Behind the Sun
Back in the Saddle with Vernon Reid of Living Colour

Words by Alex Napoliello

New York, New York — It’s nearly midnight at the Highline Ballroom in Downtown Manhattan. A sold out, young, lively crowd awaits the highly anticipated weekly Roots Jam. Some fans have an idea of who is about to take the stage, but the majority has no clue what they are about to witness. Front man Cory Glover, lead guitarist Vernon Reid, and the rest of Living Colour storm the stage boasting smiles on their faces and projecting an encompassing euphoric glow. The crowd seems a bit confused considering LC has been out of the spotlight for quite some time. Glover approaches each member, exchanging handshakes and hugs. The excitement in their eyes appears as if the hard rock legends are taking the stage for the first time. However, it is clearly evident that the band’s present chemistry and energy is decades in the making.

Glover approaches the mic and says, “I want to talk right down to earth in a language that everyone can understand.” LC busts out their classic ’89 hit “Cult of Personality,” and the crowd erupts. The confusion that once existed in the fans instantly vaporizes and is replaced with a full understanding of what is about to take place on the Highline Ballroom stage.

“I always try to be optimistic. The reaction to the album so far has been really gratifying. People are going to have to discover it. But, I think rock music still has a place. The whole idea of niche and movements in music is very powerful. If people take on what the band has been, the fact that we’re still a band after a break up, after losing a primary member, after all the time, there’s something to be said for that”, says Reid.

The album he is referring to is the newest creation by Living Colour, The Chair In The Doorway, which is set to hit shelves Sept. 15. Nearly six years has passed since LC released their fourth album, Collideoscope, and a little over 20 years since their hit single “Cult of Personality,” reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, after tonight’s opening performance at the Highline Ballroom, it is clear LC hasn’t skipped a beat.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve made a record. The idea for The Chair In The Doorway had been present with us since we were doing press for Collideoscope. The title basically derived from Cory Glover”, Reid adds. “We went to see the opening of Spider Man II and Cory said, ‘you know, the problem is the chair is in the doorway’. Jump cut years later, I turned to Cory and said, “you know that thing you said about the chair being in the doorway, that’s the title of our next record.”

The Chair In The Doorway brings forth all that Living Colour stands for and more. “It’s the first time we ever had a title before the completion of the album and that just kind of sends us into a journey. It was a funny thing because it’s (the title) concrete and abstract simultaneously. The chair in the doorway is a physical reality, but the meaning of it is totally abstract. And that’s what attracted me to it. It’s (the chair) the thing no one will talk about”, proclaims Reid.

The first couple tracks “Burned Bridges,” “The Chair,” and “DecaDance,” are dark, raw, and loyal to LC’s early grunge feel. The lyrics explore the existing ideologies in our culture, which many gracefully ignore. “It was really all about this idea of everybody gets up and puts on this mask, plays the role. The cop, schoolteacher, fireman, prostitute, and the chef have their role in their mind that they’re already playing. The idea that the waiter considers himself a waiter, but he’s not a waiter. But, when he puts on his waiter uniform, he plays the role of a waiter. And if your sitting at this table you expect him, whether he is a poet or a play writer, to fulfill the role of the waiter. That is kind of what the song “The Chair” is all about”, explains Reid. “The Chair” focuses on the external illusions of life, however “DecaDance” explores the inner thresholds of one’s self, the addiction to thrill seeking and greed, which plagues our culture as a whole.

According to Reid, “We are living in a culture that is completely addicted to sensation. It’s almost because we’ve become addicted to fear. There are so many movies now about ultimate disaster. Disaster is like a mainline drug. Andy Warhol said everybody is going to be famous for 15 minutes. People are clamoring for the first 15 seconds and desperate for the next 15 seconds.”

“In a way, The Chair In The Doorway is an unintended concept album. Everything in it fits. All four of us had songs that didn’t make it onto the record, that would have pulled the record in a completely different direction.”
– Vernon Reid of Living Colour

The single off LC’s latest effort, “Behind The Sun”, is lighter and more upbeat than the previous tracks. “Behind The Sun” has the potential to be as ground breaking and moving as “Cult Of Personality.” The album finishes strong both musically and lyrically. It dives deep into the underlying metaphors of today’s culture, while maintaining the in-your-face guitar solos and lyrics that have become the trademark of Living Colour.

“In a way, The Chair In The Doorway is an unintended concept album. Everything in it fits. All four of us had songs that didn’t make it onto the record, that would have pulled the record in a completely different direction,” Reid offers, “I had written this song that I thought was really good and I was really pissed when it didn’t make it onto the record. Now I am so glad that it didn’t, we really came together in a way that is very satisfying.”

The politically motivated motif that runs through The Chair In The Doorway is nothing new to Living Colour. The band has been striving to write songs that get to the exact nature of all the evils in our culture since the late 80’s. They capitalize on relaying the frustration of the people through Reid’s heavy, guitar shredding and Glover’s uncanny lyrics and vocals.

“When “Cult Of Personality” came up, there was nothing like that, nothing quite as heavy or as aggressive. The fact that every time that song plays, the first thing you hear is the voice of Malcolm X. It’s very confrontational. When it came to talking about fascism, I chose Mussolini over Hitler because I didn’t want to have Hitler’s name in the song. I wanted to make the point that Mussolini had a cult of personality. Stalin is shown in the video. We got the hook from Khrushchev. What is it about these people that millions of people say, ‘I will follow’. He adds, “This song was about stuff that was really heavy. It went against the grain in several different directions, but it caught fire. It worked.”

Living Colour’s lyrics are not the only thing that went against the grain in the late 80’s. The overall image of the band defied the stereotype of a typical rock n’ roll band. An African American rock group is not something that was plastered on millions of televisions sets around the world. In 1989, Public Enemy, MC Hammer, Slick Rick, and De La Soul are a few of the names that were associated with African Americans and music. However, according to Reid, “Hip-hop was something we embraced.”

And they did just that. After the departure of primary member Muzz Skillings, LC adopted Doug Wimbish who was most noted for his funky baselines in the classic hip-hop track “Rappers Delight.” Drummer Will Calhoun and Wimbish also played with Mos Def. And in 1990, Queen Latifah made an appearance on LC’s second album, Time’s Up. Although Living Colour was receptive to embracing the image they defied, Oprah Winfrey apparently was not.

Reid laughs before diving into a story about Oprah Winfrey. “The thing that stuck in my craw was Oprah Winfrey. When LC broke out, she had a show about racial identity. I never met her and she never invited us on the show. But, when “Cult Of Personality” hit, she actually made it a point to show a clip and say something about black men playing white music. And even till today, that’s still stuck in my craw because she got it so completely wrong.”

Living Colour is the final piece in a puzzle that creates an overall image of rock music as whole, as well as, African American rock bands. LC paved the way for more contemporary culturally diverse groups such as Rage Against The Machine and T.V. On The Radio. Living Colour also served as a bridge from hardcore/heavy metal to grunge in the late 80’s early 90’s. It’s hard to ignore the influence that LC had on Nirvana, the Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam.

“I know for a fact that Tom Morello (lead guitarist for Rage Against The Machine) said, ‘when I saw you guys come on, it kept me going'”, says Reid. After all that’s been said and done, Living Colour isn’t finished with their journey. After the release of The Chair In The Doorway, the band plans on touring the U.S. and hitting some overseas spots as well. LC comes to the Highline Ballroom Oct. 30, this time they are headlining.

Reid offers, “Living Colour is part of a mosaic that keeps expanding. It’s a wonderful thing to have different people, with different ideas, and different backgrounds coming together. It doesn’t matter the color of the people. It doesn’t matter that Boy George wears make-up. When he goes karma, karma, karma, karma Chameleon, you’re in there, like it or not.” | Chair in the Doorway