"Well-behaved women seldom make history," Harvard history professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said. And that's why I say, "Get down with your cross-dressing, military self, Joan of Arc! Thanks for going to jail for my birth control, Margaret Sanger! Play that piano with your ginormous jugs, Candye Kane!"
OK, I'm a little ahead of myself. The foul-mouthed, sex-positive, blues-singing mama Candye Kane hasn't quite made history books. Yet.
The Backroom Blues Bar introduced me to the California diva on its website; I was a fan before I even saw her perform. Next to the photo of the singer with XXX-cup cleavage cradled in hot pink feathers, a blurb introduced her as "a former stripper who also did the occasional x-rated video shoot back in the '80s" and "the blues version of the Andrea True Connection, but for one vitally important fact, this woman can really sing!"
A former porn star in the whorehouse-chic Backroom? Count me in. No, I'm not a fan of spectator sports, including porn. And, yes, I appreciate lean rather than large bodies. But Candye appealed to me.
I particularly liked that, although she was part of the L.A. punk-rock scene, she'd been signed by CBS/Epic as a country act, and when the execs advised her to lose weight and renounce her past, she told them to shove it right up their narrow, corporate record holes. Since the blues has always been home to big women with even bigger mouths, that's where she headed too. Now, thanks to songs like "Who Do You Love? It's Alright," nominated for an Out Music Award, and "200 Pounds of Fun," a BBW (big, beautiful women) anthem featured in The Girl Next Door, Ms. Kane has been an enormous hit among the disenfranchised — drag queens, fat chicks, shameless sluts, and the people who love them.
Really, who doesn't love a Cinderella story? And this one has a niche market — history was practically writing itself.
It had been a while since I'd visited the Boca blues club near the tracks, where neither trains nor musical exertions have shaken the vintage portraits of nude beauties from their hellfire-red walls or the fringed bordello lamps from their perches. As the red light and mirrored ball worked together for a light show that looked like endless handfuls of glowing cherry skittles strewn counterclockwise across the casual crowd, I jockeyed for a glimpse of the plus-sized singer/songwriter. There she was in a baby pink dress fringed in black at the neck and hem, and cowboy boots.
Forget about finding a seat; I was having trouble just finding a place to set my beer. Debbie and Robert Teichner allowed me to co-opt the shelf around a support beam where these two South Florida Blues Society members were stationed. Robert told me he'd heard Candye Kane on AOL Blues. Robert noted that Candye Kane was important enough that other local blues legends — Jamie King Colton and Joey Gilmore — were in the house.
"Is it everything you expected?" I asked, hoping to be brought up to speed by the experts on whatever I'd missed.
"All that and more!" Debbie replied enthusiastically, in keeping with what was obviously a more-is-more philosophy on the part of the entertainer.
"When I say, 'all you can eat,' " Candye said, guiding the audience participation in a song allegedly about a barbecue restaurant, "you say, 'and you can eat it all night long'... and, really, guys," she interrupted with an important PSA, "it doesn't take all night. Just 15 to 20 minutes of consistency."
The show moved quickly among accessible blues riffs and naughty lyrics and funny observations and homespun stories — some truer than others. Pimping her eighth album, Guitared and Feathered — which lacks the shameless sexuality that, as the singer says, allows us to "celebrate our trashy sides" — she joked that profits would fund her grandmother's operation.
"Did I say grandfather before?" she said, laughing. "Well, they both need operations. Not the same ones as the last time in Florida."
But the true stories had poignancy to them — like the back story for "Toughest Girl Alive," a song inspired by the trauma of her divorce, which had inspired others. A woman in Iowa, she told us, was getting ready to kill herself after losing her four kids to her ex-husband.
"She was ready to drive her car into an aqueduct and take her life, but then she heard my song on the radio — a miracle in itself," Kane said. "When I go, I hope I am remembered for this song and not for 'Masturbation Blues.' "
Candye sure had a way with an audience, one she'd probably refined since her early days of coaxing dollars from pockets. It felt less manipulative than confessional when she told us: "I didn't get enough love from my mom when I was growing up, so I went into music to get the love and acceptance I needed. Music is the best thing I've ever done for money, so thanks for being here."