The Juliana Hatfield Three - Become What You Are (1993, Mammoth)
by Joshua B. Hoe All Time Albums Series
Many years ago (1993), I worked at the University of Central Oklahoma as a graduate assistant and assistant debate coach.
During my time there I was hired to work as a lab leader at the Arizona Debate Institute (the longest running college debate camp in the country - still going now).
During this time, I lived with my parents during the summers between debate camps (and college semesters).
One of my first years working at the camp I was lucky enough to make friends with and hang out with another counselor (and former successful college debater) who was another alternative music lover.
As I have probably mentioned I was a drummer and played and sang in bands (none of any particular note or success) from the age of about 16 until I gave up playing for anything but fun when I was in my late 20's.
My friend was a guitarist and had played with bands (even some successful ones) and, at the time, was managing a successful band in the Washington DC area.
In other words, we had a ton of music in common.
We had such a great time hanging out that summer, that the next summer, since we were both working at the ADI again, and I was again staying with my parents in Oklahoma, we decided to make the trip a road trip we would take together.
Of course, no ordinary road trip would do, no, that would be too easy.
Instead of taking the straightest path between Oklahoma and Arizona we decided to have as much fun as we could by trying to hit every "music city" we could on the way.
The trip started in Tulsa, where he picked me up, we spent time in Austin Texas (for obvious music reasons). We spent time in Houston where his family lived. We spent some time in Dallas. We stopped at many places across the country, and we did a TON of driving.
Finding Juliana Hatfield
All along the way we stopped at every record store we could find. At a record store in Austin, I picked up a cassette tape of this band that looked cool.
The band was called the Juliana Hatfield Three and the name of the album was called "Become What You are."
I loved that album from the first time we put it in the cassette player. It became the core, for me, of a period of great albums put out by bands fronted by women in the 90's (and was probably a springboard for some of the Riot Girrl stuff that would come a bit later).
Bands or artists like:
It was a really great period, and all of these women were grounded, alternative, had interesting points of view.
Torturing My Travel Partner
So, become what you are is full of hopelessly catchy pop structures and lyrics that seem both honest and serious but also playful and fun.
At the time, it was very rare to hear any bands fronted by women. It is hard to believe that in the 80's you basically had some classic rock women singers, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and a few musicians (The Wilson sisters are still an amazing example), The Go Go's (who I love), and The Bangles (I have made exhaustive lists in other posts, I know I am leaving people out).
In other words, it was not as normal to see as it is today.
The songs were not always about the same old things, and often had a very different point of view.
This was a very good thing - interesting and exciting.
It seemed new.
Soon after, and I am sure much to my friends chagrin, I would ask if we could listen to the cassette virtually non-stop.
Luckily for him, at one of the record stores we stopped at I found versions of cassettes by Juliana Hatfield's earlier bands called The Blake Babies.
Sure, he was still stuck listening to virtually nothing but Juliana Hatfield (although I seem to remember we also listened to The Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream a bit) but at least he had some variety.
As I listen to the album again now, I still love songs like:
* Supermodel * Mabel * Sister * A Dame With A Rod * Spin the Bottle
And I don't find myself really hating any of it.
To me, the album still holds up. It is probably not as iconic as many of the other albums I have highlighted here, but in it's own way it was important.
It, for me, highlighted the floodgates finally breaking on women in bands. Not women singers necessarily, but women who wrote and played music too.
Women going to the garage and using whatever tools they could to make music, even if nobody was making it easy.
And maybe even more important, I remember the road trip.
My Magical Mystery Tour
I cannot listen to Juliana Hatfield without thinking of being in a car, driving across long expanses with nothing but our conversations and the sound of these songs.
As much as I loved all of the stops we made. The record stores, the restaurants, the clubs, and the bars - I remember the spaces in between and the music even more.
There is a kind of magic in a long drive with great music.
I remember stupid things like this stretch of a few 100 miles where there were a million signs pimping us to go to a store that had something called "The Thing."
We never went to see what the hell "The Thing" was, but it might actually be better in memory not knowing. It could never live up to what my imagination thought it could be.
I remember the beautiful drive down through the mountains into Sedona Arizona to meet my friends grandparents. If you have never made that drive, it is amazing, terrifying at times, and awe-inspiring.
Right now, listening to the album again, I remember the breezes, and smells, and the road food.
This is the strongest kind of sense memory, when you connect music and places and things.
I will always remember the incredible road trip we took, and anytime I want to go back all I have to do is put on "Become What You Are" and I am transported.
Just listening and writing this reminds me of why I love music so much and why writing about it is such joy.
Do you have music that transports you through memory to specific times and places? What artists do this for you, I would love to hear your stories, leave a comment!