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 Concrete Blonde :: My Favorite Artists

Once upon a time I went on a very lousy first date with a boy that the boy I actually liked tried to set me up with. It was an awful match, and the date was terrible, to an almost hilarious degree. The only good that came out of that date was by accident, and had nothing to do with the boy at all, but all to do with where we ended up. It was a tiny coffee house in downtown Pasadena. It sat back in an alley, tucked away from the street. Outside sat a card reader and inside there was art all over the walls, music playing from a girl with an acoustic guitar in the corner, and the tables were all mis-matched and over-sized, meant to be shared with other caffeine seeking patrons.

We sat in a far corner near an overflowing bookcase, and next to me was a tiny girl with wild curly hair and clothing straight out of the Woodstock era late sixties. She sat there quietly for the first little while, nursing an over-sized coffee cup with a broken handle and reading a book of poetry. I could tell she was half-listening to our awkward bad date conversation, and out of the corner of my eye I could see her smirk now and then. When he got up to check his messages and take yet another trip to the bathroom (a routine that seemed to occur every fifteen minutes) I looked her way and said, in an embarrassed tone, “he’s pretty awful.” She laughed and sighed at the same time and asked “you mean that coked out name-dropper isn’t your boyfriend?” We laughed and commiserated on the ridiculousness of his behavior, and even devised a “name-dropping” trap by creating together a fake band name, who we pretended to rave about on his return, and he excitedly claimed to have been backstage with. We burst out laughing and he just looked at us with confusion painting over him.

When I went to leave she gave me her phone number. I never saw the boy again, but I did see her.

The first time we hung out after she brought along a tape of Concrete Blonde’s Free and we blasted it out of my car stereo as we drove around Hollywood. I had never heard the band before that. I immediately fell hard and fast for the album, and their music, especially Johnette’s voice. The album fit those Summer months when we were hanging out and meeting each other’s friends, confiding in each other about life and love and crushes and good dates and bad dates and books and music and life. We lost track of each other after that Summer. She went off to school out of state and I fell away from a lot of the Hollywood scene. It was a short-lived friendship, but it mattered anyway, you don’t always have to know people for long stretches of time to feel their impact on your life. She gifted me a band I would grow to call one of my all-time favorites, a band whose music would become part of my own life soundtrack, and would have many memories attach to them, not just of that Summer. That said, it is always that friend with the wild hair and “hippie” style, and her introduction of Free to me, that I remember first whenever I think of my love of Concrete Blonde.

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Singer-songwriter/bassist Johnette Napolitano formed the band Dream 6 with guitarist James Mankey in Los Angeles in 1982. The band released a single called Heart Attack under the name Dreamers on the 1982 compilation album, The D.I.Y. Album; this was their first recording. As Dream 6, they released an eponymous EP in France on the Happy Hermit label in 1983. When they signed with I.R.S. Records in 1986, label mate Michael Stipe suggested the name Concrete Blonde,describing the contrast between their hard rock music and introspective lyrics. They were joined by drummer Harry Rushakoff on their eponymous debut album.

Their first release was 1986’s Concrete Blonde, which included Still in Hollywood. They added a second guitarist, Alan Bloch, for their 1989 release, Free. This album included the college radio hit God is a Bullet.

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Their third album became their most commercially successful album, 1990’s Bloodletting. Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson replaced Rushakoff on Bloodletting while Rushakoff was in treatment for drug addiction. The album was certified gold by the RIAA and included their highest charting single, Joey, which spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 Chart, peaking at # 19.

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My Top 10 Favorite Concrete Blonde Songs

1. Little Conversations
from the album, Free

“These little conversations,
well, for me they’ll never do,
now what am I supposed to do with,
broken sentences of you?”

2 Take Me Home
from the album, Group Therapy

“Every minute,
every hour,
is another chance to change,
life is beautiful,
and terrible,
and strange.”

3. Joey (live, acoustic)
from the album, Still in Hollywood

“Joey, baby,
don’t get crazy.
Detours, fences,
I get defensive.”

4. Rosalie
from the single, Rosalie

Hang it up,
cut the line,
run as fast as you can,
to his side
.”

5. I Don’t Need a Hero
from the album, Bloodletting

“And everything you gave to me,
changed everything I used to be,
much more than anyone I ever knew.”

6. Still in Hollywood
from the album, Concrete Blonde (self-titled)

“And I swear I heard the voices singing to me,
singing to the rhythm of the beat of my feet.
I swear I heard the voices singing to me,
keep on,
keep on,
keep on.”

7. God is a Bullet
from the album, Free

“Blame each other,
blame yourself.
You know,
God is a bullet,
have mercy on us everyone.”

8. Caroline 
from the album, Bloodletting

“All the poetry,
and the trunk you kept your life in,
I knew that it would come to that someday.”

9. Roxy
from the album, Group Therapy

“Oh Roxy,
you’re my Maggie May,
more beautiful tonight than you ever were back in the day.”

10. Carry Me Away
from the album, Free

“And any promise we make is as easy to break as the plastic people on your wedding cake,
so says you,
but you know,
I do.”

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