by Jane Roser
When American teens and 20-somethings became obsessed with vampires in the late 80s and early 90s, I was right there with them attending author Anne Rice’s annual Coven party in New Orleans at St. Elizabeth’s, the old orphanage Rice restored and made her second home. Rice made vampires romantic, tragic and cool. Alternative rock band Concrete Blonde made songs about vampires romantic, tragic and really, really cool when they released their third studio album Bloodletting in 1990, joining Gothic rock bands such as Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus in creating an album that spoke to a generation fascinated by all things immortal and mysterious.
Bloodletting was Concrete Blonde’s most successful album and gave them their first mainstream hit “Joey”, which reached 19 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. While I do love lead singer Johnette Napolitano’s angst ridden song about standing by and watching a loved one fight their inner demons, I am a bigger fan of some of the other songs on this album. The first track “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” is an eerie, chilling tune that could be the closing credit song for Interview With the Vampire (okay, it’s a bit more literal than The Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy For The Devil”, but I could see Tom Cruise rocking out to it). Napolitano delivers gut-wrenching emotion and a twisted sense of excitement with her distinct throaty vocals and Bram Stoker-like lyrics: “They used to dance in the garden in the middle of the night/They were naked as the day they were bone skin all bone-china white/O you were a vampire and I may never see the light.” I especially get chills when she makes that slurping sound and starts laughing before Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson goes medieval on drums. It’s sexy and wickedly perfect.
“The Sky Is A Poisonous Garden” is an action packed horror movie put to music and the frenetic, lightening fast guitar and percussion illustrate what could be a film’s suspenseful chase scene: “They knew with the dawn/They knew with the day/They knew what they had would be young naked prey/And attacked from all sides by a world filled with poison and hate.” It’s a song that will never be playing on your iPod while you’re walking home from a late night bar hop.
The most tragic song by far, however, is the hauntingly beautiful “Tomorrow, Wendy”, penned by Wall of Voodoo’s Andy Prieboy and released the same year on his debut solo album “Upon My Wicked Son”. The song is about a real woman named Wendy who was diagnosed with AIDS and committed suicide rather that live with the disease and the stigma of having it. Despondent, bitter and filled with grief, it’s a hard song to listen to, especially when you hear the last lyric: “I told the priest don’t count on any second coming/God got his ass kicked the first time he came down here slumming/He had the balls to come and gall to die and then forgive us/No, I don’t wonder why I wonder where he thought it would get us.”
Even the album cover illustrates the viciousness and mystery behind the contents. One white rose splattered with blood among a bouquet of red roses; innocence among the immoral. Or, as Anne Rice wrote, “People who cease to believe in God or goodness altogether still believe in the devil…Evil is always possible. And goodness is eternally difficult.” Bloodletting reminds us of this, and ultimately succeeds.