A Personal History of Music, Day 17: “Help Me,” by Concrete Blonde
I decided to highlight Concrete Blonde today because today is my and Krissy’s wedding anniversary, and when we met and for a long time afterward, Concrete Blonde was Krissy’s favorite, and still remains high up in her personal musical pantheon. When Krissy entered my life, the amount of Concrete Blonde I listened to went way, way up, particularly the Bloodletting album. It’s the band’s best-known album, loosely inspired by Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and also featuring the band’s biggest hit, “Joey” (which I don’t think has anything to do with vampires at all, except possibly the emotional kind).
I didn’t mind, because, as it happened, I was already a fan of the band, albeit not on the same level as Krissy. I even had my own go-to song from the band, the one that was in high rotation in the mixtapes I made for friends: “Help Me,” from the band’s second album, Free. The song captures what I really liked about Concrete Blonde: It’s a hard-driving blast of guitar rock that’s not exactly punk, not exactly metal, but definitely all attitude, most of that courtesy of lead singer and principal songwriter Johnette Napolitano.
I interviewed Napolitano once, around the time of the Bloodletting album; she was profanely opinionated about many things in the course of our half hour conversation and the impression of her I came away with is that she was probably the sort of person who if she were your friend would help you bury a body, and if she weren’t your friend you should not cross her, because then you would be the body she was burying. This attitude is amply evident in Concrete Blonde’s work.
I liked Concrete Blonde for another reason, and that was that they felt deeply rooted in a particular scene and time, namely, Los Angeles of the late 80s and early 90s. Not the pretty parts of LA either: the blue-collar, sometimes seedy, no-bullshit parts of LA, the parts that don’t get ocean breezes or are up in the hills. The other LA, the part with the struggle in it. Concrete Blonde is a soundtrack of that LA to me. I didn’t grow up in it — I was in the other valley of LA County, the San Gabriel Valley, which is much more interesting now than it was then — but I grew up close enough to it that I could see it from where I was. Napolitano’s spitting attitude felt about right to me.
When Krissy and I met, I dug that she dug Concrete Blonde as much as she did; it was a point of connection in growing series of connection points. When Concrete Blonde (and then Napolitano, solo) would put out new albums, I would pick them up for her as a surprise. In fact, I did that just this week, because Napolitano put out a new solo album last Friday; I’m posting a song from it at the end of this piece. It’s cool that nearly three decades on, we still connect through this point among all the others. Happy anniversary, Krissy. I love you the most.