It's been over a decade and a half since the heyday of 120 Minutes, when the cultish MTV program snatched college rock from low-band stations and fed it to the disaffected masses. Night after night, curly-mopped Kennedy and coffee-shop-casual Lewis Largent presented a boon of indie-video goodness and live performances, great and then-unknown bands, and the life-altering sight of VJ Matt Pinfield and Frank Black comparing bald heads like they were separated at birth. 120 Minutes — and, to a lesser extent, its sister show Alternative Nation — provided Nirvana the impetus to take down Michael Jackson on the charts, and it seemed like the era-defining staple would never end. And then … it did.
Every once in a while, a small, mousy girl from Boston would appear on either program, doubtless coaxed by her management. Her hair cloaking her face as much as possible, she'd play a song or debut one of her new videos. Juliana Hatfield was one of the original shy indie princesses in those days. Reticent and quiet-voiced, she was self-deprecating in an awkward, not-yet-fashionable manner. She'd pick up a guitar and put all that baggage to the side, and for three minutes be reborn a confident firebrand, whipping up a quick hurricane of emotion and noise.
Hatfield was a few years out of the Berklee College of Music, striking it solo after stints as the bassist for the Blake Babies and the Lemonheads. It would be a wild few years, with an acting spot on My So-Called Life and national attention thanks to a small remark made in passing to Interview magazine. And then, you know … it ended. Sort of.
This August, Hatfield released her new album, How to Walk Away, a wry reference to her year of self-imposed musical hiatus. The tours don't hit all of America's nooks and crannies anymore, the crowds aren't as large and record sales are even smaller — Hatfield's generation grew up — but she hasn't thrown in the towel yet, nor has she forgotten the ride she took along the way. This week, she releases a memoir titled When I Grow Up. It spans her life, from her teenage rock star daydream to the fun, angst and controversy along the way.
"I wanted to take stock of my life and my life in music and put `it` into perspective," says Hatfield. She sounds more confident now than in the 120 Minutes days, but retains the same sense of humor and quiet nature. She's always double-checking that she answered a question well enough and jokes about the bonfire she'll have for the unused pages of her book. "It was just sort of a way for me to look back and assess what I've accomplished and `ask myself` where do I want to go from here?"
"I find keeping a journal to be sort of tedious and difficult," she says. The fear of her private thoughts being discovered had kept her from maintaining a diary, but something changed during her 2002 Gold Stars tour.
"`I thought` maybe I can help some shy and insecure people who don't have any confidence," says Hatfield. "`They` can read my book and see that even if you have a low self-opinion, you can accomplish things in life."
When I Grow Up, for longtime fans, serves as an in-depth look at an old friend. It skews toward Go Ask Alice—style confessional intensity more than the typical aggro rock journal (like Get in the Van, Henry Rollins' angry tome about his time with Black Flag), but it works for its reserved subject. Hatfield was never an angry hardcore youth anyway.
"`The book wasn't written` to settle any scores. I just wanted to tell the story about my life in music. There was really no other reason," says Hatfield. In telling that story, she delves into the loneliness and depression that a life in rock left her with, but it's as much about finding a path in life itself — outside of rock & roll — as it is about seedy dives and reeking vans. It's about how she made that life, lost it and then found meaning in it.
"I wanted to give the people the brutal truth about what goes on in the mind of a musician. People don't often get `that`," says Hatfield.
"The most fascinating artists," she writes in When I Grow Up, "are often the ones who are the most screwed up. … To some extent, this attention reinforces and prolongs the artists' negative, damaging traits."
When Hatfield told Interview in '92 that she was still a virgin — she was in her mid-20s at the time — it got her exactly the kind of attention she despises, and it's something Hatfield has never been able to live down.
"Before I started writing the book, those things were no longer an issue," says a frustrated Hatfield, referring to the famous quote and questions about her relationship at the time with Evan Dando of the Lemonheads. "That was years and years ago, that was a tiny part of my life. God, yes, can we please put that stuff to bed?"
One of her most surprising revelations regards her family tree. According to her father's ancestry charts, she claims, Hatfield is a Hatfield — one-half of the Hatfield and McCoy families who notoriously battled one another for generations. It seems incongruous from the outside: the Boston rocker girl and, as she laughingly calls them, "the feuding rednecks," but she says there are true parallels.
"They were proud people fighting for what they believed in, and I am a proud person fighting for what I believe in," says Hatfield. "I've always been fighting for `my music's` integrity, to get people to listen and not giving in even when the industry sort of abandoned me and the spotlight left me. I never gave up. I kept fighting. I can feel `my ancestors` in my blood."email@example.com