Johnette Napolitano, one of the most fiery and colorful figures on L.A.'s rock scene for a decade, is closing the book on Concrete Blonde. The trio plays the Wiltern Theatre on Saturday, then returns there March 10 for a farewell show .
The band's often turbulent music succeeded X's as the rock chronicle of Los Angeles' state of mind. Now singer-bassist Napolitano is looking forward to making a "less intense" kind of music with such pals as Paul Westerberg, Steve Wynn and members of Wall of Voodoo. Napolitano, who is deeply involved in the life of her Silver Lake neighborhood, is also eager to make a go of her new enterprise, the Lucky Nun gallery, which showcases young Latino artists and stages a monthly open market in the parking lot.
Napolitano explained her decision to cut the cord and talked about her future in a phone interview from a tour stop in Atlanta.
Question: Why end the band now?
Answer: Because it's done. I don't know how else to say it. We've done what we set out to do. It's been such a long time and I want to see who I am. There's other things I want to do. I might want to start a family of my own. I'm 36 years old. When do I get to do that? And you keep putting these things aside. And then you have earthquakes and things and you just think, well, you know, I have my life to do.
The life just doesn't agree with me anymore. The whole rock thing I just would like to ditch for a while. It can get out of control and your life isn't your own.
Q: Will you be decreasing your involvement in music?
A: I don't think so. I think that remains to be seen. I'd like to work with some younger bands to get them off and started, with such not white, middle-class rock stuff. That's sort of boring me at this point. The Beavis and Butt-head factor is a little too much. When these kids start slammin' around I could be anybody up there. I'd like to broaden myself a little bit.
But I'll always play music. It's something that I do. I write like a fiend all the time for no particular reason. That'll continue, but I would like to see myself having more of a dignity as I get older. Like a Billie Holiday or a Bessie Smith, a great blueswoman rather than a kid throwin' a bass around and slammin' my head around.
That's not what I am anymore. I'm pretty content with life in general. I'm much more involved with art. I've got the gallery and I'm very happy being inspired and surrounded by artists. I'm back to what I like to do.
Q: You've had your finger on the pulse of this city for a long time. After all the recent crises, are you disillusioned about life in L.A.?
A: I'm not disillusioned about anything. But when you have something like a quake, you do wonder if you're being punished for something. You have riots, you have the quake, you have other things. I think it's important to try to go on. Balance things out and neutralize the effect somehow by being as normal as you can be. I think people have some real backbone in L.A. The human spirit is very strong. It's always my home, absolutely.
But as far as being able to live where I live now, it's getting very difficult. People can drive by and see me in my living room and stuff. I caught 'em using my mailbox as a drug drop and I just went off. So I think I might have a little bit of a price on my head in the neighborhood right now for calling the cops so much when I see that stuff go on. So I just might have to move over a little bit and rent my house out. It'll break my heart because I really love that place.
Q: What about the musical side of the city? What do you think of the current L.A. rock scene?
A: I think Guns N' Roses changed everything. It really took the diversity away. You had Phranc, you had Los Lobos, the Go-Go's, the Cramps, you had a real diverse scene. There was so much goin' on. . . . I'd like to see more Chicano bands. I'm serious about that. I think some Chicano band is really gonna break through. It'll be different in that Los Lobos had a traditional angle, and I think the younger Chicanos have more of a statement to make. I think they've been inspired by Los Lobos and Los Illegals and a lot of the early L.A. stuff. I think that what's good about L.A. right now is there's more of that going on.
Q: You've been described as a "conscience" of the L.A. rock community. Do you feel comfortable with that kind of role?
A: I'm a musician and I play and I write music. I don't claim to be anybody's role model. I like to drink. I have a lot of fun with a bottle of wine and I don't really feel like I have to set an example for anybody.
I think just the fact that I do what I wanted to do in my life, if that's inspiring to anybody, that's great. I had a real crisis a while ago when the "Bloodletting" album came out, wondering if I was doing something worthwhile with my life or not, and at the end of the day I get mail and people tell me they come home from a hard day's work and they put on the record and I take 'em somewhere else and it gets them through things.
Q: Do you remember any specific comments?
A: Some 12-year-old kid wrote me that she listened to my music when her parents started fighting. And I called her up, I called her on the phone and told her to keep writing her poetry and everything. It was a real sad letter. I said, honey, I did exactly what you're doing. I started playing guitar when my parents started fighting, and it really was a good place to go and it's still a good place to go. Music is a good place to go when you're not feeling on top of things or you feel lonely or whatever. Yeah, I think what I do is very valid. If it gets people through bad times and makes you feel better, then damn right. It's an honor to be able to do that for people. It's a gift and I appreciate it.