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

Posted on: Jan 10th, 2015 By:
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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Kool Kats of the Week: A Romance by Design: Artists Caryn Grossman and Chris Buxbaum Collaborate in Life and at MODA

Posted on: Dec 7th, 2012 By:

Chris Buxbaum and Caryn Grossman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

Have you ever known two people from utterly separate times and places in your life, and then one day you learn that your worlds collided and they have become a couple, and it’s one of those rare “aha” moments? It happened right before my eyes. Caryn Grossman and Chris Buxbaum are two wonderfully creative and fascinating people. Then suddenly BANG! They are collaborating on an installation as part of “The South’s Next Wave: Design Challenge” at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). The special exhibit  began November 11, 2012 and runs though March 31, 2013

The sum of Caryn’s and Chris’ creative energy is formidable, making them the perfect candidates for Kool Kats of the Week. So I took the opportunity to chat with them about their dynamic cross-pollination

Torchy Taboo/ATLRetro: Chris, when I first met you, you were a DJ with an amazing record collection and a lifelong David Bowie fan. Is there a fave Bowie period? How have his styles influenced you creatively?

Chris: If pushed, I would say my favorite period was the “Berlin Era” (Low/Heroes/The Idiot/Lust for Life) – all that angst and faded glamor. Other than the “lost decade” (most of the ’80s), I love all Bowie’s work. The fact that it varies wildly in sound and vision is what attracts me to it. And never sticking to one look or genre – borrowing like a magpie from a wild variety of sources, both high and low art, is the most important thing I took away from it.

I see Glam-rock influences in the MODA installation….

Chris: Everything I did as a young fashionista in London (glam/early punk/ club kid/fetish pioneer) informs what I do now – an obsession with androgyny and fluid identity being the main thing that carried into this project. The photos in the installation, from a yearlong collaboration with supermodel David Richardson, are actually from another project that is nearing completion called “Schizophrenic Photogenic.” We are in talks with some galleries with a view to presenting these early next year.

You’ve both been shop keepers and lived the retail life. Thoughts on that?

Caryn: I think we both really miss it – I know I do. There’s something about the hunt for a fantastic mix of things, and then watching and interacting as people come through. We’re about to open a little retail space in Paris on Ponce, and I can easily see it growing into something more.

Chris: What I learned from being a shopkeeper is that while I am very good at creating a “look” and an atmosphere, I am no business man.

Chris and Caryn's installation "Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue" at MODA's South's Next Wave exhibition.

Chris, when did photography become part of your picture?

Chris: I have always carried a camera since i was a teen, but originally just to document what I was doing. It stemmed from having such a bad memory – just so I could remember where I had been. I only started getting “arty” about it when I had my Gallery “Boho Luxe.” The advent of digital really freed me up to experiment and learn -not so much for the ease of manipulation, but because you could now afford to make lots of mistakes and learn by trial and error, which is the only way for me. I don’t think I have ever read an instruction manual in my life. Meeting Caryn was the final ingredient. She pushes me to achieve and then is wonderful in helping me collate and publicize the work. She really is the magical final ingredient.

Caryn, tell us a little about how cross-pollinating your fantastic interior design skills with Chris’s photography. Talk to me about the mixing of your styles.

Caryn: On a job, there’s actually this wonderful synergistic flow; we both have an eye for color, shape and form, so the projects we do for our clients come together really easily – and beautifully. As far as a personal style, I love a sense of irony in design, a surprise tucked around a corner. It’s really evident in the MODA installation, and pretty much the same here at home.

My space is always a reflection of how I feel, and when I met Chris I was in a very melancholy, introspective kind of place. The loft I was living and working in really reflected that – lots of soft tones and heavy drapes to envelop me. Some things were overly lush, others were worn by time, but overall the space had a very soothing vibe, which was exactly what I needed it to be. I’d had a number of artists come through, so there was a lot of graffiti on the walls, so I think the sense of color and joy was there, it was just tucked away a bit more.

When Chris and I moved into our first loft together, the space was quite a bit smaller, and things had to condense. All of a sudden the graffiti wall was center-stage and Chris’ leopard bar was kind of integral to the mix. We still have a pretty soft surround, with the heavy drapes, but the space is much livelier, much more colorful, and much more in keeping with the boldness of Chris’ photos. I love it – it’s a happy space, really filled with a lot of laughter and love.

Caryn and David Richardson at MODA's opening night party.

I know that you are both versed in the organizing of unique events. It’s apparent that projects like this huge MODA event are second nature for you as a couple.

Chris: Before I discovered photography as an art form, I would say that putting together events, club nights, parties was my only talent – it’s like cooking – you have to have the right balance of ingredients and a pinch of magic. Caryn moved in very different circles from me, and she has a knack for publicity and finessing the right people. She can really write, and she has the education, technical skills and connections to make crazy ideas become reality. “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” was a true collaboration in every sense of the word. We worked shoulder to shoulder for five months to make that happen. Then we called in all our amazingly talented friends to make it real:  Milford Earl Thomas to make the film, Timo Evon and James Hoback for their artisan skills.

Caryn: I’ve always believed a collaborative process is the best, so even when I was working alone I always had other artists in and out of the space. Sometimes we shared the space and produced events together, sometimes it was just me inviting an artist in to show or play. It always brought me joy, and I loved seeing the creative process of others. It’s what makes my own work thrive, so producing events just came naturally. For a number of years I did it quarterly, opening my space up for all kinds of works, and all kinds of people, and I know my own creativity grew exponentially.

Happy Blue Family Chris Buxbaum, Caryn Grossman and Henry Jack Buxbaum!

What exactly is the MODA event?

Caryn: The exhibit, called “The South’s Next Wave,” is actually a design contest:  each design group chose or was assigned a color (ours was blue) and then assigned an object.  Ours was cake.  The only directive the curators gave was to design a monochromatic setting for the object. I envisioned ours as a room.

I thought it’d be great for Chris and I to do the space together. Chris had the idea to have a silent film made so that the “set” would remain animated after the opening. The film was shot on black and white 8 mm with a handheld camera and then tinted blue, frame by frame.

There were actually three openings: one for the press, one black-tie for wealthy patrons, and then the grand opening night.  The first two were so serious we decided to go all out on the third night and have David in the space as Marie Antoinette.  People loved it – they went nuts!  The event was sold out.

And how did you get involved?

Caryn: Sixteen designers from across the Southeast were chosen by the curators, Tim Hobby and David Goodrowe of a firm called Goodrowe/Hobby.  They had put out a call for entries for the object designers, so I approached Tim Hobby and asked him how the set designers were going to be chosen. I knew Tim from some design work we had done together years ago. He said the designers were going to be individually selected based on innovative style and merit – I presented him with some of my more recent work, and we were in.

David Bowie and a young Chris Buxbaum.

Give us more of the juicy details and logistics about the MODA installation.

Caryn: Creating the space for MODA was an amazing process. I had a vision of something over-the-top, kind of an ironic play on Marie Antoinette, and Chris’ photos were just a natural fit. Glam, punk, drag and my vision for design all came together almost seamlessly. Chris’ work and aesthetic was the perfect irony and surprise I was looking for, and the rest of the project kind of rolled on from there. I’ll let Chris tell most of this one, as once the vision came together, he really took it that step further by assembling this amazing team that ultimately included a filmmaker, drag performer, artistic finisher, Chris’ photos of course, and some pretty over-the-top furnishings and these unbelievable cakes by a company called Couture Cakes Inc. The museum crowd went nuts over it, especially the second opening night, which was the night we had our own Marie Antoinette – all seven-plus feet of him in platform heels, in the space.

I guess MODA is the perfect example of how our styles mix, and how we work together. I’m hoping it’s the start of a lot of great things.

Chris: “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” came together really organically. We went with blue because we were in the middle of a big project for CG CreativeInteriors [Caryn’s interior design firm]. When we have a project, we cover the walls of the loft in paint chips, fabric samples, inspiring pictures, etc, so we literally have to look at it all day. Since we were loving the colors we had chosen for this residential project, we decided to pull them over into the MODA one. We decided to use my pics of David Richardson to pull it out of being just decorative and give it an edge (and also to get them a wider audience). When we learned that our featured product was to be high-end designer cakes, the Marie Antoinette theme seemed the obvious way to go. Caryn worked tirelessly to find fantastic furniture and architectural products – the floor alone took almost a month to sort out [and] our first two ideas (mirrorball tiles/glitter wall paper) would not come together. In the end she sourced 40,000 silver rose petals. We drained six whole wedding stores of their supplies.

Tell me more about your crew selection and how they fit together.

Chris: The final thing that helped separate us from the pack was having David in the vignette live on opening night. It’s hard to ignore seven-and-a-half feet of drag queen with a Marie Antoinette wig and a birdcage on her head. And the cake maker, Lisa Humphreys, of Couture Cakes Inc.,  did an amazing job – even those shoes are cake.

We were also very honored to have Milford Earl Thomas (CLAIRE: A SILENT MOVIE) make a short film for us also featuring David. It turned out so beautifully and was designed to hold the viewers’ attention when David himself was not in the installation. I would love to work with him again in the future.

Caryn Grossman.

Share your vision of the future five or 10 years from now.

Chris: Vision for the future: an April wedding on the rooftop of the Telephone Factory, a solo gallery show for “Schizophrenic Photogenic” early 2013;  a group show with Rose Riot at Cherrylion and, last but not least, to grow CG Creative into a flourishing modern design firm.

Caryn: Wow. I have no idea, expect I know it will include the two of us, and some amazing intriguing happenings going on. I can easily see what we created at MODA taking on a life of its own. Whatever it is, and wherever we’ll be, I’m sure it will be fascinating – and happy.

Visitors to MODA get to vote on their favorite vignette and object. Chris and Caryn’s installation, “Darkly Deeply Beautifully Blue” is #6. The voting ends February 15.  Each vignette is set up with the Skovr app, so that viewers can access facts and video about the designers while in the galleries or from home.  More info on the museum hours, etc., can be found at www.museumofdesign.org.

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