The art history of Johnette Napolitano is a ‘Rough Mix’
By Selena Fragassi For Sun-Times Media March 19, 2014 6:56PM
◆8 p.m. March 23
◆ City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago
◆ Tickets, $33-$45
◆ (312) 733-9463;
Johnette Napolitano is perhaps best known as the front woman for the early ’90s alt rock band Concrete Blonde, but the modern-day Renaissance woman is also a sculptor, writer, film scorer, seamstress and activist, all of which comes together in her latest mini-tour, which stops at City Winery this weekend.
“In today’s world, that would be a sign of ADD, and they’d probably medicate me,” Napolitano says, recalling a time when things used to be different for the right-brained. Like when she was 5 years old and enrolled in a gifted kids arts program at UCLA or when she first started out as a musician in the world of ‘80s post punk when having disparate interests was part of the whole creative package. “Discovery is a natural part of the human condition; there are so many things to try and life is too short to not be interested in it all.”
For Napolitano that meant realizing her childhood dream of becoming a published author with 2010’s “Rough Mix,” a well-received collection of her poetry, drawings and stories she’s stashed away for 30 years, including divulging the narratives behind her intimate lyrics, such as ID’ing the mystery man behind her most famous song, “Joey.”
“When reviews called me an ‘emerging author,’ I was so happy,” she says, noting that the compliment is even greater considering how non-conventional the format of “Rough Mix” is with a cut and paste log of material. “It’s an art form that goes back to early days when you were up all night and went to Kinkos and made fliers and posters. I love that aesthetic; it’s where I come from.” In fact, the book is so enmeshed in her that it will also make several appearances in her upcoming performance, with projections and readings alongside performances of songs from Concrete Blonde and her myriad solo releases that came upon the band’s initial dissolution in 1995 (they since reformed on several occasions).
While the book was something she always wanted to complete (and hints that there may be more to come), it wasn’t until Napolitano’s dad passed away several years ago that she really started to find her focus. “When you start losing people, it’s the great leveler. It changes your life entirely,” she says, “You get to thinking about time and all the things you want to complete before you leave.”
That for her meant a life change, escaping the gridlock of L.A. where she grew up to find solace in the artistic haven of Joshua Tree where she now lives a modest life with her horses. “God did not put me on earth to sit in traffic and burn gas and stress out,” she says, laughing. Although when she does have to make the commute back to the city, she uses her time wisely.
“I do a lot of work in my car. When I’m driving my wheels starting turning literally and figuratively,” Napolitano says, hinting that she’s thankfully not ready to hit the brakes anytime soon.