So, if you know me… this is not all that shocking. I love music. Always have. I used to be fairly mainstream. I had every Madonna record within seconds of their release – at least as soon as I could get out of school.
Growing up in Bridgewater, Virginia limited my musical landscape–at least that’s what I thought. Thank GOD for insomnia and “120 Minutes” on MTV. One night, when I could not sleep, I saw a girl spinning around while professing that “everybody loves me, everyone but you.” Color me hooked! I had a habit of videotaping MTV so I rewound the tape and found the name “Juliana Hatfield.” I wrote the name down (pre-internet), went to the mall record store, and the rest was history.
I was experimenting with new music, so I could not just get ONE compact disc. In addition to “Hey Babe” by Juliana Hatfield, a C.D. with a little boy eating a watermelon on the cover titled “Rosy Jack World” jumped out. It was by a band called the Blake Babies and it only had 5 tracks! On budget – and into my expanding collection it went.
Of course I solved the mystery that the Juliana Hatfield was a “Blake Baby.” The catalog in the liner notes allowed me to complete my collection. I only had to scour a few record shops in college towns across Virginia and North Carolina, first.
That is how I became a fan. I picked up on the other band mates, Freda and John. First there was Antenna, Velo-Delux, The Mysteries of Life and some John P. Strohm solo records. I enjoyed them all. I loved how their sound sort of grew with me. Juliana’s later solo work and the 2001 Blake Babies reunion album had a bit of a southern rock twist I grew to love. Three separate directions but all had a connection. Not at all surprising the connection remains, and we were treated to a new reunion just this summer!
Don’t get me wrong. I love all the music that Juliana, John and Freda have put out there. But there was something about the original Blake Babies records. The songs were not all that “serious” on the surface – they did not wallow. They spoke a vernacular I connected with. They had a touch of self-loathing that was clever without being whiny.
I immediately connected with songs like “Take Me” off of Rosy. “I’ll close my eyes and jump to a blessed state. Awaken my fate.” I wanted that unexpected instant to happen and deliver me from my life–stuck in a small town where no one got me. Also “Downtime” was perfect for driving through my hometown at any time of day. It was not unusual to hear me scream along “I’m about to lose my mind” with the windows down. I mean, everyone thought I was losing it anyway.
“Out There” was a bit of personal anthem, particularly while living in Bridgewater. I wanted to escape so bad. There was “nothing to do,” it was “hard to talk” to anyone in my family. I wanted to “leave this town” and eventually I did.
Strangely, this has relevance today again. I have an itch. I feel like it’s time to transition to something new and different. I am not sure what that is, but I am struck by how relevant these songs remain to me – or any situation – today. Seeing the Blake Babies in Nashville, during the infuriating news about a presidential candidate talking about how he can grab women, and hearing Juliana change a lyric from “Take Your Head Off My Shoulder” to “take your hands off my pussy.” Wow! Still relevant! (If only she could take her pencil and render him a void!).
Songs like “From Here To Burma” remain my favorite. The lyrics are pretty straightforward, yet lovely, metaphors: “thin as a blade of grass … white as milk and snow.” The music is less straightforward.
I envy John’s guitar playing set against Juliana and Freda’s rhythm. Not your typical pop song time signature! The chorus hits you like a punch to the face! “From here to Burma, the time it takes to get to you.” Depending on where I am in my life, it evokes the strain of geographical or emotional distance. People I longed to have deeper connections with. Crushes that I wish would loved me back. My mother who passed away from cancer… they all might as well be in Burma because I can’t get there.
I am not a reviewer. I just know what I can connect with, and the Blake Babies are the band that have articulated my emotional experience better than most. Their music is as earnest as my aspirations. This year I had the privilege to meet them, have conversations with them and hear them play the songs I love. After an hour of drinks and a day of calming myself down, I wrote about our conversation. I prefer not to share the contents of my feelings about that. All were positive; just personal. I would rather just conclude with gratitude for their exceptional music. Also, I hope someone discovers it for themselves!
Thank you John, Freda and Juliana! Thank you!