Saturday, May 12, 2018



It was sometime deep in the middle of the night during the drought afflicted Chicago summer of 1988 when the lightning struck--not actual but metaphorical and for the purposes of this posting, musical, of course.

For whatever reasons that I am unable to remember after all of this time, I was awake at the aforementioned time, perhaps I was writing, perhaps not, but the television was indeed on and the channel was placed upon MTV, a station that I was just beginning to be obsessed with as the city of Chicago had then recently been wired for cable television, thus making it possible to finally see what those in the suburbs had access to for years prior.

Anyhow, I will never remember the VJ who introduced this clip but I will never forget the feeling when I saw it. The music itself was a ferocious roar with a guitar riff and rhythmic force that, to my ears, instantly reminded me of the pummeling swagger of Led Zeppelin.  Believe me, I was hooked instantly. But it was when I saw the members of the band, that is when the lightning hit. For when I saw them, I felt supremely lifted. I felt...vindication.

The song was "Middle Man." The band was Living Colour.
On May 3rd, Living Colour's debut album "Vivid" reached its 30th anniversary, a milestone that I felt necessary to acknowledge upon Synesthesia as its impact, both musical and cultural, seized me tremendously when I was 19 years old and the pride I feel that its presence and influence has only continued to reverberate over these past three decades.

Living Colour's "Vivid," an album of vibrant, vivacious fury, propelled by formidable performances from the band, which at that time consisted of Guitarist Vernon Reid, Bassist Muzz Skillings, Vocalist Corey Glover and Drummer Will Calhoun (Bassist Doug Wimbish has long since taken over for Skillings who departed the band in 1992), and the mountainous production by Ed Stasium. It is truly one of the very best debut releases I have ever heard as it is a body slamming gut punch of take-no-prisoners hard rock, and also serves a seamless musical amalgamation of punk, rap, power pop, soul, jazz, funk, blues, fusion and heavy metal, all of which is armed with a searing political/social commentary as presented through the distinctive and unapologetic lens of the Black experience.

As this album opens with a quotation as delivered by none other than Malcolm X, Living Colour immediately signaled that this album was going to be markedly different experience for the hard rock  genre while also delivering the sonic boom. After the first track, which is none other than the still relevant and revelatory blitzkrieg that is "Cult Of Personality," the album tackled provocative subject matter with purposefulness and purity. Racial paranoia ("Funny Vibe"), drug abuse ("Desperate People"), gentrification ("Open Letter (To A Landlord)" ) and the painfully distinct lines that divide the realities of Black and White America ("Which Way To America").

And somehow, the band also found ways to include a high school hallways bop ("I Want To Know"), a booming hp-hop drums via a vague country-western sad song ("Broken Hearts"), jaunty African rhythms ("Glamour Boys"), a roaring Talking Heads cover ("Memories Can't Wait") and even their own James Brown influenced theme song ("What's Your Favorite Color?").

For me, it was not solely the experience of hearing a great album that  soared my spirit. Or really even the fact that these superior musicians, it could be argued, operated from more of a jazz perspective than rock, so to speak with their jaw dropping agility and flexibility with merging and blurring a variety of musical genres to create a sound that was uniquely their own on their very first time at bat.

It was the sight, and therefore, the reality of bearing witness to these four Black men daring to play the very music that we are not supposed to be playing regardless of the greater reality that we, as Black people, created every music genre represented upon "Vivid," especially rock and roll. Living Colour showcased their inherent right to play this music and in doing so, they gave Black people like myself  a venue to rightfully and righteously claim our inherent right to listen to this music. Additionally, the existence of Living Colour rightfully and righteously challenged both White and Black radio, and therefore White and Black listeners in regards to understanding precisely what Black music could even be!

With throwing down such a titanic gauntlet, Living Colour's debut served as  nothing less than vindication for me--a then 19 year old Black teenager/college student who worshiped rock and roll, played rock and roll drums and just did not wish to explain to anyone, anywhere at any time of why I love this music and how my Blackness would always exist no matter what I listened to. For that, my gratitude towards this band (and for that matter, Fishbone) is bottomless as the proverbial doors and windows they gloriously smashed allowed me the avenue to take a  greater confidence in myself as I continued to build my worldview.

And now, 30 years later in 2018, Living Colour thankfully still exists and they remain as vibrant and as...ahem...vivid as ever. That being said, I am honestly unsure as to how perceptions have changed or unchanged regarding the concept of Black people playing hard rock, but Living Colour's continued presence keeps the conversation alive as well as providing and delivering staggering, blistering, unforgiving rock and roll for the ages.

If you have never heard "Vivid," now is the time. If you haven't heard it in some time, it is now time to re-visit it. And when you do...without question or hesitation...PLAY LOUD!!!!!!!!!!

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