Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm by David Bennun
June 22, 1994
Luscious Jackson are the supercool Manhattan quartet who created one of the best debut LPs in living memory, last year’s ‘In Search Of Manny’. Because thee Jackson’s sweet ‘n’ funky music is straight outta late night Noo Yawk bars, DAVID BENNUN joined them in one such East Side dive for a Margarita and learned about Luscious’ lives and times. So did MATT ‘Snapper’ BRIGHT
They could only have come from New York. At first they figured it might be any big city, but on reflection it had to be New York, specifically Manhattan’s Lower East Side, that spawned Luscious Jackson, as if there’s something that seeps up through the cracks in the pavement and into their feet. They can give reasons, but on a bright spring day in the Lower East Side you don’t need reasons. here you are, on the patch where East Village boho culture takes on the street-shuffle edge, and when the sun shines on you it feels like God’s own city, the only place to be young. It feels like anything you like is just waiting to happen, but first it’s going to play a little basketball.
It’s like they say in “CitySong”, a soon-come, supercool sidewalk celebration that was plenty to Curtis Mayfield and a whole host of urban funksters, and plays them back too, “This city tells me what it’s like to live”. All that stuff about what a terrible, high-strung place it is, populated by neurotics, Gabby reckons that’s just the people who didn’t grow up there, because when you’re New York born and bred you deal with so much all the time that you have to stay calm. This morning she had to skirt round two crazies, one with a hammer, one with a drill, muttering and yelping, and if you got upset about all these things you’d be dead.
Of course, Gabby grew p near here, so did Jill, in the world’s best-known bohemian enclave, Greenwich Village. Both of them felt it when hip hop percolated up from the Bronx, because as American cities go, NY is pretty racially integrated. Gabby’s school was mostly Puerto Rican, then black, then white, and her high school was mostly Asian, meaning East Asian. And with all the access to art, to the museums, with everything at your fingertips, you just get pressed into it at an early age.
So an architect, or maybe a graphic designer, but it looked like too much work, and all her schoolmates seemed to have their lives planned by the agee of, like, seven, pre-med places arranged; and there was Jill wanting to be a veterinarian or a comedian, or maybe a comedy veterinarian, until the time she was at the vets and a woman brought in a dead cat and she thought better of it; and there was Vivian wanting just to be in show business, so she could have the dressing-room with the bare lights round the mirror; and meanwhile, Kate already is in show business, aged 13, in a Broadway show, and all her teachers are so impressed they don’t make her do any tests or homework all year, and like any sensible 13-year-old kid she’s like, “Cool!”, although as someone else points out, she still gets into Stuyvesant, the best high school in New York.
And they grow up a little, and Jill comes back from school in France and she and Gabby are working their way through college (Gabby’s at film school). Gabby gets a job in a restaurant, a really disgusting horrible place where the day bartender is a coke dealer and- guess what?-so is the night guy. Eventually she gets fired for wearing wrinkled shirts. Jill is working as a cocktail waitress, thee worst job ever, getting people really drunk, and they treat you like shit, like a floozy. Vivian is doing the downtown performance thing, and Kate’s career on Broadway seems to be over, because she’s trying to sell clothes to people who look lousy in them, and meantime she’s drumming for this tongue-in-cheek hardcore band who start bringing rap into the equation. The guy who DJs during th rap parts, Rick Rubin, has this inspired idea, which is to turn the group into the first all-white rap outfit, so they become The Beastie Boys and sell millions of records, but to Kate the idea isn’t so inspired, because this is an all-male deal, and besides, anyone who’s since called Luscious Jackson a rap band has obviously never heard her rap.. So that’s that, for now.
Gabby and Jill are discovering why they love New York above all other cities by sharing a place in San Francisco with these freaky New Age roommates. One guy, Tony, really likes to reveal himself, he’s really proud of his body. His genitalia always seem to be at eye-level with you. If you’re sitting at the table, he’ll be standing up. If you’re standing up, he’ll be standing on a chair. He likes to show you his ballet moves, high-kicking in a dressing-gown and no underwear, or go running naked at night through Dolores Park. At one point, he figures out his spiritual animal is the giraffe. Because his neck hurts. Alex is just incredibly loud. He’s sweet, though. Looking back, they weren’t bad people. Just insane. And Jill is driving Gabby crazy by hammering canvases together first thing in the morning on the other side of the wall where Gabby sleeps. They went back there on their last tour, walked up the stairs, and it sounded like someone was being murdered, all this crazy screaming. One of th tenants and her girlfriend were having crazy sex. That’s another thing about San Francisco, it’s all about sex. Strip clubs, pornographic art. And while Luscious Jackson are not asexual, they’re definitely not pushing sex. Got it?
Back in NYC, on 8th Street, somewhere between Avenues B and C, Vivian has roommate troubles of her own. One of them wears fake tanning make-up, he’s about 40 but tells everyone he’s 28, he’s the gigolo for some older rich man out on Long Island. The other guy turns up when she’s at work, wearing sunglasses to hide two black eyes, asking for money. Turns out they’r junkies. She knew there had to be something wrong. Then some guy comes in and tries to sell a machine gun to her 15-year-old brother-“C’mon man, it’s a really good deal” -then they all get evicted, because the junkies haven’t been passing the rent money on to the landlord.
Vivian’s doing dance and choreography by now, still does. Jill and Gabby have been in and out of all kinds of bands, then they get together in the studio, doing this thing with hip hop beats and samples and singing and low-key rapping and that’s Luscious Jackson (the name’s lifted from a basketball player). They do five songs, the other two need more, so they haul in their friends Kate and Vivian to play drums and keyboards. They stick all seven songs out as a mini-LP on Beastie Boy Mike D’s Grand Royal label, and it’s a killer. It’s got this rough sound, lazy and smoky but neat and tight, holding down its own groove. A real original. “Let Yourself Get Down” and “Life Of Leisure” are so good they make your skin prickle all over, including your teeth. After their experiences with useless partners, Luscious Jackson hate the easy-going vampirism of indolent boys, and their music rises above slackerdom like clouds passing over a slum.
They call the record “In Search Of Manny” after its cover star, a former boyfriends of Gabby’s mother, who appears on thee cover with that kitsch look men get when they’re trying to smoulder into camera. GAbby’s mom took the shot, and the one on the inside where he’s got nothing on. Gabby must have been around somewhere, they only had one room, maybe she’s behind the pillow. Manny doesn’t know about the cover, nobody knows where he is, hence the title. Still, there are worse pictures she could have used, like the one where she’s sitting between his legs and you can’t see his underwear and it looks like child molesting, although it isn’t. Her mom was kind of artsy-fartsy when it came to taking those photographs, she guesses. She takes crazy photos of her own boyfriends, although she doesn’t put them on album covers.
So now they’re a band, all four of them, inspired by The Slits’ example of doing whatever they pleased, and they’ve got this great record, all raw and cool and grainy, with Jill singing like Suzanne Vega (if Suzanne Vega wasn’t some milk-and-water navel-gazer but had slippery street rhythm in the balls of her feet) and Gabby doing this husky counterpoint. Now people want to know. Somebody brings a tape back to The Maker office before Big Cat put it out in the UK, and th assembles hacks start baying praise at the moon. Luscious start touring all over with The Breeders and Urge Overkill and Bettie Serveert. Before you know it, meaning now, they’re signed to Capitol in the States with a full-length album in the can. There’s money behind this one, so it sounds a little smoother, but these four can really jam. The did the music for a dance performance choreographed by Vivian, instrumental stuff, they were the coloured silhouettes in nifty costumes behind the muslin curtain, and you could tell they were born to play together. Nothing too tricksy on that occasion, just this sharp funk. And maybe “Manny” is a hard act to follow, but with tracks like “CitySong”, “Pele Merengue”, “DeepShag” (some things will never translate) or “Angel”, on the way, it looks like they’re up to it.
You get all kinds of people in bands, the way Kate sees it- introverted freaks and extroverted freaks. But normal people, the kind who had their careers planned out at seven, never did do much worth looking at twice.
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