Music can transform our moods and mindsets, transport us to different places, and bring about all kinds of feelings we weren't prepared to feel. The line "We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school," from Bruce Springsteen's “No Surrender” sums it up nicely.
And with its ability to educate and transform, I’ve found that music can also drastically influence our looks.
Since my teenage years, my beauty phases have been directly linked to my musical obsessions at the time. I’m starting with Springsteen, because for me, he's where it always starts.
Since I was a baby, my parents played me the Bruce songbook, thus unleashing the wonderful world of working-class rock 'n' roll onto my new little ears. Growing up, I thought he was my actual uncle. His songs, especially “I’m On Fire,” got me through some long nights in the hospital with asthma as a wee one.
Uncle Bruce is a venerated rock star with a gravelly voice, slick moves and buns o' steel, and he takes a hard-working man’s approach to making profound music for the masses. And while he often paints a picture of the down-and-out male, the men in Bruce’s music generally know how to treat a woman.
When I hear him sing, “Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City,” I want to be that woman. The women in Bruce’s songs are usually named Mary or Wendy or Candy, and to me, they’re stand-by-your-man, red-lipstick-and-nail-polish-wearing gals who know how to do themselves up in under five minutes.
Try as I might, I’m not that girl. My mom is, though. Strong and utterly feminine, she’s naturally breathtaking, but give her two minutes and some lipstick, and the woman is suddenly Rita Hayworth.
I’ve always considered myself too sloppy and immature to be such a glamorous woman, until I found red lipstick. Even if you’re wearing kicks and ripped jeans, paint your lips red, just like that, you become a little bit more enchanting.
When I wear red lips and nails, I tone down the rest of my look. Just my normal under-eye concealer (it’s a staple for me), a sweep of black mascara and some brow taming (mine can be unruly), and that’s it. If you can pull off a strong black lined eye/red lip, do it, but when I do, I look less “Born To Run”-tramp and more wanton-tramp, so I scale it back.
My go-to “Springsteen reds” are by Dolce & Gabbana. The lipstick is a Passion Duo Gloss Fusion Lipstick in Infatuation, and it has a circle of conditioning lip gloss in the center of a regular long-wearing lipstick. It lasts a long time, but your lips never feel dry, and it’s a dream to apply. The nail polish is The Nail Lacquer in a cherry red called Lover.
Before you start saying, “Girl, you just called yourself sloppy and now you’re buying Dolce & Gabbana makeup?!” let me explain. My dear friend Monique, who I met when I lived in Italy, works for D&G, and the darling gave me some makeup swag for Christmas. She’s from Canada, moved to Milan with the dream of working in fashion, started as an intern, and is now killing it as a buyer for an international fashion powerhouse. She’s the sweetest badass I’ve ever met. In fact, I moved to Brooklyn from Toronto a few days ago and sent her a panicked “I’m scurred” text when I arrived, to which she promptly replied, “Head up high! You can do it.” Bruce's kinda gal.
While we’re talking reds, I’m also a big fan of Kat Von D Painted Love Lipstick. You can put it on and drink, eat, kiss, laugh, cry, sing along to some Springsteen, all with your lipstick intact. My favorite is Underage Red, which is a lighter crimson, but the darker, bloodier Hellbent is great, too.
By saying I’m inspired by Bruce to look like a lady, I am in no way proclaiming that women should doll themselves up to please men. Hell no, girlfriends. But there is something empowering looking the part, whatever that may be, if only to please yourself.
While Bruce seems like the kind of guy who’d appreciate red lips and nails on a woman, I’d like to think he’d also be happy that, most of the time, I’d rather be playing catch than doing my makeup.
But more than the Candys, Marys and Wendys in his songs, I identify most with him. The narrator. The Boss. When I listened to Springsteen in my early 20s, as post-adolescent frustration carried over into newly-minted adult confusion, I wasn’t the woman clutching onto his sides as he blazed down “Thunder Road” on his hog; I was driving the bike. I was, and still am, the tramp who's born to run.
Bruce has always given a voice to the unheard and encouraged them to rise up. This, more than anything, is what can be taken away from his greatest songs.
Bruce’s songs stir up both the über-feminine side and total tomboy in me. I like the fact that I can be just as comfortable with curled hair, perfect makeup, stockings and high heels as I am in ripped jeans, a t-shirt and Converse. In music, as in beauty, there are no rules--only feelings that you can interpret in any way you like.
Bruce Springsteen is about growing up, and realizing that growing up doesn’t stop at 20, 30, 40 or 50. It’s an evolving process. Even if in intangible ways, music shapes us, because what we love shapes us. It trains our minds, lives in our hearts, and is revealed with our appearance.
Bruce Springsteen probably doesn’t care what I look like or how his music has influenced my lipstick and nail polish choices, but he probably would care that his songs have given me the strength to look some of life’s most trying moments in the face with a little bit of bravery. Breakups, breakdowns, breakthroughs, and break-ins be dammed, I’ve got Bruce.
And so do you, if you want him. Here are lucky 13 of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs to inspire your own blue-collar beauty (even if that includes Dolce & Gabbana).
Are there any musicians who have influenced your look not with their look, but their songs?