I made an unprecedented decision this morning. I listened to a Christmas song in May. I have a rule about these things: I never listen to a Christmas song outside of December. Not if I can help it. Sure, stores start piping carols into shoppers’ brains immediately after Halloween to get folks in a Christmas-shopping frame of mind as early as possible. But if a Christmas song pops up on shuffle before December 1 – even if it’s my favourite, Otis Redding’s “Merry Christmas, Baby,” it gets skipped.
But something strange happened this morning. I heard Juliana Hatfield’s, warm opening chords and my finger was poised to press the button to skip it. But I didn’t. “Why deprive myself?” I asked myself. Plus, I reasoned, even though it’s from a Christmas album,* it’s not particularly Christmassy. In fact, it never references the holiday at all. That’s actually one of the things I’ve always loved about it. It has a warm, Christmas feel, but it’s really just a great acoustic song (with a nifty little guitar solo) that can be enjoyed throughout the year. I just hadn’t until now. Because I’m mean to myself.
It’s that kind of contrast that has always spoken to me in her songs. When she was at the peak of her popularity in the early-mid 90s, she was known as the girl with the girlish voice who sings about rather melancholy topics, often with upbeat melodies. She sang of missing her sister, who was “such a bitch” and of a heart that hurts being a heart that works.
In “Make It Home,” the melody and her vocals are melancholic, but there’s something warm and hopeful to the whole thing, especially in the lyrics. That’s me. Pretty much everyone has contradictory traits in one form or another. But these traits are mine. I have a tendency to dwell on the melancholy – or, more specifically, the negative. But there’s always a little bit of positivity in me that gets me through, that remembers not only that without that negativity I probably wouldn’t have some of my positive attributes, but that I have a lot to be thankful for and that even at my darkest, there will be a brighter day.
For reasons like this, (among others, including her now-defunct blog and great memoir, When I Grow Up) I’ve always felt that in Juliana Hatfield I have a kindred spirit. Those are rare. I don’t know if everyone feels like this, but I don’t feel I’ve met very many people who experience the world in quite the same awkward/melancholic/amused/quiet/introspective/hopeful way that I do. And I don’t view “kindred spirit” as synonymous with “friend” or even “soul mate.” Especially for me. Two “me’s” can get along, but our nature makes it hard for us to really get close. I’ve experienced it with someone else, but that’s a subject for a later blog, when the right song comes up.
And I freely admit that I could be wrong about all this. I’ve never met her, and have decided not to say hi when I’ve seen her before or after shows for this very reason: I don’t want to risk being wrong. I just want to believe what I believe because it’s something I kind of cherish.
So it’s been nice to have Juliana Hatfield by my side for the last 20 years (and counting), as she continues to make great music. Integral, even. I’ve found it enriching and uplifting to know I’m not alone in my internal weirdness. In the spirit of the song, her music is like “home,” a place I can always come back to and feel awkwardly comfortable.
* I have it on the “alt-rock” Christmas album O Come All Ye Faithful, but, coincidentally, it also appeared on the soundtrack to the TV show that somewhat inspired the name of this blog, My So-Called Life.