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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

Open Book

Juliana Hatfield tells all (and then some)

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The music is the same, but the context is so much different. Juliana Hatfield's still-girlish voice has deepened with age, and gone is the whimsy of "Spin the Bottle." It has been replaced by something more raw and confessional, and ultimately that much more sad. If you listen closely to Hatfield's new album, buried in that chipper jangle pop, you can hear the time.

In the minds of her fans, perhaps, Hatfield's only struggles over the past 15 years have been the adolescent foibles and satiric disasters in her lyrics. But in the last few months, Hatfield has revealed herself with the overwhelmingly personal How to Walk Away, an album marked by heartbreak and unrequited hopes, and When I Grow Up, an autobiography detailing her struggles with anorexia and depression.

Earlier this month, Hatfield was released from a short stay in a treatment center for eating disorders.

"It feels like the devil taking over, that you don't have any control over it, that it controls you," she says. "Like a malignant force that takes over your brain, that won't let you eat even though you're hungry."

In conversation, Hatfield is shy but deliberate, withdrawn but open even about the most personal topics ("I'm pathologically honest," she explains). In print, she has been remarkably forthcoming with fans. Her autobiography was the first time Hatfield had discussed her "troubles with food," even with friends, but she has remained candid about her life ever since.

From the treatment center, she blogged about her struggles. "I am having to come to terms with the fact that at age 41 I found myself unraveling," she wrote. "Or, rather, I unraveled. I wasn't fully conscious of it. Others around me noticed it before I did."

Writing, like creating music, stills her overactive mind. It's as much a vacation as a catharsis.

"I can forget about my worries and stop thinking," she says. "My brain is always working, but when I'm writing or playing music my brain sort of shuts down and goes into a mode where I don't have to worry about anything. In the creative process time stops, and you're just totally in the moment, and the whole rest of the world falls away."

The creative process might be Hatfield's last connection to music. She doesn't listen to much music anymore, preferring to read, and doesn't go to rock clubs unless she's playing, preferring not to have to yell over the noise.

"I am bored with music," she says. "As you get older, you feel like time goes by more quickly. I just feel like there are so many books that I want to read, and that's more important to me right now than listening to music."

She can even list the many books she wants to read. They're mostly narrative works-novels, a book about Vietnam. But there are some outliers. Hatfield credits books on a college interest of hers, Buddhism, with helping to settle her mind while in treatment. Though Hatfield is not a Buddhist, she has nonetheless been meditating every night.

"If I were forced at gunpoint to choose a religion, I would choose Buddhism," she says. "It doesn't bullshit you. Christianity says, 'Oh, you're going to go to heaven, you're going to be forgiven for your sins, don't worry about it.' But Buddhism just tells you straight out, 'Life is suffering. Accept this. Deal with it.' They don't bullshit you, they just tell you the truth. 'You have to live with people, people are going to let you down, but you have to learn how to accept this and move on.'"

And such is Hatfield's life right now: accepting things and moving on.

Juliana Hatfield plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday, Dec. 3, with The Everyday Visuals and Jentri Colello.