Juliana Hatfield is a singer, songwriter and guitar player. She began her music career in the late 1980s in Boston with the Blake Babies. Since then she has released approximately fifteen solo albums and been involved with numerous other groups including the Lemonheads, Some Girls (with Freda Love Smith) and MInor Alps (with Matthew Caws from Nada Surf). Her latest project is a collaboration with Paul Westerberg called the I Don’t Cares. Their debut album, Wild Stab, came out in early 2016. She is currently working on her first novel.
(Photo credit: Brad Walsh)
A few months ago I tweeted, “All Trump footage should be prefaced by a trigger warning.” I was sort of joking, but sort of not. Trump’s lurid omnipresence has been irritating, but you could kind of laugh it off: “Oh, he’s just a clown, he’ll eventually go away. The country that voted for Barack Obama — twice! — will never elect Trump president.” He was unpalatable, but he was still a clown. A scary clown, but a clown.
But it’s not funny anymore. Since the Trump “pussy grab” tapes were released, I’ve found myself wanting to reach for my emergency supply of valium, which I keep mainly for plane travel to ease my visceral fear of flying. These viscera of mine are currently in a state of constant high anxiety. It’s the Trump effect: the sight of his face and/or the sound of his voice tightens the stomach, the heart, the sphincter. Everything’s clenched. Even — maybe especially — the “pussy.”
The venom-spewing from and around Trump is a black cloud hovering over this country. Trump has re-opened the emotional wounds of millions of people. It’s his special talent, apart from self-propagandizing and con-artistry. He stirs up bitterness, hatred, anger; he brings out the worst in people. He does it to people on both sides — all sides. There’s bile all around.
Trump hits people where it hurts, he feeds on bad blood; he’s a viper.
Trump hits people where it hurts, he feeds on bad blood; he’s a viper. (“Everything Trump Touches Dies” read one recent headline quoting a GOP strategist.) He brings back bad memories — memories that have been safely stored away in the dusty basements of our minds.
Memories like this one:
A man in a position of power at my first record company — a man who presumably had influence over my career — once said, of me, “She needs to get fucked.” This record company man (I’ll call him “Jack”) made this statement to a member of my road crew (I’ll call him “Bo”) during a tour with my band the Blake Babies. Jack and Bo were walking a few feet behind me and the rest of the band, all of us on our way somewhere en masse.
Jack’s comment was made out my hearing range. Bo, a sweet and gentle-hearted young man, relayed it to me later in private. Bo’s intention wasn’t to rat out Jack or to get him in trouble —and he didn’t want to upset me. He just thought that I should know, since I was committed contractually to working with Jack. And so that I might be a little bit protected. Armed, in a way, with this privileged knowledge about Jack’s true character, I could brace myself around Jack.
But I already knew that Jack was kind of an asshole. That was his persona: smug, entitled rich boy who thought he could buy himself a career as a successful record executive. The kind of guy who would say, and believe, that a girl “needs to get fucked.” I used to joke about him in the van, that he was “born with a silver spoon up his ass.”
Bo seemed genuinely shocked, saddened and repulsed by what Jack had said to him about me, and by the fact that he had said it to Bo. Because why would he say that to Bo? Bo was my friend, and I was Bo’s friend — we were tour mates — and Jack knew it. And Jack had been so casual with his crude remark. The fact that he had said something so violent with such nonchalance made it that much more grotesque in Bo’s eyes. Clearly this wasn’t the sort of “locker room talk” that Bo was used to. But there was an implicit assumption that Bo would make nothing of it, that this was how all guys talked about women and how they all considered women: as fuckable objects.
I want to interject here to say that I was a virgin when this happened. I had never actually ever “gotten fucked” yet.
When Bo told me what Jack had said — that Jack had determined that I would benefit from having a sexual act done to me — I brushed it off. I guess I didn’t know how to process it. And I fancied myself a tough cookie. I liked Nietzsche and Henry Rollins. I didn’t want to come across as a complainer. I’d grown up in a house with brothers (no sisters) who didn’t pull any punches when it came to insults. There was little parental supervision or punishment; we fended for ourselves. And with my band, I wanted to be one of the boys (even though two out of three of us were girls). To be accepted into the boys’ club of rock & roll. To hold my own on the road, lifting and carrying all my own gear, driving the van, sleeping on floors. You had to be tough. I could take it.
I was trying to make a name for myself in music on my own terms. I was trying to do it with grace and pride and honesty and integrity.
I never tried very hard to disguise my mild dislike of Jack and maybe that was what Jack was reacting to with Bo. I talked a little shit about Jack once in a while but never to his face or around any of his friends or coworkers — never outside the privacy and confidence of the small group of people whom I knew I could trust to keep it in the family. Maybe it was my generally dour demeanor that got under Jack’s skin. Maybe Jack thought I wasn’t sweet or docile or compliant enough — as an artist or as a female — and that I needed to be trained like a dog or broken like a horse or a slave (“get fucked”) to get in line.
I was trying to make a name for myself in music on my own terms. I was trying to do it with grace and pride and honesty and integrity. I wanted to do it without making an ass or a fool of myself, without letting anyone else convince me to do anything that didn’t feel right. And if that meant that I came across as “difficult” sometimes, that was okay with me. I wasn’t trying to please anyone, wasn’t trying to climb the ladder of success for wealth and celebrity. Throughout the entire Blake Babies initial run (we are now reformed and playing shows) I defiantly wore no makeup. I wanted to be known for my work and my work ethic and not for my physical desirability. I wanted respect from the people I respected. That was a higher priority to me than having hit records or other kinds of marketplace power, because I knew that I already had power, or believed I did, because power, to me, is freedom. It’s the freedom to do what I want and not to be restricted or controlled or influenced or driven by the dictates of those in powerful positions above me — in work or in bed or anywhere else. I had that freedom, from the beginning. I always made exactly the music I wanted to make. No one ever made me change the way I wrote or recorded. I had artistic freedom and control. Always.
Could I have gone further with my career if I had let myself ‘get fucked’?
Could I have gone further with my career if I had let myself “get fucked”? Did I need to “get fucked” to get ahead in the business? Was Jack frustrated that I didn’t make more of an effort to be nice, to sell myself, to kiss up, to “succeed”? Probably.
Later, after the Blake Babies broke up and I signed to a major label, I heard stories of another young female artist on the label “sitting on laps” of radio station music directors in order to get her songs on the radio and on the charts. I thought this was gross but also kind of funny. It seemed so hokey, so old school. People really did that? The casting couch existed? And it worked? The idea was so absurd to me, so completely out of the question: exploiting my own self, my body, my soul, my private personal domain, for career advancement — committing sleazy back-room shenanigans. I would never. Could never. It seemed too stupid, too Hollywood. And way uncool. I was a punk and a rebel at heart. I would rather have, like, died than compromised my integrity.
But it happens, I guess, and I avoided it. Which brings me back to now. I’m suddenly reliving having a handful of ugly words said about me — hearsay, essentially — more than twenty-five years ago. And I blame Trump. This is Trump’s frightening, dangerous power — he reminds us of the worst of human nature: the sexism and misogyny, the racism and bigotry, the blood lust, violence, vengefulness and cruelty. It’s sickening to observe the glee with which some people are letting it all out, spurred on and inflamed by Trump, like they’ve been waiting all their lives for this — for their opportunity to finally unleash their snarling dogs on everyone and everything they hate with a spitting, drooling, vomitous passion.
I’ve spent my whole life and career trying to be honest and to never fake anything. But still I’ve kept most of my thoughts and feelings to myself. Society can’t function without self-restraint and civility. Self-control is maturity; it’s part of mental health. Indulging every impulse — even if it’s just saying words — is dangerous. This country is collectively unnerved and seriously on edge. We have to be careful.
My thoughts, lately, in this final month before the presidential election, are sometimes dark and disgusting and violent. I’m not proud of these thoughts. I certainly don’t want to share them, much less act on them. What good would it do to share any of that with you? None. So I’m not going to say anything about my sick, twisted, bloody Trump fantasies. I’m not even going to mention them.
After a certain number of years of youthful recklessness and stupidity, a man should age out of certain behaviors and should see that there is a bigger picture.
I’m not angry at Jack for what he allegedly said about me all those years ago. He was young. We all were. And I’ve heard that he has changed, matured, mellowed into something less arrogant, less critical, kinder and more humble. Life has a way of doing that to people; it beats the cockiness and arrogance out of us and we become more and more grateful for what we are lucky to have, and we learn forgiveness and compassion for people who are less fortunate than we are.
I’m not angry at Jack. Somehow the passage of time has done its job and dissolved a lot of my personal pain and resentment, softened a lot of hard feelings. But I am angry. I’m angry that people — OK, men — say (and think, and feel) things like “she needs to get fucked” and “grab ‘em by the pussy,” and that other men laugh and play along, and that still others rationalize it all away as harmless when it’s really not okay. It’s destructive to all of us. After a certain number of years of youthful recklessness and stupidity, a man should age out of certain behaviors and should see that there is a bigger picture, a bigger world than the one in his head.