When I was in high school in the mid 1990s, I was a big fan of the band Belly, fronted by Tanya Donelly. Because of that, some of my friends and classmates recommended other artists to me, like The Breeders, Throwing Muses, and Juliana Hatfield, but I resisted. Belly was enough for me. There were so many great songs on Star, King, and all the EPs and singles that I didn’t need any other female indie rock.
Belly’s small catalog held my interest consistently for several years. “Gepetto” was one of my favorites, with its mysterious lyrics, lush vocals, peppy, intertwined guitars, and bouncy bass line. “Slow Dog” was another one, as was “Silverfish,” “Super-Connected,” “Puberty,” and just about every other Belly song. How could Throwing Muses or Juliana Hatfield possibly live up to this greatness?
In 11th grade, I was in an acoustic band with my friends Jim W. and Steve P. During a practice at Steve’s house, he suggested we learn a song he liked called “Downtime” by the Blake Babies. As the CD played, he explained that this was the band Juliana Hatfield was in before she went solo. “Not bad,” I thought. It was a catchy song and I actually kind of liked it. Even though we only listened to “Downtime” a few times that night, it stuck with me and I’d find myself humming it every now and then.
A few years after I graduated high school, my friend Chris A. gave me a compilation CD of songs he thought I’d like. There were a few songs by Letters to Cleo and, of course, Throwing Muses, Blake Babies, and Juliana Hatfield. He assured me I’d like these songs, so after years of resistance, I finally gave them a chance.
The Letters to Cleo songs were good. I liked Kay Hanley’s vocals, the drumming, and the powerful electric guitars. The Throwing Muses songs were good too, but much more melodic and mellow by comparison. However, I was the most surprised – and disappointed – by the Blake Babies and Juliana Hatfield songs. I was surprised that these songs were, by far, my favorites on the CD. I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten into Juliana Hatfield’s music sooner. I had been missing out this whole time!
After months of listening to that compilation CD, I wanted more Hatfield. I went to the local CD store, CD Warehouse on Main St. in Belleville, NJ, and looked through the H section. There were two used Juliana Hatfield CDs, but only one of them featured my favorite songs from the compilation: Bed. That was a definite purchase! The other CD was Become What You Are. I studied the track list, but didn’t recognize any of the titles, not even “My Sister” or “Spin the Bottle.” A couple of minutes went by and I decided to buy that one, too. It was under ten dollars and I figured I’d probably like it, based on the handful of songs I was already addicted to from Bed.
Like Belly’s King, Bed ended up being one of those albums I listened to constantly, on repeat. I listened to it at home, in the car, and at work. I couldn’t get enough. I appreciated the double-tracked vocals, the crunchy electric guitars, and, like King, the excellent songwriting and minimally processed production. “Down on Me,” “Swan Song,” and “Running Out” never get old.
In 2004, I saw Juliana Hatfield in concert for the first time. It was a full-band electric show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC. It was exciting to see her in person and to hear some of my favorite songs played live!
A few months later, I saw Juliana Hatfield play at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, and got to meet her afterward. We talked for a minute and she signed my copy of Bed, which I insisted was one of the top five greatest albums of the 1990s. I think she appreciated the compliment.
During the next year, I also saw her play a solo show at Southpaw in Brooklyn, NY, and full-band shows at the Knitting Factory and the Roseland Ballroom, both in NYC. I got to meet her again after the Knitting Factory show and she signed my copy of Made in China. She also let me take a picture with her. Thanks!
Most recently, I saw Juliana Hatfield once again at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, on September 12, 2008. This concert was part of her tour to promote her new album How to Walk Away. I only recognized a few songs she played that night, but her band was very good and I enjoyed the show. After the encore, I went downstairs and bought an advance copy of her book When I Grow Up and a copy of How to Walk Away on CD.
A few other fans and I hung around the merch table hoping Juliana Hatfield would stop by and say hi. After forty-five minutes or so, she did! When it was my turn to talk to her, I got really nervous and mumbled, “Great show. Would you sign my copy of your book and CD?” She did…thanks again! Despite the fact that she seemed tired and/or in a bad mood, I spent another minute telling her about my podcast The Paunch Stevenson Show and invited her to be a guest. I suggested we could talk about her book and new album and gave her a card with the URL. I know she’ll probably never get back to me about it, but it’d be really cool if she did. Really, really, really cool.
In the meantime, I’m listening to How to Walk Away. “The Fact Remains” is classic.