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Personal History of Music

A Personal History of Music, Day 17: “Help Me,” by Concrete Blonde

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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.

— JS

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

4 replies on “A Personal History of Music, Day 17: “Help Me,” by Concrete Blonde”

Concrete Blonde is one of my favorites.

We definitely share an appreciation of strong women vocalists.

Also really like the cover of Everybody Knows, and God Is A Bullet is just one of my favorite driving songs.

i remember seeing them live here in portland ca. the mexican moon album (maybe it was the tail end of bloodletting; the mid-90s are dark days for me) and it’s still one of my favorite shows by one of my favorite acts of all time.

i’ve actually been listening to a lot of post-CB johnette of lately, especially her sole record as ‘pretty & twisted’, which contains one of my all time favorite summer songs, ‘come away with me’.

Nothing to do with the music, but the “other valley of LA County” bit threw me for a bit. Maybe it would be better worded as the other valley of the LA metro? The county has multiple other valleys, including Santa Clarita Valley, and the biggest one in area that everyone forgets, Antelope Valley, along with multiple smaller valleys.

Oh wow, that brings up a half-forgotten conversation topic I have been saving for the next time I see Doselle.

There must be a great compilation album of songs about life in, as you put it, “The other LA, the part with the struggle in it” of songs from the last decade-ish before Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and “grunge” hit.

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, and “To Live and Die in L.A.” by Wang Chung are the two example songs I’ve got. (Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” doesn’t make the cut for me, it’s got too much of the Hollywood romance in it even with the ending, but opinions will vary.)

I never really listened to the first album, but from FREE, “Roses Grow” might be a little too much on the nose. I like “Scene of a Perfect Crime”, or — depending on sequencing — “God Is a Bullet”?

Anyone else got some thoughts?

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