Juliana Hatfield is still standing. How a hometown guitar hero dodged the bullet, and then wrote a book about it
Evening slants in over the spires of Harvard, and Juliana Hatfield is watching me across the table. Her eyes are blue — a wary and exposed blue. Buried after-chimes of “Feelin’ Massachusetts” begin to go off in my head: Take me to the ocean and leave me there. . . Pling, plong. That bubble of simplicity in her voice. Suppliant spirits jostle around me like ghosts from fanboy Hades: Juliana, they lisp. Juli-a-na. . .
Will I be rendered idiotic in this woman’s presence? She’s dressed darkly, chic-ly, like an existentialist. But I am a professional. “What is your relationship,” I ask her sternly, “with heavy metal?” She is silent, poised over the cup of herbal tea. “Do you have a relationship with heavy metal?” “Not really,” she says at last. “I mean, I like Black Sabbath . . . ?”
There’s something in the character of the ex-celebrity that corresponds to Walker Percy’s conception of the ex-suicide, and Hatfield — after her fashion — is both. “And you, an ex-suicide, lying on the beach,” wrote Percy in Lost in the Cosmos, “in what way have you been freed by the serious entertainment of your hypothetical suicide? Are you not free for the first time in your life to consider the folly of man, the most absurd of all the species, and to contemplate the cosmic mystery of your own existence?” Snatched out of Boston and into stardom by the post-grunge boom, downgraded to cult status by its subsequent bust, dogged all the while by a depression that turned acute on tour in the mid ’90s and required treatment, Hatfield has come through.
And now she’s contemplating the cosmic mystery of her own existence in a memoir, When I Grow Up, published this month by Wiley. The book records her progress from Duxbury teen to Berklee student to indie apprentice (with the Blake Babies) to solo alterna-idol to the distinctive creature we know today: one of the last princesses of her musical generation. Lots of rock-and-roll in there, lots of stinky clubs and vans in motion, but it’s a mordant and detached piece of work, the product of a floating mind, closer to Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up than Lemmy’s White Line Fever. Playing at the Middle East, she fucks up a guitar solo: “I felt brain-damaged . . . . Was it the year on Zoloft? Was it too many Bloody Marys? Valium? Ambien? Was it the time, when I was two years old, that Dad threw me in the pool to see if I would swim, and I sank to the bottom? Was it lack of adequate nutrition? Not enough meat? Was it pesticide runoff in my drinking water? Lead paint? Was it the DDT in the bug spray? Too much masturbation? Aliens?”
She also has a new album, How To Walk Away (Ye Olde Records), out now. A book and a record? “Yup,” she says. “Double the criticism!”
: Music Features
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