Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fragile Families by Vernon Reid

AS I WRITE this, the fifth Living Colour recording, The Chair In The Doorway, will be released in a little more than a month. The journey to its emergence has been challenging and circuitous, banal and extraordinary, frustrating and in the end, very satisfying— reaffirming that Living Colour not only endures, but also moves forward in its two and a half decade, four-way funky rock and roll dialectic. Have mercy!

That time span contains Promethean struggle, astonishing good luck, brotherly communion, hard won triumph, communication breakdown, line-up changes, personal conflict, headache, heartache, tears, rage, hysterical laughter, the birth of wonderful children, the death of wonderful parents, strange vibrations, new technologies, never-speaking-to-each-other-again moments, wrong moves, right decisions, painful realizations, anguish and forgiveness.

Any band that lasts more than a decade is a thing of wonder. Rock bands are, by and large, fragile families of choice, as well as daring soldiers of fortune, choosing to be a band of brothers (and sisters where applicable) without the familial bonds of DNA to enforce a sense of relatedness. It’s hard work and it’s a continual process of renewal without which it can be impossible to continue when a fundamental rupture occurs.

A fundamental rupture is that shock to the system which forces sudden drastic, unwanted change. The death, catastrophic illness or sudden departure of a bandmate is perhaps the hardest event for a group to recover from. If the band doesn’t crumble under the crushing weight of its grief, it usually continues in diminished form—everyone aware of the gaping hole onstage, its mojo gone. INXS, Queen, Van Halen and Little Feat are prime examples of bands struggling and coping with disruptive departures.

On the other hand, such existential hardship can serve to reenergize a band after the last teardrop dries. The Stones managed to rally after the death of its founder Brian Jones. Pink Floyd was inspired to create some of its most groundbreaking work when its leader Syd Barrett was hospitalized with debilitating mental illness. In one of the most heroic turns, the band Def Leppard remained loyal to their drummer Rick Allen after he lost his arm in a horrific car crash. Faith No More didn’t miss a beat when switching frontmen from Chuck Mosley to Mike Patton—having success with both of them. In Living Colour’s case, the departure of Muzz Skillings was a weird unraveling of trust and friendship. The arrival, however, of the amazing bassist Doug Wimbish catapulted us back to work on our third full-length album, Stain.

Another serious challenge to the survival of a rock band is the fickle cultural ecology surrounding it. In a way, the harsh and unforgiving nature of the zeitgeist is the great equalizer. The rich and the popular are not to be spared. Those once in vogue can find themselves on the outside looking in, in short order. The once hot career can find itself cool to the touch. The hiring of top engineers, the best musicians, the most professional arrangers and successful producers and the hefty weight of a multinational corporation guarantee nothing.

As hard as we worked on the album, and as good as we believed it was, the sales for Stain were a disappointment. The commercial failure of an album is often the death knell of the rock and roll band—a fraught and emotional time of Hunter S. Thompson-esque fear and loathing. The hardest fact of the rock and roll life is that the love that you get from audiences is conditional by necessity. We amuse, we entertain, we provoke, we rock—but in time, people’s tastes change, their minds change and people vote with their feet out of the back exit. It’s not personal, and yet it feels that way at the time of the turning away.

Yet some folks really take a band and its music into the deepest part of themselves. The songs become their personal soundtrack. Their love for these musicians is boundless—driving for hours to get to a small show in an obscure town, passionately defending the band against detractors and trolls of all stripes. Fans like these are what keep a band going through the worst times. The people who never stopped believing in us often reminded me of how Living Colour’s music gave the band a sense of possibility and a step past hope. The very existence of our new album The Chair In The Doorway is an embodiment of that possibility.

The Chairway In The Doorway, Living Colour’s fifth
album, will be released on September 15th on Megaforce Records.
2 8 R E L I X | O C T O B E R 2 0 0 9


SupaSistah said...

Love the insights into your process... thanks for being so transparent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting that down for the fans. Personally, I don't give a damn what the charts say, what radio rams down my throat or what the people who give out Grammy's like, I think -- no, I *KNOW* -- that Living Colour is one of if not THE greatest rock bands of the last 20 years. And yes, I'm one that has driven 150 miles from Austin to Dallas to see you guys (twice, actually!), and I even flew from TX to Detroit MI in Dec of '05 to see my favorite band. And it was well worth it. Luckily, you guys came to ME here in Austin, TX this month, so thank you for that and please come back soon! Each and every member of LC amazes me on a regular basis, but the music you guys create together is magic, plain and simple. I know I speak for many when I say we hope to have you around for another 20 years!! --- zlh67 (Austin, TX)

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks.

I cannot stop playing the new CD a(especially the single Behind the Sun), just as I couldn't stop playing Vivid 20 years ago. You are indeed the soundtrack.

See you in Chicago-

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that heartfelt and very well said piece, Mr. Reid.

I've said it before, but not to you personally as we've only met across the large concert halls, but here it is again:

Stain is among the VERY BEST rock albums of all time. Period. That's no easy task, given that all of your albums are stellar. But DAMN. Stain just has that raw, angry, spontaneous vibe that might have been massaged away on Vivid and Time's Up by extra studio polish. With Stain, we got a very extemporaneous album that, simply put, kicks ass.

Keep up the great work, guys. Alla yas.

Anonymous said...

Faithfull and loving bands deserve Faithfull and loving fans. And I hope you got what you deserve !

Stain and The Chair In The Doorway are, to me, awesome albums. Never doubt about it wtahever happens and whatever people say.

See you soon in a few months in Paris !

Anonymous said...

lovin the new cd!!

Anonymous said...

Luckily commercial succes doesn´t indicate quality, because Stain might not have been a commercial succes. It remains my favorite LC-album to this day.
I really love your new album so far. It reminds of Stain the most.

BuddhaMasterCrew said...

Fishbone once wrote a song called 'everyday sunshine'.

Everyday Sunshine.

When I think about this wonderful and truthful post, that is what comes to my mind.

That is what Living Colour means to me (don't tell my wife!).

We'll be with you. Always.

See you on Dec.13.

Peace, Jerome.

The Judge said...

That was a great read. The new album is fantastic. I for one have always been loyal to Living Colour and always believed in the band. Thank you for persevering through the hard times as your commitment continues to brighten and broaden my musical horizons.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for never really going away. Like Jimi Said "With the power of soul, anything is possible".

The new album has blown me away.

See you in England.

René Tolboom said...

You took away some chairs! I got tears in my eyes from your story - I'm touched by your words and sincere respect for those who beleive in you, the band, ... This attitude and your openheartedness is what makes you such a strong person(ality) to me! Though you always prove human ;-)

Peace, René

Anonymous said...

Your words and candor, introspection and obvious intellect just confirm what the faithfull already believe. Your music is everything to me. GOD BLESS YOU ALL. Thank you for the CHAIR. I now forgive you for colliedoscope. LOL


Federico Bonifacio said...

Stain is part of my personal life soundtrack; that's a great album, I really enjoy it; I guess Doug is one of the best bass players I ever saw, that's the pure truth

I never cared about about the sales of any record, but about the music, the message and the magic; I know I'm not the only one, at least between LC fans around the world

I'm happy and proud to say Living Colour is part of my personal life soundtrack since I was a 13 years old kid, back in 1988

honestly, I think I'm one of these fans you Vernon mention in your lines

by the way, I think Colleidoscope is a very underrated album, I really do; to me, it's way better than many people think, I like it a lot

anyway, thanks Vernon for putting your heart and soul in this message, it was a pleasure to read

greetings from Argentina; can't wait for the november shows in Buenos Aires

and just for the record, the chair ROCKSSSS, big time

see you soon


Unknown said...

While on a trip far from home I had the opportunity to catch your show at Cane's Bar and Grill in San Diego. It was a welcome distraction from a long stretch away from my family. The show reminded me of everything I love about seeing live music. My review is posted at

Thanks to Vernon and Corey for taking a minute to say HI and snap a photo outside the tour bus that afternoon. Too bad my technically challenged colleague hit the wrong button and lost the picture.

Thanks for a great show and an even better memory!

Daniel LaRubio said...

I think you guys are the most important band to come out in my lifetime. Seriously, everything I like has to be at least 30 years old & half the members dead already usually before I even discover them. So, in a nutshell that's what Living Colour means to me, something current for me to stand by. I remember when Time's Up came out, & how floored even almost frightened I was! I haven't heard that recording in about 15 years, just put it on & I'm having a difficult time with it. First of all, I can't stop listening to it, it IS MY LIFE SOUNDTRACK right now. How could I have forgotten about this? (maybe as it turns out, not such a bad thing!) I hear alot of people bashing Vernon's guitar playing, what's up with that? Could it be that all the Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Clapton, Townshend, & Jimi Page clones are simply just afraid, even terrified to try (let alone embrace) something new & different? It just doesn't make any sense, what have these people got against you? What's "THIER" problem? Mine own ears can't hear it. All I can hear is "killer," cuts like a knife, rocking, f**king tone!!! Superior vocal range, solid as a rock drumming, & advanced multi-genre bass playing. That's all I can hear!!! So what the hell are these people talking about? Are they listening to the same thing?
On another note, I remember seeing THAT tour with a friend (now deceased) & being just as floored. I remember friends & family that are no longer with us, who have fallen by the wayside. How delicate life can sometimes be, how fleeting. I feel part of the struggle. I can relate to Vernon's comments, story, resolve. I being a fellow musician as well find myself in a never ending resistance against corporate giants who think they can tell me what to watch or what to listen to, as if I have no mind of my own, as if my eyes can't see & my ears can't hear. A slap in the face...... Anyway, I missed your show in Philly in September & I'm kicking myself silly. I just bought a house (yes, I'm feeling lucky & fortunate), moved & am putting out fires around the house & the timing of it all was just a little too much for me. On the other hand, I bowed, & scrapped, & clawed to get tickets for the the Highline Ballroom show in NYC on October 30th, 2009. I'll be there in full support. This will be my 8th show in the last year & a half or so. I saw Robin Thicke (my wife loves his falsetto), Jeff Beck, Zappa plays Zappa, Etta James, Wayne Shorter, Todd Rundgren, Tower of Power w/AWB, & The Police (by far the worst & most expensive show out of the lot!) I thought I was at a Grateful Dead concert. Does the Steel Pan Orchestra I saw in Antigua count? I love Steel Pan Calypso/Soca! Anyhow, what I mean to say is, I LOVE a good show (my soul NEEDS NOURISHMENT!), & don't want to go see "just anybody!" Does that make me bad?
I'm so glad to see you guys back on the scene again. So very refreshing. Please stick around 'cause we really need you! I can feel it in the core of my being.....


Mike said...

I first heard Living Colour some 21 years ago as a high school freshman. I've gone on to buy and enjoy every song they have ever made.

I am now an educator, and much of what Vernon wrote resonated with me. Like musicians, educators often receive much feedback and even adulation when they are engaged with their audience (students, in our case). Yet over time, educators usually have little future contact with former students. It is true that a few students will eventually send an email or pay a visit in order to give an update on how she or he is doing or what type of impact the teacher has had on her or him. These students typically represent just a minute portion of the total taught, however, and thus an educator rarely ever has a real idea about how she or he has affected (either positively or negatively) those at one time in her or his charge.

It may well be similar for musicians. The applause and kudos they receive while on stage or in the spotlight are surely enthralling, but ultimately it is impossible for a musician to know how he or she has impacted a listener. How could Vernon, Corey, Will, Doug, or Muzz know, for example, that I found inspiration in Time's Up, listening to it constantly during my formative years? How could they know that when I traveled to Spain while in college I would share the music of Living Colour with Spanish friends who had never heard of the band? How could they know that when I became a social studies teacher I would use "Pride" to discuss the institution of slavery and its residual effects? How could they know that when I became a school administrator I would share the lyrics of "This Is the Life" and "Funny Vibe" with students who experienced a certain degree of frustration or marginalization in the school environment? How could they know that I am also a runner and that just last weekend I used about an hour's worth of Living Colour to get me through the back half of a race? And how could they know that, when I make the hour-long trek into Manhattan in a couple of weeks to catch them at the Highline Ballroom, I will bring with me a knowledge and appreciation of their music that has grown inside me from childhood to adulthood?

The members of Living Colour, in short, can only guess at the value their music has had to individuals they will never meet. I would like to say here that their art and work endure with the people, like me, they've touched.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I only really found out about you guys this week. I've heard you on the radio but a friend of mine played me an album. As soon as I have the money I am going to buy every album of Living Colour I can find.

You're an artisan and a poet, keep on rockin'.