Written by Samuel Barker
May 21, 2014 at 12:00 PM
ImageSometimes you’re late to the party. You arrive, the scene has broken up, only the crappy beer is left and most of the revelers have headed home. Usually, it is a bummer to roll up on, but sometimes, amongst the folks hanging until the bitter end, there is the person with all the stories from the night.

That analogy works two-fold in this tale/book review: my introduction to the band and Napolitano’s book.

I was never a Concrete Blonde fan until after the band’s initial demise. I was a senior in high school (way back in 1996) and was totally enamored with a girl, as is the case with most high school boys.

She listened to music I had never really cared about, because she moved in from the city. I was a beach kid and we were all REALLY into grunge and punk bands on the beach. If it was not louder and full of more angst than our hormones, we were not interested it in.

I also carried a guitar around with me all the time, working on songs and trying to look cool for her and any other female who might take notice. I just wanted to create some songs I could be proud of and other folks might dig. As teenagers, boys are pretty simple.

Luckily, my favor towards this girl made me open to her musical tastes, for better or, usually, worst. Most everything she shared with me ended up thrown in the dreaded, brown, pleather cassette case that became a graveyard for music I just could not enjoy. Only one real album stuck out with me and that was the virtually new, Still in Hollywood album from Concrete Blonde.

Still in Hollywood was the retrospective that got released, filled with live tracks, some covers and, in my opinion, better versions of songs than were on a lot of the proper albums. Songs like God is a Bullet were hard enough to keep me interested as a teenage boy and even softer songs like Joey were honest enough to not be denied.

I listened to this album a ton on the crappy stereo in the beat up old truck I drove around. When the girl who gave it to me chose to see someone else in a serious manner over me, it was my comfort. When I devoted myself to the art of music over the “looking cool” aspect, it was a definite influence along the way.

The childish crush I had placed on that girl had been moved to Johnette Napolitano and her band’s music. It was not long before I had purchased most of Concrete Blonde’s discography and just absorbed everything from the band. It meant a lot to me and still does.

Now, we fast forward to 17 years later. These songs and band have stayed with me for half of my life now and I still enjoy these songs. I still find new inspiration in the songs.

I do not care who you are in the music world, from rock icon to garage rocker, no one would give up the chance to have a conversation with someone they respect and enjoy. To hear about the stories behind songs and to learn the intimate details of the songs you love and learn from. Napolitano’s Rough Mix is that conversation.

When I first got the book, in a hand-addressed, padded envelope from Napolitano herself, I was excited. I was heading out for the afternoon, so I climbed in the car, tore open the envelope and thumbed through the pages, just looking. I was kind of bummed at first, this was not a memoir or autobiography, the initial appearance was that of a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book. I placed it back in the envelope and headed down the road with a bit of disappointment in my heart.

Finally, after digging the book out of the pile of guitar cables, soda cans and junk mail that make up my back floorboard, I was ready to give the book a proper reading, even if it was not what I really desired, I would see what it was and try to be subjective.

The intro had me worried, as it stated Napolitano had initially wanted to do a book of retrospective lyrics. This would have been interesting, but not what *I* wanted to read…sometimes we can all be a bit self-centered. Besides, I always felt Concrete Blonde’s lyrics were rather autobiographical and told Napolitano’s story in lyrical form.

ImageAs the book opened, there were lyrics pulled from Concrete Blonde songs with the stories that inspired them directly before or after them. Sometimes, multiple songs would have been inspired by a moment or a specific person, so you would have lyrics acting as bookends for the stories. It was a wonderful layout.

This is not an “I was born in…” type of story. This is the literal equivalent of sitting down with Napolitano and discussing her music and her times around Hollywood meeting people that created the strong emotions that found their way into Concrete Blonde songs. It brought about visions of sitting around a table in a kitchen, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and just letting the day go by until you’re eventually sitting in the living room floor with some beers, going through old records and photo albums.

The layout of the book serves itself well by creating the visual, as well. You see everything laid out and with the editing notes still in the margins, you can almost see Napolitano correcting the locations of places the stories took place and having moments of clarity about the early parts of the stories due to the timeline that is created by the end of the story. It makes the whole book seem more personal this way.

The joy of this book is that it is a quick read and can easily be re-read time and time again. The stories are interesting enough and the little bits around the edges can add more to the experience each time. I highly recommend picking the book up if you are a Concrete Blonde fan or just a fan of finding the source of inspiration.