“I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka-dotted, twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered, and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!”
During the beginning of the pandemic, I kept seeing stories and posts about celebs doing their own hair-stylings and pink dye jobs. “What the heck,” I thought. Who needs a lockdown for that? I’d subjected my hair to my own immediate-gratification-seeking changes for half a lifetime — with only a mirror and scissors for incentive.
Sometimes I might eliminate an unruly problem with one swift cut. Other times I might hack off an innocent ponytail, right where the scrunchie ends. Into the trash, a year’s worth of growth. And there’s always the dye option: Some of us are Manic Panic enthusiasts dating all the way back to the 70’s — plenty of temporary crazy colors to keep boredom away.
Most of the time it’s worked out. Other times, I’ve been responsible for my own bad hair days. Or weeks.
From the minute I started playing rock n’ roll in bands as a teen in Austin, the holy grail was finding someone who could give the essential haircut: a Keith Richards shag, a jagged Bowie, or the perfect Rod Stewart rooster. I got my own shag early on and got used to getting “great hair” compliments from friends, strangers and stylists. Who doesn’t want to hear that? But what I didn’t realize was how profoundly hair underwrites and forges destiny.
Yes, I really think that. Hear me out.
The most pivotal point of my life began with a drastic hair makeover in 2001. New decade, new hair. Too impatient to wait for my choppy short locks to grow out, I paid for some long wavy extensions. Instantly I transformed into a sultry, feminine brunette bombshell. My future ex-husband, a handsome lawyer, found this version of me approachable. It’s doubtful he would have asked the tough little rocker chick of the previous year on a date. I was the same person, but my new look attracted the man who made me a wife and mother.
Having entered my sixth decade, I frequently reflect upon the crossroads of my life. A sudden swerve, this way or that way, an innocuous choice here and there — each judgment and every decision re-routing our direction and possibly our destination. Maybe God is just a cosmic Waze app, constantly readjusting to our self-designed detours. One of my favorite musings goes like this: What if, at the peak of the Go-Go’s success, I’d had long, maidenly hair instead of short, gravity defying red hair? Here’s what: Different relationships with different men. Different perceptions from the public. Most likely, different career options or opportunities.
I ponder the ripple effects of those altered aspects, on my behavior or courses of action. Other fundamentals might be the same: friends, talent, characteristics. But outcomes? Indisputably.
There’s nothing I’d change. And yet, it seems bizarre that something as seemingly superficial as a hairstyle could’ve dramatically changed how my life has played out.
If my own hair and life journey were so interconnected, I also like to wonder…how might this same theory manifest in other people’s lives? I thought about all the musicians and bands whose hair came to mind as quickly as their music. I could rest my case with the Beatles and the Ramones — but there’s so many other shining, shaggy, spiky examples. Starting with Elvis. Millions of swoons would be lost forever if there’d been a receding hairline above that sneering lip and swiveling hips.
Throwing back to the classic rock era, many of us recall how the cherubic curls of Led Zep’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page offset rumors of their demonic debauchery. How about Brian Jones? His blonde pageboy was probably the first wedge of separation between him and his brown-haired Rolling Stones band mates. Spoiler if you don’t know: It didn’t end well for him.
As for women, Debbie Harry’s hair personified Blondie and gave the band a great name. The tough mystique of Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders was in large part to not seeing her eyes behind those long bangs. From Sinead O’ Connor’s defiantly bald head to Billie Eilish’ day-glo roots, hair, or even no hair, illuminates the attitude the artist wants to align her music with. Just imagine, if you will, Joan Jett with “Karen” hair singing “I Love Rock n’ Roll.” Epic fail.
The divas are prime cases: entire sexualized careers have been glued, braided and taped to a sad reality of struggling, limp locks. Hair extensions are second only to auto-tune for having launched more stars than any record label or TV talent show could ever hope for.
Now. Think of the countless “regular guy” hair that defines artists from the Replacements to Springsteen. No one’s gonna buy their vibe with the wrong hair. Switch Bon Jovi and Bruce’s hair and you have obscurity. Whereas, you can flip the songs and each of those guys probably would have still had a hit. Really. Springsteen singing Living on a Prayer and Bon Jovi doing Born to Run would have worked just fine. But a hair switch? No way. And wasn’t Kurt Cobain’s whole deal intensified and affirmed by his unwashed-looking stringy hair hanging in his eyes? If he’d had a buzz cut or some goofy Willie Nelson braids, we would’ve never heard of Nirvana.
I could go on, but you get my point.
When I got sober in 1989 my life turned inside-out. I wanted a new appearance to go with the new me. The genesis of quick makeovers led me to go where I’d never gone before: Blonde. Not honey blonde or golden blonde or ash blonde, but a blinding, platinum blonde. Soon after entering this state of blondeness, one night for some undetermined reason, I put on a tight lycra red dress that I’d bought on a pathetic Marshall’s shopping spree and went out on the town. All I can say is this: if blondes are having more fun, we’ve got a major discrepancy in our versions of what fun is. I went instantly from being a real, live human to being an exotic sports car that people — well, let’s be specific here — men, felt entitled to gawk at with a primordial lizard brain intention.
(The red dress went straight in the Goodwill pile, but I kept the blonde ’til it was time for the next change.)
Another chapter in my hair chronicles should be mentioned. During the course of one unpleasant year, I got divorces from both my husband and my band. On top of that, I had to move houses. A lot of disruption. In a span of months, my hair changed six times. The dark brunette became a maple syrup amber, and then lightened further to a strawberry blonde. After a few too many cups of coffee one morning, I grabbed some scissors and, presto: crooked bangs. A few weeks later, in a fit of weird triumph and anger, the remaining hair got the same crooked hacked off treatment. I followed that up with a deep mahogany red dye job. Then I forced a new side part into submission with a bobby pin.
In retrospect, I can see clearly that when unseen forces were shoving me places that I hadn’t chosen, there was one thing I did have control over: My hair.
I’m 61 this year. One of the joys of aging is hair loss. I try to take it in stride and be happy with what I have left and be grateful I had decades of luscious locks. Even worse, if I let my hair do what it’s biologically programmed to do, it would now be a color that lies somewhere in the brittle grey/possum brown spectrum. Not ready for that. Not yet. I’m a divorcee, a mom, a writer. I’m still a rock and roller, even as I muddle through a past-middle-age reinvention of my life.
This is where I am and I like figuring out ways I can make my hair reflect and complement the way I see myself and the way I want to be seen. I’ll do this for as long as I can get away with it. Most likely, brand new hair experiments in frosty, shiny, silver and snowy white await. I’ve seen it done and I’m taking notes. Most likely, I will be plugging in my guitar in my mid-70’s wondering where I might have ended up if I’d only kept it short and red. Or long and brown. Or sleek and black…