Friday, July 29, 2011

Juliana Hatfield Grows Up

Julia HatfieldWith the release of Juliana Hatfield’s album, Become What You Are, in the early 90s, it was hard not to love her. Her lyrics were smart and observant. Her guitar playing was strong, Her voice was a bit little girlish but melodic.

Everything was right. She was right for the time, including the early MTV generation. In fact, her smash single My Sister was as much a staple on MTV as the song was on college radio stations. Another favorite, Spin The Bottle, enjoyed heavy radio rotation too.

On the edge of a whole new thing, an alternative rock scene that invited women artists to take their rightful places alongside the men, her timing could not have been better. Her second album, Only Everything, was equally well received and kicked off what might have been her most important tour.

Everything most people want when they grow up was hers for the taking.

And then the tour was canceled. Her label claimed nervous exhaustion, causing an unexpected hiatus that derailed Hatfield from her upward spiral and out the limelight. Add in a change in the way radio stations selected songs, and Hatfield quickly declined.

In her memoir, When I Grow Up, Hatfield reveals the real reason for canceling the tour. She was suffering from debilitating depression, severe enough that she contemplated suicide. And it's such honest and raw revelations that make the book such an interesting read. She provides insight into her own upward and eventual downward career trajectory.

In the memoir, Hatfield bounces back and forth to her days starting out in the business as a member of Boston’s beloved Blake Babies, as a rising solo artist, and then as an artist who used to be sort of big. She goes back and forth between the past and a 2003 tour, where she was joined by Freda Smith (of the Blake Babies) and Heidi Gluck in the trio Some Girls.

All the while, Hatfield contemplates what it means to have been the next big thing and then have it slip away. There is quite a bit of that, as her tour stories chronicle bad hotels, bad food, bad clubs, bad boyfriends, and a bad case of anorexia. She had a heavy load, revealing that touring is not glamorous and sometimes barely pays the bills.

But even through all this bitterness, Hatfield is grateful not to have had to get a “real” job. As someone who was never a spendthrift, she smartly saved most of her original windfall. And today, she continues to make music and release it on her own Ye Old Records label.

Julia HatfieldEven better perhaps is that she proved herself far from the fragile waif that some of her fans once imagined her to be. It's a story that she obviously isn't afraid to tell, creating a tale that is less a story about the end of a career as it is about change, acceptance, and persistence.

It's an especially good read for anyone who enjoyed her music in the 1990s or even today. Except that maybe, her music nowadays conveys that she has grown up. And you know, maybe I did too along with her.

When I Grow Up: A Memoir by Juliana Hatfield Gets A 6.4 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Hatfield's memoir isn't the only place to find an interesting glimpse into the artist. Her website provides lots of interesting information, photos, and snippets. You can also preview and download songs from her upcoming album, There’s Always Another Girl, which she says are unfinished works in progress, from her site.

All she asks in return is the courtesy of a donation; the album will be available on iTunes around Aug. 30. When I Grow up: A Memoir is available on Amazon. You can also find the memoir for the Nook at Barnes & Noble.
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