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Oldies But Goldies: A 1982 Interview With Kid Creole About Racism


(Here I am talking with August Darnell, Kid Creole to you, in 1982 for Creem: discussing in as blunt a manner as humanly possible, racism throughout the world. It actually came out pretty well -IL)

ON A hot Wednesday evening I’m playing flick-yer-bic with the dial on my television, you know: flick — Three’s Company — flick — Masterpiece Theatre — flick — Merv Griffin — flick — Hill Street… back-up a minute. What’s Merv saying?

“One of the hottest new rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world today.” Who could that be? Styx? Quarterflash? “Performing their latest hit single ‘I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby.'” KID CREOLE AND THE COCONUTS!! And there is August Darnell, barely a week after I spoke with him for this very magazine, looking sexy and sharp and dapper and, as part and parcel of his Kid Creole personality, thoroughly arrogant and, ahem, cocksure (like he knows what girls like). And there is his wife Adriana with the two other Coconuts, doing knee-bends and leg twirls like Joan Of Arc dancing as they fasten her to the stake. And Andy Hernandez, good vibes impersonating an energetic jumping bean. And the sounds of new r&b, body talk as subtle funk fun, classy, sassy, and filled with biting wit.

There are three morals to this introduction: 1) If you’ve got a gold single/album in Britain it’s easier to get on the Merv Griffin Show than if you haven’t. 2) If you are forced — as August Darnell was — to make race music (his term not mine), make it this good and the compromise might be worthwhile. 3) Kid Creole and the Coconuts are better aural/visual entertainment than nine-tenths of the clutter considered prime time.

But I already knew that, had since buying Off The Coast Of Me, the first album, after recognizing Kid Creole as August Darnell, whom with step-brother Stoney gave the world “Cherchez La Femme,” “mulatto music” in the guise of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. Which is why when CREEM asked if I’d like to speak with August I nearly jumped down the telephone wire. Which is why I’m sitting in the HQ of Ze Records with Mr. Darnell and the owner of the company, Michael Zilkha, moments after Ebet Roberts snapped the photos for this article. August is looking very chic in a gabardine suit, sleek, slim, and elegant; yet his manner — though charming — has an angry edge. “I’ve had a hard day,” he confides, “three hours of losing at Pac-Man.” Actually, in spite of his current top five album (Wiseguys) and single (‘I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby’) in Britain, he is hardly overjoyed. “The album was originally an August Darnell solo — but Warner Bros, wouldn’t distribute it unless it was under the Kid Creole name.”

Wiseguys is the worst Kid Creole album to date, even though I love it anyway; August Darnell is more clever a songwriter than you could tell by it, far too good to spend his career writing r&b. On the earlier Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places, the songs were wrapped in warm, Caribbean overtones, and still great dance music. But — as has been often mentioned — the black radio stations wouldn’t play him because it was “too white,” the white radio stations wouldn’t play him because he sounded too black. “It was either play what they wanted or Ze would drop us,” August explains, the stupidity of the situation acknowledged by a chuckle. “If you’re black you have to play a certain type of music, that’s why it took us two years longer to succeed in England than it should have, and that’s why it’ll take us five years longer than it should in the States.

“They are all racists — in England they’re inverted racists: they all want to be black and hip.”

“But not very black,” adds Zilkha.

“They call me ‘exotic’ over there because they don’t want to write that I’m a black man raised in the Bronx.

“In a racist, society, people of different cultures are supposed to keep within their own scope of interest. When a colored person attempts a cha-cha they can’t handle it. (New York radio stations) WKTU, WBLS, WRKS are all bullshit, only started playing Bob Marley after he died. Now they have the Human League, ‘don’t you want me, don’t you want me,'” he mimics in a high pitched whine. “Black music sucks, white music sucks. I’ll tell you what to listen to: Presley, Lennon/McCartney, Debbie Harry, Wilson Pickett, Hall & Oates, Waitresses…

“In America they don’t want to see a black man dancing with a white girl.”

“Except the blacks,” interrupts Michael, “every successful black man wants a white girl.”

“Aha,” laugh August and I.

“No, no, no, don’t print that.”

I will.

“Then say I meant it as a joke, I was laughing when I said it.”

“What do you think of black people,” August asks me.

I don’t think of people in terms of their color. That’s ignorance.

He smiles at this. “That’s right, that’s the way people should think.”

But if I did let myself get annoyed over the disgusting racism permeating the music business and American society, I’d probably reach the same conclusion Mitchell Cohen did in his CREEM review of Rick James: “We’ve come far, right?” he asked. “Like shit” was his reply. Certainly — when a first rate mind like August’s is forced to water down his ideas — something’s fucked-up somewhere.

There is much more to Kid Creole and the Coconuts than pent-up anger. Kid Creole is an anti-hero, the schizophrenic Mr. Hyde to August Darnell’s Dr. Jekyll. August speaks of him as a separate person, “Kid Creole is very obnoxious,” he’ll state, “very egotistical. August Darnell is more secure, especially sexually!” At the moment, August is trying to present Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places as a Broadway musical, and is working with Broadway producer Joseph Papp (“He’s rejected three scripts so far”), famous for the recent Pirates Of Penzance. Another headache. “The world is a constant battleground,” Darnell states without the slightest self-pity. “When I wake up, everyday, I have to fight another war.”

From this far away it does seem like things seldom run smoothly for him. He recently dumped back-up vocalist Lori Eastside, who was very much the visual counter-point to August on stage, and Lori sour-graped, charging him with sexual harassment. Her boyfriend Andy Hernandez — who’s worked closely with August since the Dr. Buzzard days, arranging all of his work except Wiseguys has been kept on a wage. “The only thing I regret is the rift with Andy. I met the ex-percussionist on the street the other day and he’s making lots of money in real estate, he thanked me.” And Lori? “I saw her in a club and she started throwing ice cubes at me. So I suppose she’s still angry.”

August Darnell and his band Kid Creole and the Coconuts are about rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ roll as in the hybrid music it always has been. His music should be more popular here than it is in England, it should be appreciated as a musical catalyst between the different cultures of America, it should be as ubiquitous as Hall & Oates, it should be heard. Five years? Today, right now.

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