“I got the ways and means, to New Orleans, I’m going down by the river where it’s warm and green. I’m gonna have a drink, walk around . . . I got a lot to think about.”“Bloodletting (the Vampire Song)”, by Concrete Blonde
Interview with the Vampire came out in 1976. I was just two years old, so I would have to wait about fifteen years before I had my own experience with the book. But it was worth the wait, in part because I got a chance to pair it with the Concrete Blonde’s album Bloodletting, which came out in 1990.
That was the year my friend Toby, who was always ahead of the game, came to school with Interview, that wonderful gold cover with the red highlights in the lettering. He could barely contain himself, so inspired by Anne Rice and everything her book represented. We were sophomores in high school then, just entering that heady period in which a certain kind of creative young person starts to really feel the juice coming on.
Anne Rice quickly came to represent not just magic and art, but hope . . . promise. See, we lived in the town of Eunice, a hopelessly small and irrelevant place—we thought—in the heart of Cajun country. There wasn’t anything interesting happening there. Not that we could tell, anyway. We were, like most teenagers in those pre-internet days, longing to connect to a larger, more interesting world that we knew existed in places like New York, Paris, and other equally mysterious cities we had never visited. All of this cool stuff happening in these far away places was an amalgam of music and art and poetry. Interview with the Vampire introduced us to the possibility that there was more of that magical convergence of art running like a river under our feet.
It was Anne Rice who first pulled back the curtain. The dark romance of New Orleans that she described had a sexual power that was unexpected and profound. I can still distinctly remember the erotic tension and release in the way she described Lewis and Lestat feeding on blood. It was literature that contained everything I wanted to experience—the dark mysteries, the aesthetic beauty, the primal desires. And all of it took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city that was barely three hours from my hometown.
I had started dating a girl from the Catholic school across town that same year. We sort of fell into it, a convenience that had more to do with the mutual friends we had who were going steady, but still, it was nice. I didn’t know any of the rich girls who went to St-Eds, so this was another little bit of mystery to add to the spice of high school life that was baseball, reading, and fantasizing about getting out.
My musical tastes still steered towards the mainstream stuff MTV and the radio fed me, but I was about to have another door opened for me. I was a member of the BMI “music club”, the one where you get your first fifteen cassettes, or whatever it was, for a penny, so when my new Catholic school girlfriend said she liked that song “Joey” they played sometimes on MTV, I bought my first Concrete Blond tape.
I must’ve made a copy of it before I handed it over, or maybe he came across it independent of me, but eventually Toby started telling me about this amazing record that was right under my nose. I had never bothered to listen. As I said, Toby was always a few steps ahead of me, and so, just like he’d done with Interview, he saw its genius first and turned me on.
The record opens with “Bloodletting”, the Vampire Song, which name checks New Orleans and talks about the river, warm and fecund and magical. It may as well be the soundtrack to Interview with the Vampire. The album concludes with “Tomorrow, Wendy”, where Johnette Napolitano sings “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, the gall to die and then forgive us. Though I don’t wonder why, I wonder what he thought it would get us.”
Anne Rice could write about vampires and the old magic of New Orleans. Concrete Blonde could make music that voiced a lust for life and a skeptical sense of spirituality I couldn’t articulate. The experience of reading Interview—all of the Vampire Chronicles, really, but especially that first one—was an awakening. It was beauty and magic and sensual power. And Bloodletting somehow forced the door open and sucked me through the portal.
At the time I didn’t understand the connections. Hell, I still don’t. But I keep coming back to these words. Magic. Beauty. Blood. Soil. The mystery of imagination and expression. The cosmic power of random interactions with people and things. The continuity of art across generations.
Maybe it comes down to just one thing: to create. Characters, sounds, moments, memories. When we create, we are alive.
There was only Anne Rice, and though she’s dead now, she’s been immortal since 1976. What a wonderful magic trick it is to do what she did, and how lucky are we to be a part of the act.