Thank you, Miss Carol Colman
July 7, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
When I wrote Ghosts and Ballyhoo, I had to leave out tons of stuff I wanted to include. There just wasn’t enough room. Also, I’m not interesting enough to publish a multi-volume memoir. One of the bassists who I didn’t mention in the book but who had a huge impact on me is Carol Colman, most famous for her time with Kid Creole and the Coconuts. For almost ten years I literally didn’t listen to music. It represented nothing but loss. Now, music is one of my meds. So thank you, Miss Carol Colman.
Winston Churchill suffered from terrible depression he called the “black dog.” When the black dog would visit, Churchill could barely get out of bed. The black dog has been visiting me for a while now. This photo of ancient maniac George Capsis is powerfully symbolic to me.
So I’m doing what I did in college: listening to Carol Colman.
That tone! That attack! I tried for ages to get that sound. It’s woody like a bull fiddle, but there’s something metallic about it too. And the minimalism. In high school I studied shotokan karate. My sensei told me something I didn’t accept until years later.
You start out as a white belt. Then you go to green, brown, and black. After you reach third- or fourth-degree black, your belt has faded back to white.
At the time I thought that was just fortune-cookie blather. Turns out it’s true. I had to study bass for years before I could play as few notes as Miss Carol Colman. Her style is epitomized by a joke.
A young bassist goes out onstage and rips out a blistering solo—slapping, tapping, popping, and using all four fingers to create a blizard of sound. When he’s done, there’s dead silence. He slinks off stage. An old bassist goes out and produces a single note; the audience erupts in cheers. When the old bassist goes backstage, the young bassist accosts him.
“Why did they like you but not me?” he asks.
“Because I played the one note you were looking for,” says the old fellow.
Another reason I liked Colman was she was utterly hip, possessed of a nonchalant calmness I could never achieve. She grooved monumentally, without pretension.
Today I learned that Kid Creole and the Coconuts are controversial because front man August Darnell is part black and the three Coconuts are white women. Very odd. I was never even aware of that dynamic, any more than I thought of Miss Carol Colman as a “female bass player.” She was just my hero, because she taught me how to funk without slapping.
When the black dog visited in college, I put on Kid Creole. I’d sit on my bed and try to reproduce the bass lines. My playing was a Carol Colman approximation; it was a Colmanoid, a copy that was nowhere near as good as the original.
Earnest, passionate Carol Colman, August’s loyal lieutenant, is the sorcerer’s apprentice. One of the exceedingly few female bass players out there, Colman’s propulsive style made August declare her his bass soulmate on first hearing. Captured from the session and r’n’b circuit, Colman gets to work for the Creole cause, inspired by her devotion to the genius of August Darnell. Her man back then was drummer Yogi Horton, known as Luther Vandross’s drummer, who is also key at Sugar Hill. Yogi is part Cuban and he completely changes the sound of r’n’b drumming with his Latin inflections. He throws himself from a window and dies in 1987; some people say lack of recognition fed his depression.
Does that mean Colman and Yogi Horton were involved? If so, his suicide would’ve been nearly impossible for her to endure. I’ve had three people close to me commit suicide, and in all three cases I was forced against my will to help bring about their deaths. If you have anybody in your life, you should never kill yourself. That’s all there is to it. Alone on a desert island, go for it. But no matter how badly you feel—and the black dog is clamped to my rear end right now—you can’t put others through your destruction.
There’s no chance that I would ever do myself in. One reason is the music of Miss Carol Colman.
That’s from the film Against All Odds. I really liked the movie when I saw it it in 1984. Earlier this year I bought the DVD and was shocked to discover that it bored the hell out of me. It also sort of grossed me out. All the sweaty, greasy, animalistic sex was…demeaning, I thought. And I can’t grasp the obsession both James Woods and Jeff Bridges have for Rachel Ward. She’s attractive, but not that bewitching. Nobody is.
Against All Odds is about lust, not love. If you want to see a flawless Rachel Ward movie, try On the Beach instead. It’s the best end-of-the-world film ever made. Though it’s deeply sad, it’s also astonishingly beautiful. It’s about courage in the face of death. I spent all of 2013 dealing with death and the terror thereof. Art doesn’t have to be cheerful in order to make me feel better.
And yet her art is timeless. It’s as fresh today as it was when it was recorded.
Thank you again, Miss Carol Colman, though I still can’t understand how you got that sound. Don’t tell me; magicians shouldn’t reveal the secrets of their craft.
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