Juliana Hatfield was an unwitting alt-rock gossip girl, emerging from the early-’90s Boston scene with the Blake Babies. But all anyone wanted to talk about was her fling with Lemonheads pin-up boy Evan Dando. All this and more is detailed in her new memoir, When I Grow Up. In this exclusive excerpt, Hatfield remembers being America’s most famous 23-year-old virgin.
In 1992, my first solo album, Hey Babe, was released on Mammoth Records. It was my first work since the Blake Babies had broken up. Mammoth was a relatively new label based in Carrboro, N.C., and they were putting a lot into the promotion of my new album. It generated a lot of press attention, especially for an independent release. The head of Mammoth, Jay Faires, had designs on being a big player in the industry, with ambitions of one day selling his label to one of the major ones, so he was really pushing me, gambling on me. Faires wanted to prove that he could succeed at building a viable, profitable record company from the ground up; and I, along with some of the many varied acts on the roster such as the Melvins, Victoria Williams, Seven Mary Three, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Fu Manchu, seemed like a good bet to help make that happen. (Seven Mary Three and Squirrel Nut Zippers went on to sell a million albums each, and Faires sold Mammoth to Disney in 1998.)
When Hey Babe came out, Mammoth hadn’t yet established itself as a serious player in the record business. By the time Seven Mary Three exploded onto the charts with “Cumbersome,” Mammoth had aligned with Atlantic Records and was much better equipped to break a band in a big way. I did sell 60,000 copies of Hey Babe, which was considered very respectable for an emerging artist on an independent label. To me, those numbers were astonishing—a definite success. The Blake Babies’ first, self-released album sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
It was new for me, and kind of exciting, to be featured in national magazines, because it meant that my music was being introduced into more people’s lives. I wanted so much for my music—for my voice and my words and my feelings—to be heard, because I had been so desperately shy and so hidden and so mute and ineffectual in my personal relations for so long. Music was the one way I could communicate, and one way to open more ears to my music was through the press. Of course the press was a big, complicated truth-and personality-distorting monster, but I hadn’t learned that yet.
While promoting Hey Babe, I did an interview with a journalist from Interview magazine. Our talk turned toward love and relationships, since a lot of the songs on Hey Babe seemed to explore this subject matter in tortured, obsessive depth, and the interviewer thought readers might appreciate some more detailed, specific insight into who, if anyone, was breaking my heart in all of these songs and how. I could tell from the way he was posing some of his “boyfriend” questions that the journalist seemed to have some preconceived erroneous ideas about me and whom I was or was not dating. It was making me uncomfortable; I was becoming concerned that he might misrepresent me in his article if I didn’t clarify something. And that was when I let slip, casually, that “I’ve never gone all the way.”
It was a true statement. I was 23 years old.
When the article hit the newsstands, I was shocked by the amount of attention generated by that one little six-word declaration of virginity. It was my first real taste of the flies-on-a-discarded-piece-of-meat aspect of the media. People jumped on the quote, tripping over each other to get to it, as if what I had tossed out flippantly was something really important or scandalous. Almost every subsequent article written about me referenced the quote. I couldn’t shake it; my recorded words were like an incurable disease. The fact of my admitted advanced-age virginity was restated and reprinted all over the place, again and again, reverberating for months and months and even years afterward, whenever anyone mentioned me or my music. (Even now, people refer to that article.) It was the go-to Juliana Hatfield quote, and it helped define me and my public image for many years, for better or for worse.
I could be disingenuous and say that by admitting my virginity I was just being honest, just going with the flow of the talk, and that I had no reason not to tell the truth, and, well, what’s the big deal with being a 23-year-old virgin, anyway? But I must have known that saying what I said, publicly, would have some effect, even if it wasn’t 100 percent consciously calculated to do so.
My intention had been to make a statement about my individuality, my independence. I was proud of the fact that I was still a virgin. To me, not giving away that part of myself before I felt I was ready was an assertion of my strength and my freedom and my ability to trust my instincts and to think for myself. It meant that I would not compromise my integrity and that I was impervious to outside pressure or influence when it came to making the important decisions in my life. Rather than being a cheap grab for attention, “I’ve never gone all the way” meant that I was in control of my body. It meant that I didn’t need to be half of a couple to be interesting; I was interesting on my own, I thought, regardless of all the constant speculating and rumor-mongering that went on. People were always trying to link me to whatever guy I happened to be hanging out with on any given day, and that annoyed me.
I’d hoped this would also clear up the misconception that I was Evan Dando’s girlfriend.
I did an interview with a man from GQ a year or two later, and the conversation veered toward the subject of Evan, my friend and musical collaborator, as interview conversations often did in those days. (Everyone was eager to hear any details pertaining to our assumed “relationship.” The Lemonheads—Evan’s band—and the Blake Babies had bonded early on in Boston, when both of our bands first started gigging. As Evan and I gained fame, we stayed connected to each other and to each other’s music, and this connection was a fascination for some people.) At one point, the journalist threw out a seemingly innocent, randomly curious question about Evan, who had recently dyed his hair very blond: “So, what is Evan’s natural hair color?”
I answered, innocently, “Mmm, it’s kind of dirty blond.”
Later, after the interview wrapped up and the man had gone, I realized that he had tried to get me to divulge some particular intimate detail of my and Evan’s so-called private life. “What is Evan’s real hair color?” was code for “What color is Evan’s pubic hair?” It didn’t dawn on me until later how incredibly rude and obnoxious the man’s question really was. How had that gotten past me? I had been tricked into a false confession. Evan’s real hair color was dirty blond, but I only knew this because I had spent enough time with him to know that the hair on his head was naturally dirty blond.
I thought that by admitting my virginity I was being subversive, declaring my right to choose how to live. I thought feminists and anarchists and free thinkers and outsiders and late bloomers everywhere would cheer when they read the interview. Maybe people misunderstood me and were unable to decipher my motives simply because there is no archetype of a female loner-by-choice, especially in the pop-rock music world. The strong, silent, individualistic, solitary outsider—the lone wolf—is historically always male. But that is how I saw myself: standing alone, off to the side, with a tight grip on my own original, quixotic ideas, and not as a pathetic waif, desperate for some record executive to make me a star; not as a delicate shrinking violet waiting eagerly to be swept up in the arms of my future husband who would ravish me in a dramatic, yearned-for defloration. I thought everyone would understand where I was coming from. But that’s not what happened.
Some people thought I was lying about my virginity and that my words were cynically and strategically chosen and placed in order to shock, to grab people’s attention—to build on my fame—or possibly to reinforce the vulnerable, delicate, little-girl, coy image that had attached itself to me—an image that I hated and considered a grave misrepresentation of who I believed myself to be.
I was honestly pretty clueless about the big bad world of the publicity machine. I never had any media training like young bands do today. I never practiced or mastered the art of the well-crafted, well-timed, well-placed soundbite. If I had, I would have realized that my admission of virginity would be the sensationalistic shot heard ’round the alternative-rock world that it turned out to be, not what I intended.
I wanted to tell the truth about myself, to be understood. I believed honesty was not a bad thing, and was even a good thing, and honorable and sensible, and much more interesting and entertaining than the made-up stories many celebrities and their publicists issue to the press to gloss over the more unconventional details and untidy truths of their complicated real lives. I didn’t have many stories to tell, yet; no scandalous love affairs to recount. Sure, Evan and I had fooled around a little, but I wasn’t ready for a real boyfriend. Music came first. And that’s not a very interesting story, is it?