I Want The Toughest Candye Alive
Before I begin, maybe I should take this time right here and now to put out a call for somebody -- anybody to teach Dave Vnuk how to promote a show. Because this isn't the first time I've seen an absolutely terrific act in his otherwise wonderful room play to a virtually empty house. Kane herself, in her upbeat, loving way, commented, "Hey, at least I've doubled the size of the crowd here -- from 12 to 25!" Bluesmeisters agree, she's one of the top blueswomen of our time, and only a handful of Milwaukeeans drove down to Cudahy to see what basically turned out to be the White Etta James deliver a performance.
"White Etta James" really doesn't tell the whole story. She's got Etta's spunk, she's got that beautiful twinkle in her eye that Etta has, she's got the clear-as-a-bell voice that can just as easily growl down to the sound of gravel, but she has her own thing going on. She's got a white girl burleque raunchieness topped off by her own admission of dressing like a drag queen that accompainies songs like "All You Can Eat and You Can Eat It All Night" or "Estrogen Bomb" or "200 Pounds of Fun." Thank those years in the porn industry for the balls for that.
Or maybe thank those years for inspiring her to become a sex-friendly, empowering feminist. I think my problem with porn really stems not from the whole "exploitation" issue (we all exploit ourselves somehow, someway), it's more that a lot of porn leaves men walking away with the wrong lesson about women's sexuality. It sort of gives them permission to think that that's all women want, just a good hard fuck, no being nice, no giving a crap, no follow up, none of that. No, Candye answers that with an old burlesque number called "For Your Love" in which she agrees to be just about any old fantasy "... for your love." Not money, guys. Not for a ride in your godddamn sports car. Not for some godawful dimonds some african kid got his fingers chopped off for. The refrain of the song, sung over and over and over (because maybe people have to be clubbed over the head with the issue) is for your love. OK, she's mentioned that she's been singing the blues for over 20 years, but the press always zeroes in on her past in the adult film world. To wit:
"It's frustrating," admits Kane, a self-described "sex-positive feminist" and an activist for the disenfranchised. "I've been making records for 20 years, and the press magnifies the three or four years I spent in adult entertainment, or that I can play the piano with my boobs."
Fair enough. But I'll still argue her years there, as well as her years in the L.A. underground scene hanging with folks smack out of Spheeris' first Decline of Western Civilization film, shaped what she is today, an outspoken, bawdy, self-assured talent who found a home in the blues after the country powers that be dropped her because she wasn't pure as the driven snow (or at least publicly so).
But she still loves that Americana and certainly deserves her place among blues compilations that include her heroines like Bessie Smith, Etta James, Janis, etc. Her ability to attract top-knotch players, both to tour, and to guest with her on her latest CD, "Guitarred and Feathered" is obviously rooted in her vocal talent and stage approach. She's a joy to go see. She's probably the sweetest diva I've ever seen, truly appreciative of her audience, and a marvelous storytelller with exquisite timing and a dry delivery that gets moistened up with that smile and twinkle in her eye to punctuate a point.
Oh, and she's fat. And running with it. I debated putting this entry on my weightloss blog (second time this week I couldn't decide where an entry should be) but she knows it, she runs with it, she writes songs about it, and best of all, they're not whiny, "I'm fat and it's ruining my life" songs, but empowering, "You don't know what you're missing" anthems for the full figured girls and the women and men who love us/them. She says on her website she's openly bisexual, but she kind of skirted that issue last night, dedicating a song about that crazy little girl who flashes the band to the guys in her band. I took a look at the audience, my radar said she was probably right to skirt this.
Sometimes I get the impression that she doth protest a little too much about the loving her weight. I don't think she's lost anything in her life over it -- it's given her a platform to spread her message of feminism, love, body acceptance, etc,. -- that wouldn't hold water coming from a supermodel. But she introduced a lot of songs by saying she wrote them when she was down, and she wrote them to pick herself up. And a lot of those songs were about being fat. As a large woman, I know where she's coming from: no matter how much weight I lose, I'm always going to be a big girl -- and that's fine, but given the choice, I would prefer to not be quite this fat and given this culture, I could use a song or two to remind me that it's OK not to be model-thin, despite anything that ass MeMe Roth has to say about it. It's OK, people, it's OK to be fat.
Anyway, the music, the band. First off, it's heartwarming to see Kane's son Evan on the drums. He follows veteran bassman Bill Stuve as he slides all over a fretless bass with a light touch, frilling it up when the music calls for it, confident enough in his ability to not try to upstage Kane. And where she found Heine Anderson, somewhere in Denmark by way of San Diego is anybody's guess. But they're a tight outfit, working more off of whim than setlist, surveying the audience and tailoring the show to fit the crowd. ("Let's do some Etta," I heard Stuve whisper to Kane, and they obliged.) They played for at least 90 minutes, possibly more, and never let up the enthusiasm.
I honestly don't know why she's not a household word. She joked about the coincedence that every time a song of hers gets featured on a show the show gets cancelled. Maybe it's that puritan crap that, like the media, is still hung up on the fact that's she's taken her clothes off on camera a few times. Maybe it's that there's still too many people like MeMe Roth who can't deal with a fat broad who's happy in that skin of hers. Maybe there's too many people who can't deal with "The Toughest Girl Alive" -- a song she belts out with the fierceness that a title like that generates (and saves lives, as she tells a story about just that). She mentioned in introducing the song that more than a few women have told her hearing that song gave them the oomph to keep going, and she's truly touched as she says "If I get remembered for anything, I'd like it to be for writing songs that saved lives." It's a tender, touching moment, from a woman who's not afraid to show us a tender touching side, and you're expecting a sweet little song, but she simulaneous belts and growls out the song's first line and you're reassured that she is indeed everything she says she is. She's a top notch blueswoman, and part of what makes her so is everything else about her -- the history, the grit, the heart on her sleeve.