Welcome to our latest author Q&A, where we chat to the writers behind new and upcoming 33 1/3 books! Today Kimberly Mack talks to us about her addition to the series: Living Colour’s Time’s Up. She tells us more about why she chose this album, her experience writing across multiple genres and the impact Living Colour had on Black rockers.
How would you describe your book in one sentence?
Time’s Up explores the production and reception of this important album, while considering the personal stories and legacy of this ground-breaking American rock band.
What drew you to this album?
Living Colour’s first album Vivid is a more obvious choice given its spectacular critical and commercial success. Time’s Up enjoyed even more critical success, though it didn’t do as well commercially. But Time’s Up is a better album. It’s bolder, more experimental, more confident, and it’s more fearlessly political in a moment that desperately needed that. And so many of its topics — racism, classism, police brutality, and our dire environmental crisis — are still resonant today.
If you were introducing someone to Time’s Up for the first time, what would you recommend they listen to?
I’d recommend they listen to the entire album, as it’s a complete work with a strong sonic and narrative arc. Having said that, if they could only listen to two songs, I would suggest they listen to the opening track “Time’s Up” and the closing tune “This is the Life.” “Time’s Up” sounds an alarm — our time is, or will be, up if we don’t take care of this planet we all share! And “This is the Life” settles us down and reminds us to appreciate the lives we do have and treat them like they’re “special,” an enduringly vital reminder.
What was it like writing the book? Did you learn anything new about Living Colour that you didn’t know going into the project?
This book was challenging to write! Time’s Up features biography, oral history, memoir, and cultural criticism. It was very difficult writing, and moving between, these different genres, but this whole process made me a better writer and it was such a labor of love. And I learned so much about the members of Living Colour while writing this book. They emerged during a particularly rich and creative movement in New York City Black cultural life, and their backgrounds are distinct yet similar in key ways. All of the members of Living Colour were exposed to music and politics at an impressionable age, informing their lives and their future artistic pursuits.
Are there any interesting stories that didn’t make it into the final book?
There were many, but one particularly important idea I wanted to get across in the book is Living Colour’s impact and influence on Black rockers who came after them. Their hard labor in desegregating the rock genre in the music industry and rock radio in the late 1980s opened the door to bands like Rage Against the Machine and TV on the Radio. One of the things I had to leave out of the book was my conversation about William DuVall, the lead singer for Alice in Chains, who might not be if it weren’t for Vernon Reid.
As DuVall told Mark Dean at AntiHero Magazine in 2019, it was Reid who listened to a young DuVall’s demo way back when, and tried to get his band No Walls signed: “He was a really cool guy and still is, just a great friend, and I would say he was influential in terms of just watching someone negotiate fame and interfacing with the popular culture in a way that was inclusive and yet uncompromising in terms of who he was, you know? And how he thinks. And it was a very cool thing to watch that.”
If you got the chance to write a 33 1/3 on one other album – what are you picking?
Rage Against the Machine’s debut, Rage Against the Machine!
Kimberly Mack is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toledo, USA. She is the author of Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White (2020), which won the 2021 College English Association of Ohio’s Nancy Dasher Award. She is also a music critic and memoirist who has written for publications including Longreads, Music Connection, No Depression, Relix, PopMatters, and Hot Press. You can find her online at kimberlymack.com or on Twitter @drkimberlymack.
Living Colour’s Time’s Up is out May 4th 2023 and available in bookshops and online (including at Bloomsbury.com).