Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There's a turn of phrase used on the front flap of the book jacket to Juliana Hatfield's recently released autobiography that comes in handy when thinking about many of the aspects of her music and perhaps even who she is as a human being. Amid talking about the book - outlining its selling points in blurb form - the copy uses the wording "woundingly sincere," and that hits all kinds of marks as you sift through the work that Hatfield's made her life since she formed the Blake Babies in 1986. It's all the wounded residual that's left its greasy fingerprints floured all over her songs, staining - in an artistic way - all that she gives life to via her guitar and the words that she writes down as her mission statements and the charred aftermath of them. Her book, "When I Grow Up," is framed as that of a woman who's been a star, seen her picture on the covers of very big magazines and is reduced to someone who's this close to pulling the plug and drifting off into an anonymous day job, where she's just Juliana on pay roll. She's found herself questioning if she wants to keep doing all of this work, trying as hard as she is to continue calling herself a professional musician when there's a chance that she's already seen her most popular apex come and go. You can learn a lot from prologues and epilogues of books and hers are no different. As the book starts out, she comes to an intense questioning period regarding her place in music after a pre-show conversation with a club owner in an unknown town stressing that the drink tickets she was given were only for well drinks and draft beer, not the Patron that she'd tried to pay for at the bar, but the bartender told her was on the house. She continued on because she believed that she still had something she wanted to say with her music and found that her faults and problems only made the music better, that "the sum of my damaged parts was whole great songs and albums." By the epilogue, she's at the laundry mat after a tour, emptying a bag of stinky contents into a machine, pulling a crumpled note from a fan from her pocket. A fan in San Francisco simply wrote a thank you for the music, telling her how much happiness it's brought him, writing, "I really hope it brings as much happiness to you as it does to us." Through the page, you can almost feel Hatfield pulling that note close to her chest and maybe shedding a quick, silent and fat tear. Hatfield lives out the insecurities and the inequities of the rock and roll life in her music. "Law of Nature," from her 2008 album "How To Walk Away" is a number that derides the world we live in as being impervious to reason or rational thought as it's a world for the takers, not the givers and a world like that will always be rude and dishonorable. The protagonist in the song, who sure sounds like Hatfield in the flesh, feels as if she's forced to adapt to this mentality for better or for worse and her callous determination is, "I take what I need/Spit out the bones and seeds," becoming a consumer because it's better than just lying on your back waiting for your belly to get rubbed only to be consumed away by those with fiercer claws and killer's instincts. Sometimes it comes to that. Eventually, it comes to that. Hatfield brings so much personal experience to a reluctant acceptance of her plight, of the constant conflict between her heart's desire and her brain's recalculations. It's a turbulence that pops into all of her songs, and even the ones that aren't hers - here a gorgeous and appropriate interpretation of the Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock 'N Roll (But I Like It)," originally a seemingly triumphant, almost rebellious ode to hedonism and tossing a middle finger to anyone who scoffs at the merits of a life writing songs and going onto stages to perform them. Hatfield, in her frazzled and skeptical state, makes the anthem sound more like a personal plea, a mantra that she forces herself to chant one hundred times over, kneeling by her bedside before she goes to bed at night.