Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano On Halloween & The Pressures Of Bloodletting

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Photos by Amber Boggs
Concrete Blonde emerged from the crucible of 1980s post-punk L.A., fueled by Jim Mankey's signature guitar riffs and the introspective lyrics and distinctive wail of singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano. Their early history is well known, down to the oft-repeated story of how Michael Stipe gave the band their name (it's not much of a story, actually, he just suggested the name "Concrete Blonde").

The group's biggest album was 1990's Bloodletting, a foreboding effort inspired by Anne Rice and the end of what Napolitano called a "particularly bad relationship." It spawned CB's only Top 20 hit ("Joey") and pegged the group as goth darlings, which was unfortunate. The band never enjoyed a repeat of that success, releasing two more albums before breaking up in 1993, reuniting (and breaking up) again, releasing two more albums (Group Therapy and Mojave) before finally, apparently, calling it quits for good in 2006.

Not to rely too heavily on the vampire metaphor, but Concrete Blonde are back from the dead again, playing a series of shows in the Lone Star State this week. Rocks Off talked to Napolitano about fatherhood, privacy, art, and what we can expect from Sunday's gig at Fitzgerald's.

Rocks Off: How are you?

Johnette Napolitano: Good morning. I'm well, thanks. Good to hear from you. Did you get burned up in fires?

RO: I did not get burned up in fires, however Houston is now on pace for its driest year ever.

JN: Wow. The last time I was there you guys were flooding up your ass, I think.

RO: Well, that's usually the norm. We get about 5 ft of rain a year, and I think we've had 11 inches so far.

JN: Wow.

RO: But you, you're out in the desert now, correct?

JN: I am. Actually I'm out at [Concrete Blonde guitarist] Jim Mankey's house to do this. My power went off about 1:30 and it hasn't come back on yet, so I said if it wasn't on by 8 I was just going to get in the truck and cruise and find somewhere to go. I'm at Jim's house, who was kind enough to wake up early and listen to my yappings which is the last thing you want to hear when you just wake up. But yeah, it's gets wild out here, too.

RO: That's in Joshua Tree?

JN: Yeah.

RO: Where does Jim live? Is he in L.A. or is he nearby?

JN: No, he's in Joshua Tree, too. His brother's lived here a long time in the high desert so he's out here closer to his mom. He lost his dad just this summer so he's out close to his mom and his brother. It's a good thing.

RO: It's been a rough year for y'all and your fathers.

JN: It happens to all of us, you know? It's really a trip. It's definitely a life changing experience. For me, it's been like the most profound thing that's ever happened to me in my life.

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Concrete Blonde, 1987
RO: You had a, I don't want to say "difficult" relationship with you father, but it was...

JN: It was. It was. Extremely, at times. Towards the end it got better. I mean, we didn't speak for 17 years at one point, but then we got closer and got better and towards the end it was really on another level altogether. He was definitely a different man in the last few years of his life, and I think he knew, somehow, I think he knew...he was very afraid of getting old, he was not an old person. And he was always afraid of that all his life.

I think he knew, you know, when I think back a couple years beforehand and the things he said, he just had a feeling. He came out one Thanksgiving to the desert and just hung out and I'm really grateful for that. But I think he knew. It's strange. It's very odd.

RO: I remember a comment you made, or that he made that you repeated, that "no man's worth a shit until he's 40."

JN: Yeah! Because you know you think about that, and so I'm trying to remember if my dad and I, if he ever gave me "the talk" about guys. He used to listen, when guys started calling me in junior high, or even younger than that because I was a fast grower [laughs]. and they'd start calling and my dad would listen on the other line.

These days? No way. What these kids get to have and shit like that? No way! So I was trying to think, and the two things he told me: one was that - you could tell he did not want to have the talk, you know what I mean? But my mom pressured him into it and it was obvious that somebody had to start saying something, and so you know he's "the dad" and he just did not want to do it. He goes, "You gotta have nice feet, men like nice feet."

RO: [Laughs]

JN: Nice feet, and then the only other thing he said was the whole "not worth a shit 'til they're 40." But he had to be past 40 to say that, you know? Those are the two things my dad had assured me about. That [men] want your feet to be nice, and they weren't worth shit 'til they're past 40 [laughs].

RO: That's all you need to know, really.

JN: And that's all you need to know [laughs].

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Excellent article - she's the best.

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