25 Years of Living Colour, ‘Vivid’

Somewhere in the summer of 1988, at 14 years old, I was sitting in a car driven by my friend’s mother, and Living Colour’s “Cult Of Personality” came on the radio. My attention was instantly drawn to the opening riff, because it was unlike anything I had heard before. See, that year was particularly eventful for me from a musical taste standpoint. While I still loved the pop and glam metal bands I had been listening to, attending concerts, etc., my tastes were evolving a bit. That riff opened a door for me that would last a lifetime. I was at my local record store the next day in search of the record behind the riff.

Once I got my copy of Vivid, no other music existed in my world for at least a few months. At first, it was strictly the music that grabbed me. The amount of air drums, air guitar, out of tune singing along, etc., was astounding (25 years later, I can now play the hell out of air drums to the record!). However, it did not take long for me to realize there was something in the lyrics that I was not used to. There was depth. There was soul. There was a message. All of a sudden, I was not listening to lyrics that were about things like getting caught with a girl in the back seat of a car. This was reality, but it was a reality that I was not familiar with in real life. Vivid provided me an education I was not going to get in a non-integrated, suburban school.

The song that struck a nerve with me the most was “Open Letter (To a Landlord).” In it, the lyrics spoke of unscrupulous slum lords, and the effect they had on the people that lived in the neighborhood. I would sit on my bed before baseball practice, or while I did my homework, and let the words wash over me. The part that always got me was the chorus:

“Now you can tear a building down
But you can’t erase a memory
These houses may look all run down
But they have a value you can’t see”

Those words touched me on a deep level, at an age where most kids probably would not be focused on the message. I would hear those words, and I would think about things like the fact that the people that lived in neighborhoods like these may not have had many material possessions, but most of them probably still had pride in where they came from. In any neighborhood like this across the country, sure, there were possibly issues with drugs, violence, etc. But that was the only thing the news would show. In reality, there were birthday parties, people helping one another, and other positive things that people on “the outside” didn’t care about. But because of this song, I sure cared.

Another song that really meant something to me was “Funny Vibe.” The song, with its lethal tempo changes, was about judging someone based on their appearance, or the color of their skin, and immediately jumping to a conclusion that they are out to harm you in some way. Let me tell you my “Funny Vibe” story, and how this related to my life as a kid. When I was 15, I made friends with a kid named Jay. One day, I invited him to come with me after school to play basketball at the park at the end of the street I grew up on (again, non-integrated neighborhood). The next day, my grandmother told me a few neighbors had called the house and wondered why I brought a “black boy” to our park. I was truly dumbfounded by this. I immediately thought of “Funny Vibe,” because I pictured these older people ignorantly saying to their spouse, “Great, now he is going to rob us.” Or “There goes the neighborhood!” Needless to say, I paid them no attention, and we continued to do our thing.

Vivid is an absolutely timeless classic record, among my favorite records of all time without question. Corey Glover’s vocals are flawless throughout. Muzz Skillings’ bass playing was far ahead of its time. Will Calhoun’s drum performance is one of the most solid performances ever put on record, ranging from funk, to heavy bashing, to just straight finesse playing, perfectly in the pocket. Vernon Reid’s guitar performance…there are not enough words I can come up with to adequately describe it. Otherworldly comes to mind. Mind-boggling comes to mind. Vivid is the definition of a band absolutely locked in, with lyrics to match the virtuosity playing. After 25 years, I STILL hear little nuances I never heard before! Ultimately, I just want Corey, Muzz, Will, and Vernon to know how deeply Vivid touched me, and although there is no way I can pay them back for all the years of entertainment and thought provoking music and lyrics, I hope that this finds them, and I hope they know they are part of my life forever.