David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 248: Concrete Blonde (Tomorrow, Wendy)

May 3, 2023

One of the great pleasures I am getting from this song series is discovery. In researching an artist or a song to tighten up my post, I stumble upon something I didn't know. Often that discovery gives me the angle for a future song in the series, taking away some of the anxiety about knowing what I need to come up with next.

Today's blog owes itself to a discovery made with my Stan Ridgway "Drive, She Said" research. I have always known and never forgotten that Ridgway left Wall of Voodoo; what I had completely forgotten is that Wall of Voodoo plowed on, releasing two more albums after Ridgway's departure, with Andy Prieboy taking over on vocals.

Andy Prieboy? Why is that name familiar, I wondered when I stumbled upon that fact this last week. Wanting to focus on my Ridgway post, I put Prieboy's name somewhere in my brain's recesses and moved on.

Then, all of a sudden I heard Concrete Blonde's "Joey," and I remembered why I had heard of Prieboy. He is the writer on Concrete Blonde's Bloodletting's closing track, the haunting "Tomorrow, Wendy." Bloodletting cast Concrete Blonde farther out of the shadows of obscurity, primarily on the alternative radio hit "Joey." For many people like me, hearing Concrete Blonde for the first time through Bloodletting, we realized the band was built around a tremendous songwriter, Johnette Napolitano. Yet, the album's best track, the one that stayed in your brain days and days after "Joey" or "Caroline" or, let's face it "Days and Days," was "Tomorrow, Wendy," written not by Napolitano, but this Prieboy dude, who also played keyboard on it.

The song is a devastating look at the mysteries of death, punctuated by the chorus ("they say, 'goodbye,'/tomorrow Wendy is going to die"), and echoing guitar chords playing out like ghosts dancing across the speakers. Whatever defenses humans have against death are mocked by the "good try/tomorrow, Wendy is going to die" alternative lines in the chorus.

Generally, the song's somber subject matter is not very elusive, but in finding out about Prieboy these last few days, I have learned that "Wendy" is based on a woman who killed herself rather than succumb to the ravages of AIDS. What I also learned this week was that Prieboy released his own version of "Tomorrow, Wendy" within two months of Bloodletting's release. Napolitano sings on his version, but with an interesting switch between verses 3 and 4, both of which are the railing against God sections, Napolitano singing Concrete Blonde's fourth verse as the third for Prieboy's version. Prieboy's is still lovely (and in listening to his voice, I can hear why he was a good follow-up for Stan Ridgway in Wall of Voodoo), but it lacks the musical interlude the Bloodletting version has.

Which is where Gail Ann Dorsey comes in. A puzzling detail to Napolitano's version of "Tomorrow, Wendy" is that she did not play her usual bass on "Tomorrow, Wendy," but instead turned those duties over to Gail Ann Dorsey, a pretty unknown musician at that time (within a year, Dorsey would join, briefly, Gang of Four, and by the late 1990s play bass for David Bowie on four albums). Who cares who played bass, you might ask. Well, listen at the 2:30 mark. That's why we care.

See, I am convinced every perfect song has a moment that defines the song, that lifts it from near perfection, 9.9 out of 10, and places it firmly and forever at 10.

So, at 2:30, between the second chorus and the third verse, that heart-breaking bass inserts a solo, a chord sequence, that acts like a rip in the universe, setting up a musical interlude, through bass, guitar and keyboard, with a delicate little guitar riff by James Mankey, that distinguished Concrete Blonde's version of this song from Prieboy's. That interlude delays a repeat of the unforgettable chorus, "they say, goodbye, tomorrow Wendy is going to die," and the final verse (in the rearrangement they chose) delivering a more deliberate suicide note from our mythical Wendy. Napolitano belts out this last verse, final railing to a God that seems cold and distant:

Only God says jump/

But I set the time/

Cause if he ever saw it/

It was through these eyes of mine/

And if he ever suffered/

It was me who did his crying.

Since this is the only verse in the song sung as if first person Wendy, Napolitano infuses the lines, especially the "I set the time," with venomous passion. It makes sense that this verse has to end the song, as there is nothing left after Wendy passes.

When Preiboy changes the order on his own version, allowing her death to come before the other railing at God, it allows him to sum up as those of us left to pick up the pieces: "I told the priest/don't count on any second coming/God got his ass kicked/the first time he came slumming." Then he delivers, with his own venomous delivery, "he had the balls to come, the gall to die and then forgive us." (I offer links to both versions below.)

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I know it will never be anything as hauntingly lovely as this song.

Concrete Blonde. "Tomorrow, Wendy." Bloodletting. I.R.S., 1990. Link here to Concrete Blonde version. Link here to Prieboy version.

Day 247: Otis Redding "Try A Little Tenderness"

Day 249: The New Radicals "You Get What You Give"

See complete list here.