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Hall Of Fame: Bed by Juliana Hatfield

The truth is I listened to ‘college rock’ before I ever went to college. I’d already decided what life was going to be like based on some CDs and movies, all of which were from America. Britain was going through a post-Britpop hangover and for the most part, I favoured alternative American bands. I had a vision of what college would be like thanks to certain bands that I obsessed over; basically, I wanted to be American, which wasn’t possible in Scotland. I was seduced by Kurt’s studied indifference, mesmerised by Billy’s overambitious splendour (or in American ‘splendor’), delighted by Beck’s magpie musicality. But most of all, I was in love with the joyous sorrow of Juliana Hatfield’s songs. She wrote love songs that bit back, protest songs for people who didn’t really feel brave enough to protest, songs for the dispossessed, the weird. She made me want to live in her world. I was halfway there already. In her music, I heard something I didn’t hear anywhere else. When you listen to music at that age, you’re really trying to find your tribe, the place you belong. I related to Juliana Hatfield because I saw in her a misfit, a confusing (but never confused) presence who made it into the mainstream, yet seemed apologetic about success. If my journey as a Hatfield fan started with Become What You Are/The Craft OST, then it was Bed that made me a full-time member of Juliana’s inhibited cult. It was angry, spiteful, and self-loathing. An album from an artist on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a nervous breakthrough. But must of all…Bed was liberating. It was Juliana’s declaration of independence, a cease-and-desist against the fuckery of the music industry.

In Glasgow there was a brach of Borders. It was a great bookshop, and I spent a lot of time and money in thee because I wanted to be on their shelves. College was boring. MTV played bloody S Club 7 and Shaggy. No thanks. I found myself adrift. And it was in Borders that I found a lot of American imports. Important imports, I would like to say. Glasgow was rich with record shops at that time. Napster/Limewire hadn’t quite impacted on the industry yet, so albums could cost up to fifteen quid. I paid it, we all did. Because that was literally the price to pay for being a fan of music. It was in Borders (now All Saints, a clothes shop I never use) that I found an import copy of Bed.

The clue was on the cover photograph. Juliana didn’t look glossy, not like she had on the magazines she fronted during her moment being blinded in the spotlight. She hadn’t appeared on the cover of Only Everything (it was a painting), and she hid from the camera on Become What You Are. Here, she lay horizontal. Her face close to the camera. Her eyes sunken, haunted. Her hair brittle, unwashed, untouched by a bottle of Timotei in weeks. It certainly wasn’t a Jewel album cover, that’s for sure. Jewel never looked anything other than flawless, a distant idol of perfection. I was never a fan of Jewel.

I looked at the back of Bed. Here’s what I saw.

Of course I bought it. I buy anything with her name on it. Then, ignoring college, I sat out in George Square with my CD Walkman, giving dirty looks to any pigeon that might try it with me. And I listened. I listened from start to finish. I listened through a slight rain burst. I listened and loved what I heard. It wasn’t as polished as previous albums, but it was undeniably honest, especially in the case of Sellout, a UK bonus track. Sellout is scabrously honest: “It’s not a sellout if nobody bought it.” Swan Song, with it’s spiky guitars, tells of a suicide with a refreshing lack of sentimentality. “Dear Jack, I hate you. Love Diane.”

Another standout track is You Are The Camera. The camera as a focus for the male gaze isn’t a new concept but rarely do we hear it explored in a way that’s both sexy yet somewhat contemptuous. It’s pop voyeurism, a song that spoke of the male gaze years before I actually knew what the male gaze meant. Another UK bonus track was included on the Urban Legend OST. Trying Not To Think About It was written in the aftermath of Jeff Buckley’s tragic death. Juliana toured with him. Weirdly enough, it fits the sombre mood of Bed perfectly. It could be on the main tracklisting rather than a bonus for British fans.

What really surprised me at the time was that this album followed Only Everything. It was only years later I discovered via a fansite that there had been an album in between the two, a great lost collection of songs. God’s Foot was to be another major label moment for Juliana, but we never got to hear it. Her label didn’t hold to their end of the agreement, refusing to release it. This is why artists go independent. Juliana’s response to those events came in the form of this record. It explains a lot, actually.

Overall, Bed is a statement record. It represents an artist at a specific time in her life, and it represents me during a specific time in my life too. College wasn’t bad, just boring. But Bed gave me the soundtrack for survival.

 

 

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