Living Colour vocalist Corey Glover knows it. He knows that, despite putting out five studio albums of criminally underrated rock, mention their name and the first (and maybe only) thing that comes to mind for many is, "Oh, that's the band that does 'Cult of Personality."
And even on their current tour, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of their debut record, Vivid ("Cult" was the first single), a chunk of the audience will only know that one tune. But that's OK with him.
"However people get to the party, I'm all for that," he says. "If that song is your only frame of reference for us as a band, that's fine. If you know it from the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto or as [wrestler] CM Punk's theme song, that's great. If it's deeper, that's good too."
"I would appreciate it, of course, if people knew more," he continues. "It is my life's work. But I would never say, 'Well, screw you if you don't know my music, I can't deal with you!' I'm more like, If you like that one song, cool. Stick around, because there's a lot more.'"
Guitarist Vernon Reid concurs.
"Fortunately, it's the song that brought us to power," he recalls. "We wrote it while rehearsing. All done in one session. We played it the next night at CBGB's, and it blew people away. We caught fire, so I have a great deal of affection for that song. It's not just our 'hit.' It represents one of the best moments in the life of the band."
But those thinking that "Cult" would be the main set closer or encore on the current tour, you better get there early. After opening with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Preachin' Blues," Living Colour has so far been playing Vivid in its entirety in order next -- and "Cult of Personality" is the record's lead-off track.
In addition to Glover and Reid, the band also includes drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish (who replaced original string-thumper Muzz Skillings in 1992).
When Vivid came out in 1988, the video for "Cult" was in constant rotation on MTV while Living Colour faced the same dichotomy as did Chuck Berry, Sly Stone, and Jimi Hendrix: there might be black faces onstage, but the audience was a sea of white.
A fact brought home because many of their songs were about the black experience in America. Those are common subjects for R&B, soul, and rap music; not so much so for rock.
In "Funny Vibe," the black narrator grows more and more pissed that he has to assure an unnamed white woman that he will not "rob, rape, or beat" her. In "Open Letter (To a Landlord)," the band addresses conditions of inner-city slums. And in "Which Way to America?" Glover sings "I look at the T.V./ Your America's doing well/ I look at the window/My America's catching hell."
"My thought is that rock is a funny thing because it's so identified with white players and listeners," Reid offers. "But it was supported by [white] radio. How is black radio supporting jazz or blues? It's not. The only thing that black radio is supporting on any level of is gospel, but it's contemporary. They're not playing Mahalia Jackson or Sister Rosetta Tharpe."
Asked if Living Colour debuted in 2013 would the "novelty" of black rockers be as prominent, Glover is cautiously optimistic.
"I would hope that people have moved past that, but it's touch given what the climate would seem to be on this particular day in this particular week to talk about race," he says.
Note: This interview occurred a few days after the George Zimmerman verdict and on the same day that President Obama noted in an impromptu press conference that murder victim Trayvon Martin "could have been him 35 years ago.
"On the surface, it's like, 'Wow, a black rock band.'' Glover continues. "But below that, there is so much more going on and that's a longer conversation. And it speaks to what Living Colour has been and always will be. We talk about what's going on in the world that we live in, and sometimes it's not pretty."
Reid takes a more hardline approach, saying that vibes have gotten "even funnier" in recent years, despite the Obama's ascendancy.
"The polarization between black and white is very interesting," says the guitarist. "Because now we have so many different people. Brown people, Hispanics. Indians. We have diplomatic relations with Vietnam! It seems that the improbable becomes the inevitable in America."
Coming up tomorrow: Reid and Glover on their most recent record, reflections of Houston, their Sept. 11 song that's the best one about the day you've never heard , and how Glover was inspired to become a performer by Jesus...and Judas.
Living Colour plays Brandon West and the Black Hats Sunday, July 28 at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at
Ed. Note: Reid's quotes come from an unpublished 2009 interview he gave to Rocks Off just prior to a planned Houston gig on the "Chair In the Doorway" tour. That show was cancelled due to the group's last-minute booking to perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
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