JULIANA HATFIELD’S Spinal Tap moment came at a club in Eugene, Oregon in 2003.

The alternative rock singer, whose songs SPIN THE BOTTLE and MY SISTER put her on magazine covers during the early 90s, had booked a tour of cities where she hadn’t performed, thinking that people would be eager to see her.

Big mistake.

Out of sight is out of mind. Only a handful of fans showed up. That hurt deeply and she admitted wiping away a few tears in her dressing room. But she pushed aside her wounded pride and took the stage. Besides, she later wrote, “You need the money.”

That happens to more musicians than you know. You just rarely hear about it. She tells that story (and much more…) in WHEN I GROW UP, a fascinating and remarkably candid memoir of a life in music which illustrates what happens when the 15 minutes of fame runs out.

“People are in the spotlight for a while and then they kind of go away and people forget about you,” Ms. Hatfield said over lunch one day recently.

The cruel irony is that while the attention has gone away, JULIANA HATFIELD hasn’t. She’s just made an album – which she distributed on her own label – that is better than anything she produced while at the peak of her popularity. Her songwriting is sharper, her guitar playing is smoother and her singing is more confident and assured.

But if time has passed her by, will anyone notice?

JULIANA HATFIELD was just a teenager when she was first heard from in the Boston band THE BLAKE BABIES. She was a fixture in a fertile rock scene and, after going solo and scoring a big record deal, was lumped with LIZ PHAIR and VERUCA SALT as one of rock’s up and coming girls with guitars.

She had an unerring sense of melody to go with a lovely singing voice and openhearted lyrics.

But she never really had the major hits that were expected of her. When the record company rejected one of her albums and she had to cancel a tour due to a bout with depression, the arbiters of hip moved on.

“It’s interesting what happens when you have a dream and your dream comes true. Then the dream coming true creates a new reality.”

The thrill of hearing your music on the radio and meeting your heroes gives way to angst about criticism and feeling pressure to top or sustain your level of success.

“You think you know who you are and other people have these other ideas. It gets confusing. You have to figure out what you’re trying to say and what you’re trying to do. When I first started making music, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just wanted to write songs. I didn’t have a concept. I didn’t think it through.”

“I was just flailing around doing what comes naturally. It took a really long time to step back and deal with what I was doing with any kind of perspective or self awareness.”

The idea for the book came about when she decided to keep a detailed tour diary around the year 2000. Through a writing workshop, she expanded the narrative to mix the stories of life on the road with her own story – her upbringing, self esteem problems and both sides of fame.

They offer a compelling look backstage. What’s it like to get a note from a fan saying how much your music meant to them or to deal with cheap club owners who refuse to buy you a drink?

The memoir also reveals the painfully shy person behind the songs. “At heart, I am not a rock & roller. At heart I am a librarian, a bird watcher, a transcendentalist, a gardener, a spinster, a monk. I was like a fish out of water in the modern rock world. That was why I was so often discontented and unsure of myself and my place.”

Same thing concerning the rock boys with attitude in their sunglasses and form fitting jeans. “I have seen the truth. They’re not cool. I’m not cool. None of us ever was. We are all secretly freaking out.”

She reveals her secret relationship with RJ – a more famous musician whose identity she protects – that grew from a common font of insecurities. If she herself were a little more well known, the passages about RJ could start a tabloid guessing game about his identity.

Though there was a time when she was in the middle of a press meltdown. She did reveal in an interview that she was still a virgin at 22.


She also uses the book to lambaste the press for setting up a false romance between her and Boston rocker EVAN DANDO. Although she undercuts her point by admitting, “Sure, Evan and I had fooled around a little.”

She took a year away from music some time ago when she felt burnt out. She returned more committed than ever.

“It’s just what I do. I make music and I can’t stop. It’s a compulsion and an obsession and a curse. I can’t stop – and I was determined not to let the fickleness of the industry or the masses stop me. I know that I had something worthwhile. I have a knack for something. I have an original voice and I still have things to say.”

She seems more mature – more sure of herself – on the CD HOW TO WALK AWAY. Loneliness is a thread throughout the disc. But it’s not gloomy or despairing. There’s no filler whatsoever and the melodies are substantial.

Highlights are JUST LUST, where the man is the emotional needy one in the relationship and the sophisticated THIS LONELY LOVE, about adoring someone’s music but not being able to hold onto him.

“It’s definitely weird to know that I am improving gradually. But a lot of people don’t know that I’m still in music. Or they know me from a record back in 1993.”

Those records got more attention than they warranted, she said. Her new ones deserve more.

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