Kool Kat of the Week: Johnette Napolitano Serves Up a Rough Mix at Eddie’s Attic

jn&star-photo by amber rogers

Johnette Napolitano and her horse Star. Photo credit: Amber Rogers

By Rose Riot
Contributing Writer

Johnette Napolitano, fiery solo artist and former lead singer of  Concrete Blonde, will be performing  an acoustic/spoken word show at Eddie’s Attic on Sun. Jan. 11. Johnette has been a musician and artist for most of her 57 years of life and worked with some of the greats such as Leon Russell, Danny Carry and members of Talking Heads, Wall of Voodoo and Cheap Trick to name just a few. Her music can be heard as part of the soundtrack for many movies and TV shows, too. And she’s also a flamenco dancer, writer, tattoo artist, seamstress and sculptress.

Johnette’s latest project is ROUGH MIX, a short book collecting sketches and stories about some of the songs that she has written over the last three decades.  For her longtime fans who have always wondered where she got the inspiration to lyrics of some of their favorite cuts, ROUGH MIX will satisfy their curiosity.

When I spoke to Johnette over the phone, I expressed to her my thought that fans of her music are generally people who like to read, given the strong narrative and characters in many of her lyrics. Her songs could easily be strung together into a novel. When I asked if she would ever write a novel, she quickly responded, “No” and claimed not to have the attention span for a long work. That is easy enough to believe given her wide range of interests.  She told me that when she was 12, her father (whom she tributes in the beginning of ROUGH MIX) gave her a guitar, and back then she would sit on her bed and write. Then as she laughingly put it, she “got caught up in all the rock and roll bullshit.” Yet first and foremost, she still considers herself a writer rather than a musician.

Johnette attended UCLA on a scholarship for art classes. There, she was able to try many different mediums of art. I asked her if there was any other art form she wanted to try and hadn’t. She took some time to answer this question and said, “I like to sew. I’d like to do more of that. I just don’t have enough time to do that. I’ve got my horse and my goat. I spend a lot of time with them. I tour one week out of the month. I don’t have a whole lot of goals left. I don’t know if that’s good thing or a bad thing.”

“I put work before relationships always before in my life,” Johnette added. “Now I think I want to focus on those. I want a satisfied personal life. I had a blast with a friend of mine yesterday at the Joshua Tree Saloon drinking coffee and Patron. I want to do more of that.” 

Johnette Napolitano. Photo credit: Amber Rogers

Johnette Napolitano. Photo credit: Amber Rogers

A common theme in Johnette’s work is the desert. She calls Joshua Tree, California home. She lives there with her dogs, rescue goat and horse also known as her  “f”anima’ly.”  I asked her what she thought about the desert, given the peril that exists in such a place,  made it seem so safe and powerful. “You don’t have a lot of crap around you and you can hear God,” she said. “You can hear your self think.”

Johnette then went on to tell me a story about a time that she was sitting on her front porch and wrote the song “Rosalie.” “I literally caught the song out of the wind,” she said. “That wouldn’t happen in the city.” She also told about having to wrangle a rattlesnake with a mic stand that came into her home (under her chair at her desk) and how she sort of had a dialogue with it about sticking to his own turf and not hers. She apologized profusely to the snake, but given the danger of it being in her home near her dogs and her own feet, it had to go.

Johnette Napolitano. Photo credit: Amber Rogers

Johnette Napolitano. Photo credit: Amber Rogers

I got the feeling talking to Johnette that she has found a certain peace that many artists struggle to find. She has managed to straddle not only the world of being painfully passionate but also with laughing and loving. Certainly her music provokes deep feelings in her fans. At times, many feel as if she is singing directly to each of them, a kind of soul listening. I told her about the time when I saw her do a small intimate performance at a record store in Nashville and how not only were my eyes filled with tears but so were those of the shop owner. I wondered how this type of response made her feel. She told me that she doesn’t pay attention. That what her fans feel isn’t really her business. At first, this seemed cold and not the answer I expected. But she went on to explain her process of performing in a way that almost seemed trancelike and made perfect sense in order to achieve her goal.  “I don’t look. I never look down,” she said. “There is a light above my head and I focus on that. What they do, isn’t my business. I am there to do my art. I can’t worry about what other people are doing.”

In other words, music for Johnette is like breathing. You don’t choose to breathe. You just breathe so that you can keep living.

Eddie’s Attic is a very small, personal venue. I imagine her huge charisma will fill every square inch of space in the room. To see such a powerful woman sing and read from her heart in such an intimate setting will be an experience to be treasured.

All photos are used with permission.

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