Kandia Crazy Horse Rips it Up
By Scott Woods (November 2003)
Kandia Crazy Horse is the Editor of the upcoming music tome, Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n Roll, which will be published by Palgrave at the end of 2003. I recently sent her a bunch of questions about the book and a few about herself as well.
Scott: How are you doing, and what have you been listening to lately?
Kandia: I’m doing shitty, thanks, Scott. This year has been all about Arthur Lee & Eddie Hinton. Have seen five of Love’s Forever Changes anniversary concerts since December 2002 (including the one in LA w/ Johnny Echols & Don Conka), got the Zane Records reissues of Hinton and listen a great deal to an Eddie compilation made for me by someone I love very much. Rufus Wainwright’s Want is superb, perhaps the only true masterpiece of the times. Otherwise, my recent enthusiasms have been: Los Lonely Boys, Seal’s latest–which is a real triumph, Donnie still, Mofro, Jet (from Australia, purveyors of Get Born), the Chesterfield Kings who have a cracking new one on Sundazed–The Mindbending Sounds of…, the Faces, Jeff Beck Group, Eugene McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, a lot of Fela still, the Neil Young reissues (esp. On The Beach). Hoping someone will send me the reissue of Gene Clark’s No Other. Admit a horrible weakness for Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” and Zero 7’s remix of N.E.R.D’s “Provider.” Jesse Malin dominated the 1st quarter for me, continues to spark and I am still reserving judgment on My Morning Jacket.
Scott: What is the title of your upcoming book?
Kandia: Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock & Roll.
Scott: Where did the idea for the book come from?
Kandia: Independently, I have had the lifelong idea of doing some cultural project focused on the innovations of blacks in rock & roll. I specifically came to this project when my old friend/schoolmate Mike Ladd, the alternative hip-hop artist extraordinaire, recommended to independent filmmaker James Spooner that I serve as a “scholarly” resource for his book at St. Martin’s. James eventually decided to throw all his energy behind his new film Afro-Punk, aka Rock N Roll Nigger (High Yellow Productions) and I helmed the book project.
Scott: I understand there are other writers involved–are you the Editor of the book? Who are some of the contributors?
Kandia: Yes, I am the editor. Contributors range from Black Atlantic icon Paul Gilroy and my rockcrit nigga Jon Caramanica to the lovely Vivien Goldman and Bad Brains’ Daryl Jenifer. Me mate Barn generously supplied some historical reprints from Rocksbackpages.com‘s archive. And I even got that crazy dada wigger Lester Bangs to write for me; he’s about neck ‘n neck with 2Pac, Jimi, Eva Cassidy & Mojo Risin’ in the posthumous release sweepstakes inne? I wonder what he makes of Prince stumping for the Witnesses door-to-door these days?
Scott: Is the book a genre study? A musical history? A polemic?
Kandia: I suppose Rip It Up–note the Little Richard reference–is a combination of select history and polemic. I was wary of calling it “the” history because it’s hardly complete…and that was intentional. Certain decisions as to cutoff dates and which artists would be included had been made even before I stepped up. The real point of the book is to serve as a primer on blacks’ contributions to rock and serve as a marker for future in-depth study of the subject. Black rock still deserves the mammoth coffee table treatment with Pedro Bell & Henry Diltz images and all that jazz. I just could not countenance the fact that I might die any day now without having made a stand on behalf of black rock’s canonization for the Masses to recognize.
Scott: Did the writers write material specifically for the book, or is it culled from different sources?
Kandia: Reprints had appeared in various music publications; the Bangs piece originally ran in the Village Voice. Everything else was done specifically for the project.
Scott: Do you write anything for the book yourself?
Kandia: I actually submitted several things but, in the end, my primary contributions are the Introduction and an interview with legendary session singer Venetta Fields. Also had a hand in the “Black Rock Glossary” etc.
Scott: All I know, from the brief mention you made in an e-mail, is that the book is a history of black rock. Is there a unifying premise here?
Kandia: I would not say there’s a unifying premise beyond the majority of the artists’ era of peak productivity falling between 1964 and 2003, a burning churning desire on the part of the writers to be militant about black rock…and of course, erm, having suffered creative and professional slings and arrows due to race.
Scott: Do you believe that audiences and critics still have preconceptions about what “black” music is and what “rock” music is? If so, where are these preconceptions coming from–critics? radio and MTV? demographic marketing? the record labels?…
Kandia: The Black Rock Coalition’s Director of Operations, Darrell McNeill, contributed a lengthy and thorough essay on the cruel history of race and the entertainment industry; read that and you’ll get just about all the “facts.” Personally, as a young, black, female rock critic who has mostly covered southern rock throughout their career, I perennially LIVE the reality that audiences, the media and the industry have dangerous and ignorant preconceptions about what black music is and ain’t–and about rock. Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s struggles with artistic freedom, mass indifference and poor reception by the black community and black radio certainly prove that these issues are entrenched and (pun intended) bitter. The pimping of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy and his constant presence on the cover of wide-circulation guitar magazines which conveniently divorce him from his colored roots is also a huge point of contention…I mean, Jimi’s kinda like that one black slave in the Mormon heaven. All that you mention–radio, MTV, demographic marketing–are bloody usual suspects. Yet, as a critic, I am more concretely aware of the gang’s shortcomings in treating black and “other” music. Maybe that cannot be helped since we “others” are not and never have been the center. Labels are definitely to blame, though, since with the appearance of every Chocolate Genius, Glen Scott & Res, the same ole tired refrain about what is and should not be “black” music rears its ugly head. Lenny Kravitz is the only one in the last 15 years or so to truly escape that conundrum and some would argue that he’s achieved it by pointedly eschewing race and any radical stances throughout his career. No need to spin, this record’s been broke.
Scott: Does the book challenge these assumptions–and how?
Kandia: At this point, I think it remains to be seen whether or not the book will succeed at countering a half-century’s worth of wrong-headed thinking and writing about blacks in the rock field. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of any one work. I do think that the book represents a challenge in its exploration of the subjectivity of various artists like Sly Stone, Slash and Betty Davis. In the past (and present), many of the fans and biographers of these artists who have been allowed face time with the mass mind were white males and it’s their “authority” which holds sway in all assessments of the musicians and their oeuvres. Let some folks inside the race at least have a chance to present the other side of the mirror (of Sly’s freaky grin).
Scott: Who do you think are the 5 most significant black rock artists of the last 50 years? (Feel free to expound.)
Kandia: I think the choices below are pretty self-evident…but here’s some suitable quips:
* Arthur Lee: the true King and Spirit of Rock & Roll…hey, with Jim Morrison as a fluffer…
* Chuck Berry: made room in the mass spotlight for the subjectivity of the brown-eyed handsome man & gave rock ‘n roll its essential vocabulary (don’t believe me, axe Keith Richards).
* Sly Stone: alchemist of the most complex and volatile and sublime hybrid of genres, genders, races…look at 1970s/Golden Age of Black Music and you will see his handprints everywhere.
* Vernon Reid: one of the smartest musicians I’ve ever met (denying the stereotype), very aware of his role as a human and an aesthete…indeed, some of his testifying reminds me of my cherished Fred Hampton (Sr.’s) wisdom.
* Betty Davis: she introduced Miles to Jimi… and vinyl fetishist fanboys are STILL deathly afraid of her… now, that’s power.
Scott: Who is the most significant black rock artist of right now?
Kandia: David Ryan Harris…he’s a Georgia homeboy so got to give it up. No, I never fucked him and I actually don’t think he likes me too much but we have been “friendly acquaintances” for several years. Never actually saw him live in the Follow For Now days but witnessed the Brand New Immortals era and his solo career at close quarters. He’s never quite grasped the ring of mass adulation that he deserves but he is very rare in the rock pool–of ANY race or gender–in that he has the great voice, guitar chops, songwriting skills, stage presence & suitably marketable image that lots of aspiring musicians lack. He is also one of very few that has successfully covered Hendrix without you wanting to commit suicide; I maintain that NdegeOcello’s “May This Be Love” is the best but David’s “(Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland” is superb.
Scott: What is your personal prognosis of the state of popular music in general today? Is it in good shape, great shape, hopeless, etc.?
Kandia: Being that music is my grand passion, from my first memories being musical to my foolish pride as a vinyl fetishist/collector, I just cannot admit that the prognosis for popular music is utterly hopeless. I am an early FM radio baby and a defiant anachronism…so I tend to view most pop output with a jaundiced eye these days. Beyond the general milestones like “Rapper’s Delight,” “La Di Da Di,” “The Message,” etc. and the music of Public Enemy, the Native Tongues and the Dirty South, I have never had any use for Hip-Hop Nation and remain resentful that this is my (black) generation’s great contribution to the global culture. If it weren’t for OutKast, Cee-Lo & Big Gipp, I’d probably have to hang myself. No one, critic, fan or otherwise–has ever wanted to agree with me and never shall…but I still maintain that the reason I was in exile amongst the Black Crowes for all of the 1990s is because I felt they were doing the work that younger black artists should have been in the mainstream eye. With Freddie Stone as his key idol, I sincerely felt that Chris Robinson was slaying some of my aesthetic dragons. I would argue that Donnie, also from Atlanta, is the one bona fide “Negro” artist of the times who has an appropriately complex and comprehensive vision, great talent and an awe-inspiring commitment to the Race.
There are also artists that I don’t “like as a person” that I think are doing important work…but they rarely dovetail with the list of critical and rock snob darlings. Kid Rock deserves a lot of praise.
Basically, I await the demise of hip-hop, Orlando pop, “R&B” girl groups, the dregs of Nu Metal etc., but I don’t think their banishment will change too much. It’ll be business as usual in the Industry. I will say here that I do not think piracy and illegal downloading is the root of all evil–for either the rockbiz or Hollyweird. The chief problems are an appalling lack of artist development at the labels and, in the wider entertainment industry, the greed of these corporations and their utter disregard for the consumer. [That Lesley Stahl segment on 60 Minutes was pathetic: trying to appeal to us by saying the poor blue collar workers like carpenters at the studios are being sacked when the real problem is that these high-level executives are not taking any pay cuts or losing their ranches in Idaho]. I frankly could give a toss whether all the majors tumble into the sea. What have they done for me lately?…to bite the O. G. Miss Jackson.
Still, there is a staggering lack of humanity and morals amongst the people who work in the industry and that alone is probably the most damning factor in the business’ current troubles and the creative sector’s malaise. Everyone’s favorite whipping girl, Courtney Love, easily illustrates this: on the one hand, she’s supposedly “fighting the power” for artists’ rights etc etc (which she then went and undermined by settling…no one held a gun to her head); on the other, she’s her fatherless daughter’s sole support and yet she cannot give up her puerile sexdrugsrockanroll fantasies of assuming Anita Pallenberg’s throne long enough to focus on the mature responsibilities being a mother requires. I like the party like everyone else and I got the wanderlust but I have never been a junkie and I have no dependents. I don’t care what your beliefs are: once you have the kid, (until they’re eighteen) they must come first.
Rufus Wainwright gives me the most heartfelt hope for the future of the type of music I value. I don’t understand how ANYONE who actively obsesses about the lifeblood of music can fail to genuflect before him. Yet with him, again, I am often swimming against the tide because many of my colleagues have a very rigid opposition to him based on post-punk bias, homophobia or whatever. Patterson Hood is also my Great *Hope… (* he & I are beyond race).
Scott: Ditto the state of music criticism.
Kandia: I’ve said enough, here and elsewhere, which supports career suicide so you will not lure me ‘neath the JoJo Dancer proscenium. I was there when that all went down, you know. Every other scribe, high and low, has sufficiently weighed in about how every 19 year-old with a laptop thinks they can topple the monolithic statue of Lester Bangs at 14th Street, the nadir of the lad mags and their influence on reviews, and how the publicists have all of our balls–and, erm, ovaries–in a vise. I’m just tired of it already. I don’t see a real future for music criticism (if it even exists right now)–some of Armond White’s recent NY Press anti-NYFCC screed applies here–and, now that it’s plain that I don’t have the taste (or medical benefits) for the lobotomy it would require for me to outlast Jane Smith’s record, I sympathize a good deal more than I ever did with R. Meltzer. I sincerely doubt we will ever see the greatness of a Jon Landau again on paper.
Richard’s simply brilliant; loving his new book on geezers. I am also very fond of Jon Caramanica, Amy Linden & Barney Hoskyns (looking forward to his Mellow Mafia opus very much). I rarely see Vivien Goldman or Rob Sheffield’s stuff but, in their zones, both are good. I remain indebted to Bob Christgau, Dennis Lim & Chuck Eddy. Holly George-Warren is mah twang nigga.
Stanley Booth has never been a music critic yet he remains my Chuck Berry. I’ll be his Huckleberry (laughs)!
Scott: What about you–are you working on any other projects or articles right now you can tell us about?
Kandia: I’m working on my tan, Scott, right here beneath the weak Harlem sun. Many of the rednecks I’ve adored or sparred with over the years think this shit’s natural but it ain’t.
Rock on wit’ yo’ bad selves,
Kandia Crazy Horse
Manhattan, November 2003