Tell us about your first drink: My Dad had a converted fridge on the back porch for draft beer. We used to love to draw his beers for him, how to get the foam head just right, and we all had little kiddie-sized beer mugs of our own. Off to a good start!
What’s your usual? Anything red from Spain.
Have your tastes changed over the years? Oh yeah. In the old days on the road I’d start the day with a shot of tequila, just basically all day, and can’t imagine how I could have done that but when you’re young you can do anything. Just weed and tequila all day. I’ll have the occasional Patron, but it’s just too expensive. I’m a wino. If I’m in a hotel and the minibar doesn’t have wine, I don’t bother. I don’t like hard liquor in general, makes me fight.
What setting do you prefer to drink in? I used to love nothing more than to get on a plane, keep the wine coming, open up a laptop and write. I notice though, now, they cram you in so hard there’s no desk space. They’re also not so quick to serve you as much … back in the day we’d be on a plane and the stewardesses would just bring us an ice bucket full of beers. No way in hell would they do that now. International flights have better wine. Airports sometimes think I’m related to Janet Napolitano, former head of homeland security, and would bring me lots of free wine, with a wink and a smile. Argentina airlines apparently didn’t like Americans so much, or because they thought the same thing, or tattoos or whatever, they wouldn’t serve me at all.
Your favorite drinking story: Oh there’s a couple of them. We were in Spain a long time ago with a whole lot of press, TV and promo to do. The record company people, I guess because we’re Americans, took us to these boring fern bars, but I’m really into Flamenco, actually have studied in Spain, but this was years and years ago and I really wanted to see some real Spanish Flamenco. They don’t start until very late. It was a major artist, Blanca Del Rey, in her own place in Madrid. I was very excited, clapping and Ole-ing, and when the bartender saw me doing that he brought over a huge bottle of Pernod and a pitcher of water, which is Pastis, you keep adding the water to an inch or two of Pernod and you can drink for hours. The old men play dominoes and drink it all day. I was so hung over I missed an entire day of press, made the guys do it. I’d never had Pastis before and haven’t since.
Then another time was the early 90’s when they first came out with chocolate martinis. My old drummer from Pretty & Twisted, Danny Montgomery, and I got together in San Francisco and started at the hotel bar in the late afternoon. Those things went down waaaay too easy and after quite a few we’re like, “Fuck it, just bring the chocolate stuff,” and started drinking it straight. I was puking and green and it was horrible, didn’t start feeling human until 6 or 7pm. My God it was brutal. I don’t even know if I’d had anything chocolate since.
Dream Bender Team: Frida Kahlo (I’d shoot tequila with her, for sure) Bukowski, for sure, because we’d probably turn into mean assholes at the same time, Winston Churchill, and Nikola Tesla, who liked his whisky.
Mark of a good bartender: Not telling me his or her problems.
Mark of a bad bartender: Telling me his or her problems.
You spend a lot of time on the road. Have there been strange little bars you’ve walked into and thought: “My God, I could live here.” Mostly pubs. Pubs are happy drinkers. Ireland. I haven’t lived in Hollywood for a long time, I live in Joshua Tree out in the desert and I have never had a DUI and I don’t need one now, but the only bars I see these days are in the places I play, and I would rather buy my own and write, or usually have a bottle in my dressing room, I’m not good in bars in general. People talk such shit and I can’t keep my big mouth shut and it doesn’t end well, or I hurt someone’s feelings by having to get the hell out of there. I’m not a social drinker. I’m an antisocial drinker.
Do you have a drinking philosophy? Know thyself: but that comes with experience. I know what does me good and what doesn’t.
Do find that drinking helps you write songs? Absolutely. I have friends who are 4th generation psychics in New Orleans, and red wine kicks it off. I think Jesus was a wino. I feel the same. My horse is hysterical and loves nothing more than me on the porch typing or painting with a bottle of wine. She knows mama’s in a good mood.
Are there any hangover cures that work? The French have a little black pill that is amazing, but I haven’t had a hangover in—I don’t even know—since those previous stories, which are easily 20 years old. It’s not worth it but I have a horse and goat and dogs to look after and I just can’t. I’ll also look like shit, so I can’t. I like my wine at lunch, you just need to manage yourself. I don’t like to be out of control, I have to look after things. I’m out on a little ranch and need to take care of the critters. They keep me straight.
Say there was a time warp, and you ran into the 20-year-old version of yourself at the bar—what advice about drinking would you give yourself? Get it over with, you’re young enough. This ain’t gonna look as good on you when you’re my age. But don’t stop or you’ll be one of these dry drunks who have to talk about their sobriety all the time, which bores the living fuck out of me. Balance. Just balance, that’s all. Know where it does you good and where it doesn’t. I never go out New Year’s Eve, it’s amateur night.
Would you rather drink with God or the Devil? I drink with God.
How do you know when it’s time to stop drinking and go home? I used to have to—or thought I had to—have dinners and meetings with business people and it stressed me out. They’d happily buy me drinks and lunch or dinner while ripping me off. Many times I’d look at a freshly made & served margarita on the table in front of me and excuse myself to the bathroom and just not come back. When you start to ‘go dark’ as I like to call it. I haven’t mastered that yet, but I’m so much better at it than I used to be. As Dorothy Parker said: “I drink to make other people more interesting”. If you feel you’re doing that, go the fuck home.
Photo of Johnette by Kent Wilson
Be sure to check out Johnette’s new solo release Naked. For more info, go to facebook.com/officialjohnettenapolitano