Juliana Hatfield is a singer, songwriter and guitar player. She began her music career in the late 1980s in Boston with the Blake Babies. Since then she has released approximately fifteen solo albums and been involved with numerous other groups including the Lemonheads, Some Girls (with Freda Love Smith) and MInor Alps (with Matthew Caws from Nada Surf). Her latest project is a collaboration with Paul Westerberg called the I Don’t Cares. Their debut album, Wild Stab, came out in early 2016. Hatfield’s new album, Pussycat, will be released on April 28, 2017.
(Photo credit: Brad Walsh)
Juliana Hatfield and I were bandmates in the Boston indie-rock band Blake Babies. This year marks the 30-year anniversary of our music video for the song “Out There,” which featured us shaving our heads on camera.
In early 2020, my band Sunshine Boys supported Juliana for a few shows on her US tour, and during a backstage chat we discovered we were both sick of dyeing our hair to hide the grey, and had both been thinking about chopping it all off to let nature take its course. Months later, during COVID-19 lockdown, we decided to take the leap together again, making a tidy bookend with the “Out There” video shoot 30 years earlier.
This is an edited transcript of our email exchange as we reflect on now and then, going grey, and growing older.
Freda Love Smith: I just rewatched the “Out There” video for the first time in a long time. That was THIRTY years ago.
I can’t remember — whose idea was it that we cut our hair? Why did we do that?
Juliana Hatfield: I think that was my idea. I wanted us to do something interesting that would make people take notice. Taking scissors to our own hair seemed kind of punk, and I thought it would show that we had guts and integrity, and weren’t selling out. I wasn’t exactly sure of all the motivations or reasons but it felt like a good thing to do.
Freda: I can’t imagine a more perfect expression of our earnestness and commitment. It was punk! Especially for you. It wasn’t as big a deal for John, a dude. My hair was already short and people sometimes mistook me for a guy behind the drums. But you were the front person of the band and under close scrutiny. What was it like for you after the video, moving through the world with a shorn head? Did you feel sad or self-conscious?
I did, sometimes. We played a gig in San Francisco soon after we shot “Out There,” and I met singer/songwriter Barbara Manning. I was a big fan. She rubbed my head and said, “You’re like the ugly little duckling!” Most of the time I didn’t care, and Barbara was being funny, not mean. But that stung a bit.
We also encountered some direct hostility. When we played in Clemson, South Carolina on that same tour there was a group of drunk frat boys in the audience who were really angry about our shaved heads. Do you remember that? One threw a full can of beer at me. I’ve written about that gig a few times, it haunts me. Those dudes are totally Trump supporters today, I just know it.
Juliana: I thought you looked great with a shaved head, Freda. Something about the shape and size of your skull, in relation to your face — good proportions. You were not an ugly duckling at all! You were so pretty. I felt like it didn’t flatter me at all but I didn’t care. I already felt uncomfortable in my skin/body in those days, hair or no hair. I never wore makeup and I always wore loose-fitting clothes.
I wanted our music to be taken seriously. We were both kind of cute and that seemed dangerous, like it could be easily exploited, so I played down my looks, and the shaved head felt like part of that mission.
But, yeah, our heads definitely provoked some hostile reactions in the south. I remember that Clemson show. We were on tour opening for the Connells. The room was big and packed and right from the start of our set there was so much palpable proto-MAGA energy coming from those boys in the front. Probably some girls, too. It was kind of a blur. They were yelling “Dykes!” at us and laughing. That’s how I remember it.
It was shocking to me that that could happen, that people could be so mean without any shame. It didn’t matter that we weren’t lesbians. It was harsh to be targeted like that. And the beer thrown at you!
The experience left me kind of bitter about South Carolina, but I guess it was a good lesson in how to be tough — or to pretend to be — in front of a tough crowd. How to sing and play over the noise.
Also I remember being in a restaurant down there and some old white man coming up to me and getting in my face, really rude, asking me, “What are you? A boy or a girl?”
That tour was an eye-opening experience. I was pretty naive.
Freda: There was never any way for you to hide your beauty, but I admired the way you played it down. When I met you, you were wearing a white men’s t-shirt and the hugest black oxfords I’d ever seen. We definitely refused to present ourselves as “cute girls in a band.” That felt right. When people responded aggressively it shook me up, but also made it feel more right.
I cut my hair short a lot when I was younger and it often signaled a break, a change, a new start. It was liberating. That said, for most of my 30s and 40s, and now 50s, I’ve had longer hair. I’ve been more feminine in middle age — I wear dresses, a little make-up, especially if I’m playing a show. It’s a pleasurable ritual, a means of expression, kind of getting into costume and character.
The thing that started me thinking about all this is our conversation in February about going grey! I’d just colored my hair, a darker brown to cover my grey, something I’ve been doing for the past four years, and I’d been thinking all day about how tired I was of the chemicals and time and expense, how ready I was to just cut it off and let it be. In a moment of mind-melding, you said out loud the exact thing I’d been thinking. We talked about vanity. I’m vainer now that I used to be, but it’s getting exhausting and I’d rather direct my energy to writing and other work. I don’t want to cling to youth. In some ways, I’m ready to reconnect with the punk I was in my twenties.
Now it’s June and because of COVID my hair is insanely long, and I have ten times more gray hairs. My friend Faith wrote to me about how feral she’s become during these months at home. Me too. I haven’t shaved or plucked my eyebrows or worn make-up or antiperspirant since March. Maybe I won’t stay this wild, but I’m in the right state of mind to chop off my hair.
When we talked back in February, you said you wanted to use your aging face as a weapon. I thought that was smart and badass and I want to know more about what you meant by that.
Juliana: That thing you said about reconnecting with the punk you were in your 20s — that’s kind of what I meant when I said I want to use my aging face as a weapon. I want to throw the truth at people, to demand to be seen, as I am, and to actively resist the idea that women should stay “hot,” or “cute,” until death, an idea which is so stupid and which goes against nature.
But I feel like a hypocrite because I, like you, have been dyeing my hair to keep the grey out. I use a brown shade really close to my real color and I mostly just do the roots and don’t bother with the rest. And I, like you, am SO sick of doing it. I hate the smell, the chemicals. It always scares me and feels like something that is really unhealthy.
I’ve been struggling with this, telling myself that coloring my hair is an aesthetic choice, that grey hair won’t flatter my skin tone, but that’s kind of a lame excuse. The thing is, I want to WANT to go grey. I want to enjoy that evolution, not to have to suffer through it. My plan has been to cut all my hair off when the weather turned warm and then just leave it alone and let the grey come in naturally.
Being alone in plague lockdown, I’ve been kind of feral, like you are. I think a lot of people are using this time to see what it’s like to live in the wild, inside. I’m asking myself what is important and why does hair even matter.
You say you’ve been more vain and feminine in middle age, and I think my own resistance to showing my grey has something to do with vanity, with my fear of looking or seeming less vital, less important, less powerful, because older people as a whole — but especially women — are not respected in our culture. Look at how many people have died in nursing homes during this pandemic. There have been so many stories of helpless, discarded, uncared-for people. Left to literally die, alone.
I think both of us look better than we used to when we were younger. Maybe our vanity is keeping us on top of it but it’s more than just surface maintenance; I think that we both are taking better care of ourselves than we did when we were in the Blake Babies. Neither of us is as youthfully self-destructive as we used to be.
Freda: I agree, we’re better now at taking care of ourselves, we’ve come a long way since our destructive and self-loathing 20s. And god yes, I agree, too, about wanting to resist the pressure to stay “hot” or “cute” forever. Have you seen the Amy Schumer “Last Fuckable Day” sketch? It’s hilarious but scathing, speaking right to your point about the loss of power and regard that seems to accompany aging in our culture. I want to look and feel good, but I don’t see why that should involve concealing my age or denying the passage of time. I’m like you, thinking about what’s important, what actually matters.
Juliana: I have seen snippets of the “Last Fuckable Day” sketch and it is so relatable, yeah. It’s like the video Rachel Lichtman and I made for my “Broken Doll” song, on G’s farm, that idea of a woman of a certain age being put out to pasture.
I remember something my mom once told me about getting older. She said that when she turned 40 she became invisible to men. And at the time she told me this, I thought, “Cool! I can’t wait for men to stop looking at me and objectifying me!” but for her I think it was somewhat dismaying.
I am on a mental-emotional countdown to chopping all my hair off but I do not have an actual date set. Are you going to shave yours all off? I don’t want a full buzz. I just want it really short, like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby or Jean Seberg in Breathless. Enough to get down to the grey roots.
Freda: I’m not going to totally buzz mine, just go really short, something in between classic Twiggy and current Sharon Stone. I think it’s bound to be an improvement over what I’ve got now, which is basically Killer Bob from Twin Peaks.
Thinking about the conversation you had with your mom: I definitely experienced a growing sense of invisibility in my 40s. Mostly it was a relief, but I felt twinges of dismay, too. It’s complicated, that’s why “Last Fuckable Day” and “Broken Doll” resonate. We get it, we’re in our 50s, past our biologically reproductive prime, and we can laugh at it, roll with it, while pointedly rejecting the assumption that we ought to be stripped of power, denied value, and put out to pasture. I’ve read that women often experience a happiness spike in their 60s and 70s that comes from not giving as much of a fuck (to paraphrase the research).
Juliana: My radar lately is so tuned-in to ladies with grey hair. Every time I see one of them out on the street, or in a photo, I really focus in on it. To study. How it looks. How she wears it. How she holds herself. What color patterning or streaking has organically taken hold. It’s the opposite of these women being invisible. I am really SEEING them. Grey is starting to become beautiful to me.
Beauty is lots of things. It isn’t an age. There’s an actress named Meg Foster who is so beautiful and she’s in her 70s. She always had these incredibly striking ice-blue eyes which are even more incredible now that her face has deep lines on it. To me she is more beautiful than ever. She has a face that could be used as a weapon. It’s a powerful face.
Freda: Meg Foster is amazing. Your last email inspired me to take a wild ride across the internet, looking hard at aging faces, grey-haired women, and plastic surgery cases. I don’t blame any individual woman for succumbing to plastic surgery, but I think it’s a sad trap, a symptom of capitalism telling us we can buy happiness and patriarchy telling us we’re only valuable if we look a certain way. And the result is mostly terrible: weird, stretched-out faces.
I’m going to take my cue from you and try to deliberately and nonjudgmentally see women and their aging faces and gray hair. Maybe this will help me as I cross into late middle-age, to look at myself with the same respect and appreciation.
Juliana: I saw someone right after she had had a face lift, just out of the hospital, and it looked like someone had pounded on her face with a baseball bat. It was truly shocking. Then she had to heal for like a month in bed. I don’t want to be judge-y about other women’s’ choices, but I am always surprised at how blasé some people seem to be about altering their faces and bodies with invasive and violent procedures.
Speaking of alterations, I’ve just come back from getting my hair cut!! And I love it SO much; more than I thought I would. The grey is showing here and there but it isn’t uniformly grey. It’s an interesting mix of colors. And it’s ALL-NATURAL! I feel like myself, like maybe this haircut is not only the new me but the more real me. I thought I was going to have to bite the bullet learning how to live with the grey but I actually truly dig it.
Freda: Juliana, I completely love your haircut, you look great, a grown-up and glamorous Joan of Arc! I’m really glad to know you’re feeling good about it, not biting the bullet but truly embracing it. You should.
Dude, I have to say, you are seriously so beautiful!
I got my hair cut too, and I’m surprised by how much I like it! I feel relieved to be rid of the dead weight and happy to be finished with the routine of dying my hair. It’s so much lighter. Without my massive head of hair to hide behind I see more clearly signs of age, the effects of time and gravity. I don’t mind.
I loved having a haircut buddy from afar! The last time I was part of an organized haircutting effort was when we shaved our heads for “Out There.” Happy 30th anniversary of our first music video! If, 30 years from now, there’s still a planet and a country and we’re still alive, let’s write about being badass bluehaired 80-year-olds that never had stupid facelifts.
Juliana: Your new haircut is lovely! I was going to say “adorable” but here I’ve been railing against the cultural disrespect of mature womanhood so I want to avoid any infantilizing language.
I had long hair for so long that I keep imagining it is still there. I keep reaching back for my phantom ponytail. I am still getting used to the lightness of my head; there is not that baggage, that pile that I have to deal with. It’s gone! It’s so refreshing.
Like you I feel a little naked in the face with such short hair. Everything is exposed. It’s not that I fear people can see more clearly my midcentury-modern face and how time has changed it; it’s more just the unease of an introvert who doesn’t really like to be noticed.
Freda, you have always been luminous in my eyes. You glow from within and that is something that you can’t buy from a plastic surgeon or from a hairstylist. There is so much ugliness out there but your light will be shining until humanity as a whole snuffs itself out.