Contents Under Pressure

On spring break with the women of Luscious Jackson

Over the years, Miami has had trouble living down its bad boy image, even among rock stars. A besotted Jim Morrison was so disgusted by the vibe here that he flashed the natives his weenie. Bob Marley did him one better by croaking here. And Bruce Springsteen stopped one of his shows cold after some jerk threw a cherry bomb on-stage.

Gabby Glaser, on the other hand, won't shut up about the place.
"My friend Jenny lives in Miami, and I am sooooo jealous," she says in her New York mutter. "She's got this huge place, like two blocks from the ocean, and it is gorgeous. I just don't understand why more people don't move to Miami. You've got the weather. And all those different cultures. And fresh juice. Plus the ocean! I thought the beach was going to be packed with billions of horrible, tacky people. Like Jones Beach. But the place was empty. And the water was so clean. Miami is paradise, I tell ya, paradise."

If Glaser were just another cigarette-stained, been-there-done-that Manhattanite, you might not give a hoot what she thought. But Glaser is, in point of fact, one-fourth of Luscious Jackson, the extremely hep, all-femme band responsible for 1994's acclaimed Natural Ingredients. In other words, a rock star.

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Now, the most striking aspect of Natural Ingredients is not that it has sold tens of thousands of copies and sent critics into paroxysms of joy. Nor that it spawned the propulsive hit single "City Life," the video for which was shown on MTV once every 23 minutes for the entire month of October last year. No, the most telling aspect of the album is the fact that it was all about how cool New York City is. So if Glaser thinks Miami kicks hiney on the Fat Apple...well, you do the math.

"The funny thing is, I'd heard such bad things about Miami," Glaser says, sounding charmingly clueless. "I wanted to bring my boyfriend down, and he was like, 'Why do you wanna go there? It's like Vegas.'" The boyfriend, incidentally, is history. Irreconcilable differences. Or something.

Meanwhile, the Luscious Jackson gravy train just keeps a-rollin'. A new single, "Here," is set for release, along with a video. And, much to Glaser's delight, the quartet will be swooping down to South Florida for an April 29 gig at the Edge in Fort Lauderdale.

The last time the Luscious ladies passed this way was as part of the Lollapalooza mess. They played the second stage and had to follow a Japanese noise-rock collective called the Boredoms. This time they'll be headlining. That may come as a surprise, given that Luscious Jackson is barely toddler-aged. But the band's origins date to the golden era of corduroy, wide collars, and culturally condoned cocaine abuse. Near as Glaser can reckon, the bio runs like so: Fifteen years ago she and Jill Cunniff were just a couple of Lower East Side club rats hanging out with a bunch of too cool teenyboppers, including the protean Beastie Boys. The girls eventually had to grow up, and spent the next decade studying, working, and writing songs in San Francisco, France, and elsewhere. Glaser and Cunniff reunited in New York in the early Nineties and tried to form a rap band. "Not something I'm fond of talking about," Glaser notes irritably.

But they persisted and landed in a friend's studio. Glaser jammed guitar riffs, Cunniff handled bass. Original Beastie Boys drummer Kate Schellenbach was recruited to play on two cuts, along with keyboardist Vivian Trimble. The result was an EP called In Search of Manny, released on Grand Royal, Beastie Boy Mike D's label; it came from nowhere to snag top spot in the 1993 Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll. Schellenbach and Trimble signed on as permanent LJs soon after.

Many critics, though, couldn't figure out what Luscious was supposed to be. The backbeats and samples sounded like hip-hop, the lush melodies sounded like pop, and Cunniff's sly poetry sounded vaguely -- eeek -- feministic. The result was a bad case of the labels. LJ was miscast as everything from white-girl rap to jazz fusion.

Fortunately, with the release of the radio-friendly Natural Ingredients, the Luscious fan base has expanded beyond critics, and fame has hit the girls squarely between their eyebrows. This has meant spending the last year acclimating to success and its attendant discontents, which include, but are not limited to:

Stupid questions from reporters. ("One guy asked me, 'So, what's it like being a girl?' And I was like, 'Uh, gee, I don't really know. I've never been anything but a girl,'" Glaser recalls.)

Many hours on a tour bus spent trying not to argue over the communal music selection. ("I'm into Stevie Wonder, the Stones, Funkadelic, the whole Seventies thing. Jill and Viv are kind of Joni Mitchell freaks.")

Lame inquiries about each band member's sexuality. (Drummer Schellenbach is a lesbian. All four are sick of the topic.)

Breaking up with significant others. ("Yeah, things just ended with my last boyfriend. I guess when your job requires going on tour, you have to find someone who's patient and who understands you may not have the energy at the end of the day to call home.")

Touring with bands you don't really know. ("We're opening for R.E.M. this summer. I don't really know their music. I think I was over in France when they got big. Anyway, my old boyfriend was really into their stuff.")

Having your personal hygiene habits shared with the masses. (During our phone conversation, Glaser managed to spill tea down her shirt, and to burp -- I would say loudly.)

By far the worst part of Lusciousdom is constantly having to face what Glaser calls "the whole girl band thing," the tendency for people to view the band as a novelty act simply because none of them have dicks. It's an old story in rock. "What people have to understand is that we don't look at ourselves as a girl band," Glaser stresses. "Nobody put us together for marketing purposes. We are four people who came together musically and happen to be women. Period."

Glaser can't help but sound a bit annoyed by the topic, though this could be attributed to the fact that she just spilled tea down her shirt, or that she is a born and bred New Yawker. "Yeah, I was raised on the Lower East Side," she boasts. "There was no white kids, only Puerto Ricans and Chinese kids. And some Ukrainians."

Glaser still lives on the Loisada, which the real estate shills now call the East Village. The sounds and syncopation of the city fill both of the group's discs, as if they were recorded in the middle of a traffic jam. Taxis honk, coins rattle, sirens echo. Cunniff's low-key vocals touch on a variety of themes, from self-swallowing relationships ("Deep Shag") to macho ass-wipes ("Energy Sucker") to the holiness of vinyl ("LP Retreat").

Regrettably, the LJs have yet to plumb the depths of a topic that clearly has captivated them for years: basketball. The band owes its name to Sixties hoops star Lucius Jackson, and Glaser remains a devout fan: "I'm, like, a 300-pound basketball fan. I love [Knicks shooting guard] John Starks. He's got that boyish quality that girls love. And ooooohhh, those lips. I also love [Sacramento Kings guard] Bobby Hurley. He's so damn cute. I probably sound like some fucking horny girl, right? I guess that's what happens when you don't have a boyfriend."

The big question, at least for those poor schleps consumed with Miami's image, is whether Luscious Jackson ever will aim their talents at this city. "Kate is really into Gloria Estefan," Glaser says encouragingly. (Hey, Emilio, didja hear that?)

Luscious does Miami -- why not? We've got sun. We've got sin. We've got pigheaded men. Glaser and her posse obviously would be happy to hang around town for video purposes. At least until they get to know the place.

Luscious Jackson performs at 7:00 p.m. Saturday at the Edge, 200 W Broward Blvd, Ft Lauderdale; 525-9333. Tickets cost fourteen dollars.

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