maddox Jolie made it kid-friendly when he got one in 2005. Last year, "American Idol" contestant Sanjaya Malakar made the mohawk, well, uh, something.

But the stigma remains, as Mosely's 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, can attest.

"When my dad comes to school, the kids just stare and laugh at him," she said. "It's kind of embarrassing sometimes."

"Getting a mohawk is like saying [screw you]," said her father. "You're telling people, 'I'm not like you' and that you're confident, that you don't care what people think."

Damon Jones is never embarrassed. The Cleveland Cavalier got his mohawk in January to stick out from the crowd.

"I get a lot of attention from it," he said. "I never envisioned that it would be this big -- I'm impressed that a lot of kids are now adopting the mohawk.

"My teammates have been on my behind to cut it off," Jones said. "I think some of the guys are just envious; you have to be handsome to pull off a mohawk."

Jones has seen a spike in his stats since getting his 'do. But the hair has nothing to do with it, he said.

"It isn't the mohawk," he said. "I've always been confident."

He acknowledges a spike in compliments from the ladies, though.

"Why do you think I got it?" he said. "My mohawk is classy."