Concrete Blonde's first single, "Still in Hollywood," used to serve as something of a theme song for the band. The 1987 alternative-radio hit was a celebration of L.A.'s seamy underbelly, a place lead singer-bassist Johnette Napolitano proudly called home. When she sang "I'm just a spot on the sidewalk in the city of sin," you could sense a strange sort of devotion just beneath her sneer.
Back then, Napolitano was your typical substance-abusing, hard-living L.A. party girl. But in the last year or so, she's lost interest in that club-crawling, whiskey-soaked existence. Recently the singer decided it was time to split the Hollywood fast lane. For good.
"I have a history of abusing myself, of real self-destruction," admits Napolitano in a phone interview from an Akron, Ohio, tour stop. "And, unfortunately, when you're pulling yourself out of that, you find that the only thing you had in common with a lot of the friends you had and a lot of the people you hung with was getting fucked up. I had to leave."
Napolitano says moving from L.A. to London was the only "detox program" she needed. "In Europe, in general, there's a slower pace, a noncorporate lifestyle that I feel comfortable with," she explains. "I don't like the rushing around and the yuppies with their car phones in L.A. It's not natural. The economy is forcing changes on humans, forcing an evolution, faster than humans can keep up with it. So everybody feels like a failure in L.A. Everybody feels like they need to do coke and speed and crack and everything else, because nobody can match the speed of progress."
Napolitano is almost vice-free these days, leading a generally "disgustingly healthy" lifestyle. "I don't do drugs anymore," she notes proudly. "I can't. I can't do them and do what I do. My drinking is maybe a tenth of what it was on the last tour we went on. I just don't like to do it anymore. I like to play. I like playing more at this point in my life than I ever have. But I can't tour for a year and expect to do a good job if I'm abusing myself all the time. It's as simple as that. Physically, it can't be done."
Napolitano says she doesn't want to sound like the mouthpiece for the right-wing Rock Against Drugs faction. She isn't preaching; she just believes that hedonism--like anything else--can get boring after a while.
In time, the singer's growing antipartying stance began to divide the once-tight-knit quartet. Adding to the tension was Napolitano's desire to play bass again, as she had before Alan Bloch signed on in 1988. Things worsened until, ultimately, Bloch was canned and drummer Harry Rushakoff quit--all just a few days before the band was set to begin recording its third LP, Bloodletting, in London.
Napolitano happily took over the bass and retained guitarist James Mankey, but the band was still minus a drummer. Luckily, while in London doing preproduction work on the album, the group ran into former Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson at a club one night and immediately asked him if he'd like to become a Blonde. By the next day, the veteran stickman was in London's Battery Studios rehearsing with the group.
"Paul is solid and reliable," praises Napolitano. "He's just that way. It comes through in his playing. He has no delusions. He's been there and back. He's done all the rock-star partying, and now he really wants to play."
The recent shift in personnel hasn't wrought any real changes in the band's sound. Like the previous two Concrete Blonde LPs, Bloodletting consists of a few solid, hard-hitting songs and some colorless soft-rock filler.
The cut that's getting the band the most attention right now from both mainstream and progressive radio stations is "Joey." As far as power balladry goes, the song's not bad, although Napolitano--like Chrissie Hynde on the new Pretenders album--seems to be turning a tremulous vibrato into her vocal shtick.
Napolitano admits that "Joey"--the lyrics of which were written in a taxi cab on the way to the Bloodletting recording session--isn't what she would've chosen for the LP's leadoff single. Still, she's happy, if a bit blown away, by the song's commercial potency.
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"I never expected it," admits Napolitano. "I've never in my life written a song intending or thinking or even hoping that it would be something that would get airplay or attract a larger audience. I have no idea how that is done. I think that if anyone knew how to do that intentionally, everyone would have a hit record."
To capitalize on the chart momentum of "Joey," the band will be touring nearly nonstop for the next few months. This "clean and sober tour" is a new experience for Napolitano. Instead of getting wasted in her hotel room, she's been going horseback riding, sightseeing or taking in a museum between shows. She never thought touring without her pal Jack Daniels could be this fun.
"I'm having a much better time this year than I ever have on tour," enthuses Napolitano. "I find a gym every day and work out. I'm in better shape to enjoy it. I mean, I just did a promo tour of Europe before I came here, and it was pathetic! I didn't remember being in some of those countries I was so drunk during the last tours. So I'm . . . enjoying a lot more things. It's just a blast." Concrete Blonde will perform at After the Gold Rush on Monday, August 13. Show time is 8 p.m.
Napolitano is almost vice-free, leading a "disgustingly healthy" lifestyle. "I can't do a good job if I'm abusing myself all the time.