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Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano talks music, free energy and more in advance of Tulsa show

Amber Rogers
Johnette Napolitano, singer/bassist of Concrete Blonde, appears in Tulsa on Jan. 20, 2013.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – At the height of Concrete Blonde’s
mainstream success, I was fortunate enough to catch them in Kansas City in the
spring of ’91 when they opened up for Sting on The Soul Cages tour.

For this longtime fan of “women in rock” I couldn’t
keep my eyes off the alluring and talented singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano.
With her long dark hair, strong voice, undeniable stage presence and hauntingly
cool songs (this was soon after the release of the Bloodletting album and their mega-hit “Joey”), Napolitano and
Concrete Blonde really made an impression, one that has stayed with me all
these years.

And while the band had a few more hits (“Ghost of
Texas Ladies Man,” “Heal It Up,” “Everybody Knows”), by the mid-to-late 1990’s,
sad to say, the band was no more.

Since that time, Napolitano has performed and
recorded off and on again with the rest of CB (guitarist James Mankey and new drummer
Gabriel Ramirez) as well as solo material like 2007’s “Scarred.” And in
December 2012 Concrete Blonde embarked on a successful, month-long tour across
parts of the eastern U.S.

And now that it’s the new year, the creative juices
are flowing again and Napolitano is heading to Tulsa’s IDL Ballroom  on Sunday, Jan. 20th for a "Rough Mix" performance
which will include Napolitano reading about and performing songs from her Sketchbook limited series albums,
excerpts froa  new book, and there could
likely be a few other surprises as well as she explains the “stories behind the
songs.”

As an Australian reviewer noted, when Napolitano
brought her solo show to Melbourne’s “Spiegeltent” last spring: “When the
Italian/American singer is on stage she is guttural, fragile, fascinating, and
hilarious as she participates in a one-woman show as though there were multiple
characters/musicians around her and the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is
forgotten.”

Indeed. For Napolitano, a resident of the desert
artistic community of Joshua Tree, California where she also composes music for
films, works as a gallery artist, is a tattoo artist and also takes care of
rescue horses, being real and honest and open is a major part of who she is.

And speaking by phone with Napolitano from her home
in Joshua Tree, it is clear that the 55-year-old is at a place in her career
where she can do as she pleases – and she does just that, having noted that the
band now tours when it wants and tours internationally. In fact, it was in
Australia where Concrete Blonde had their first gold record, so they have a
special connection “down under.”

“Time kicks you in the head,” Napolitano says with a
chuckle. Noting a couple of years ago about how stunned she was that 20 years had
passed since the release of Bloodletting,
she toured with Concrete Blonde in support of a re-release of that album. All
the while thinking about the passage of time and life experiences.

Noting the recent passing of her father, Napolitano
says that it was her father who gave her her first guitar and while there was
some estrangement over the years, “he really respected the band,” she said.

For anyone who has spent time listening to
Napolitano’s music, either solo or with Concrete Blonde, it is clear that she
embraces both the here and now and those things which aren’t always visible.
She is also critical of organized religion and those who use it to manipulate
people.

“The history is deep and consistent,” Napolitano
said. “From witch burnings to the idea that you need a middle man to talk to
God, which is stupid. How is that right or possible? The manipulation of people
through religions … it’s always been the people who have utilized that
knowledge have been the upper classes. And when it comes to the working
classes, (religion) is used to control them.”

This brings to mind Concrete Blonde’s 1993 track
(from Mexican Moon) called
“Jonestown,” where Napolitano sings: “They’re looking for someone / They’re
looking for Christ / They’re looking for some human sacrifice / It looks like
Jonestown again.”

And in the 20 years since the release of that song,
Napolitano suggests little has changed when it comes to “sheep” looking for
someone to follow. That said, she feels people are savvier than they used to
be.

“More than anything, because of the media, the
omnipresence of the media, we’re at the mercy of an image and the cult of
personality, someone who can spin something,” she said. “But I do have to say,
far from being cynical about it, the kids who have grown up with it know. There
are downsides and upsides of it. There is great activism because of the
Internet.”

And it’s the Internet that seems to excite
Napolitano most. She says that thanks to the convenience of the ‘net, Concrete
Blonde is able to reach people who might not otherwise be able to see or hear
them live.

“We have done some streaming that have made
shut-ins, AIDS sufferers, veterans, people who can’t go see a show, get to see
it and the computers open up the world for them,” she said, adding as an aside,
“I can’t understand why we can’t vote on the Internet.”

Asked if she senses that the world is on the cusp of
some amazing, positive changes, Napolitano says excitedly: “It’s all coming
together,” before adding that art and science compliment one another and that
Einstein and DaVinci understood that but that now, great minds are often
“co-opted” by forces of greed and that technology without a recognition of God
is “blind.”

Napolitano then notes one of her tattoos, one of the
inventor Nikola Tesla, an amazing individual who envisioned a society powered
by “free energy.” At least before utility titans like Edison, Westinghouse and
Morgan interfered with his high-minded efforts.

“Not far from where I live is the Integratron, built
by (50’s-era UFO “contactee”) George Van Tassel and based on Tesla technology,”
Napolitano said. “Tesla was such a beautiful dude. Energy is free. It will make
the world such a rad place. We’re free to be who we are, to go where we want to
go. To maximize our potential. And to keep these things from us is shutting us
down.”

Back to the music. Concrete Blonde has a new single
record out, the beautiful, country-tinged, Cowboy Junkies-esque “Rosalie,”
backed with a heavier, West Coast punk tune 
called “I Know the Ghost.”

“The songs came about in their own organic ways,”
says Napolitano. “It came about from me moving to the desert. A place where I
could listen and grab it.”

Released in limited numbers and on beautiful white
vinyl, “Rosalie” b/w “I Know the Ghost” is classic, latter-day Concrete Blonde.
And Napolitano’s voice sounds as good as ever.

Asked why she wanted to release it on vinyl,
Napolitano said she used to work in the record-making vinyl world and has
always loved it.

“It’s amazing how great things sound on vinyl,” she
said. “Our first work (1986’s Concrete
Blonde
album) was on vinyl, so it seemed to me that it was a good time to
do that. It was exciting to do that again.”

And as for the upcoming tour, Napolitano said she is
looking forward to sharing her thoughts and music with a Tulsa audience.

“I love being invited to be there and invited to
play there,” Napolitano said. “We go way back.”

Johnette Napolitano, of the legendary L.A. band
Concrete Blonde, will appear at the IDL Ballroom on Sunday, Jan. 20th
at 230 E. First Street in Tulsa as part of her "Rough Mix" solo tour. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show is at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $18 in advance and $23 the day of the show. For more information go
to www.idlballroom.com. And for more
on Johnette Napolitano and Concrete Blonde, go to
www.concreteblondeofficialwebsite.com.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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