For those of you who don’t know, Juliana Hatfield is an amazing and gifted musician/writer. She got her start–along with a deluge of alt-rock bands–in the Boston area in the late eighties as one-third of the groupThe Blake Babies, having met the other two members at Berklee. After an amicable split in the early nineties, the Babies went their own way and Juliana set out to cut a swath through the alternative music world with her distinctive style.
What set her apart from the other aspiring stars emerging from the scene was a soft, girlish voice that was at once hopeful and upbeat but was layered over jangling guitar riffs and edgy subject matter. She wrote her own stuff and played it well across the span of the decade and into the new millennium, staying true to the music she heard in her head and in her heart, never swaying into more commercial territory even though, in my opinion, she would have done well had she gotten more radio play. Timing wasn’t on her side, though, as just when she hit her stride she was overshadowed by the likes of Jewel and Britney Spears, who dominated the airwaves.
She didn’t let that stop her, and for that, I am profoundly grateful. Her music changed me in some unnamed way, inspired me and got me through tough times. I can put on any of her albums at any time of day and sing along word for word, confident that my mood will lighten by the time she strikes the last chord. Yet there is sadness to be found in many of her lyrics, despite the bubbly-pop sound of her voice on some tracks, and I find I can relate to those as well. Perhaps that is why I can find happiness in her music; not in spite of her moods but because of them. They resonate with a part of me; she and I are similar creatures. We have much in common, and isn’t that what art is about? Finding a common thread between oneself and another?
I had the chance to meet her a couple of years ago, when she came to a local bookstore to do a signing/reading after the release of her memoir, “When I Grow Up”. The book is extremely well written and is an honest look inside her mind and behind the scenes of a musician trying to do what she does in a country that would rather watch bad reality t.v. than listen to a life-changing album.
It was the first time I had ever seen her in person, as she rarely comes anywhere near Kentucky to play a show, and I was enthralled. She seemed fragile, weary, perhaps ready to go home after a long and draining tour. She read parts of her book aloud and I found I couldn’t concentrate on her words because I was so sublimely happy just to be there with her, sharing the air and the sounds of Joseph Beth Booksellers at Christmastime. She played a few acoustic songs from her latest album, “How To Walk Away”, and I was thrilled at how lovely her voice sounded over the warmth of the guitar. I wished I had brought her a gift of some sort, perhaps a package of tea and some honey for her throat (the weather was horrible–snowy and wet and freezing–bad for a singer), but then thought that she might think me strange for doing such a thing. And when it was my turn to have her sign my book, I rambled something about how grateful I was to her for traveling to KY and she looked at me, right in my eyes, and it was like seeing an old friend again after years of being apart. She spoke to me, said it was her pleasure and thanked ME for having her, made small talk about her upcoming show at The Dame (which was amazing), but I could barely pay attention. This woman, this icon (to me, at least), was sitting across a table from me, talking to me. It was surreal. I had loved her music for years (fifteen, to be exact), and had never had the chance to see her play live, and here we were, talking like friends, like equals. And although I had told myself over and over that night not to be the fan who gushes and asks for a picture, that she was just a regular person who might not like her space to be invaded or her photo taken (I sure don’t), I asked anyway. And she obliged with a smile.
I felt bad afterward, and even worse after I read her book and discovered a passage in which she speaks candidly about greedy fans who demand autographs/pictures after shows and crowd her personal space (she is a very private person and is somewhat shy for a performer). But part of me is glad I did it. I will always have the memory of speaking to her, sure…but now I also have proof.