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Air Date: 7/29/21

The Root Presents: It’s Lit!

Ep. 45 - Revisiting ‘80s Music, Androgyny and Art, With Adrian Loving

Maiysha Hello and welcome to It's Lit, where all things literary live at The Root. I'm
Maiysha Kai, managing editor of The Glow Up, and today we're chatting with artist, author
and self-proclaimed nerd Adrian Loving. Adrian is a contemporary art and music historian,
visual artist and entrepreneur. He has created exhibitions at various museums and cultural
institutions, including the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art and the National
Portrait Gallery. And he's also performed at events like the White House Correspondents
Dinner. Now, Adrian has a new book and video project called Fade 2 Grey, which is a deep
dive into gender identity, music, art and fashion in the late 70s through the 80s. And I have
to say, as a Gen Xers and child of the 80s myself, I thoroughly enjoyed going through this
book and I believe I will enjoy revisiting it for years to come. It discusses Prince, Grace
Jones, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, all of these iconic artists of the period, as well as
taking dives into a bevy of underground talents and really gives them all a new shine and
perspective that we haven't really seen before. It was a pleasure talking with Adrian and
getting to revisit the music of our childhoods. So without further delay, please enjoy my
conversation with Adrian Loving.

Maiysha Adrian, welcome to It's Lit.

Adrian Loving Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Maiysha I am thrilled to have you. We have a lot of friends in common so I'm excited to
talk about that and talk about Fade 2 Grey: Androgyny, Style and Art and 80s Dance
Music. This is and this is it's a it's a compendium. So we're going to get into that. But
before we begin, we have a ritual here at It's Lit. We like to ask everyone who visits us to
tell us a book or books that really influenced them. You know, this is a podcast about Black
books, Black writers, Black thinkers. And so we like to know, was there a book or books
that blew your mind that just absolutely got you to where you are now?

Adrian Loving Wow. There's so many. Well, I could mention one in particular. That's by a
Black writer, his name is Adilifu Nama. He wrote a book called Black Space: Imagining
Race in Science Fiction. So this one here. OK, now, OK, I'm a huge nerd. OK, so books
like this are interesting to me because they they often create these ideas around subjects
that I love, but help me to think about them in different ways. And so that was one in
particular. Before that, another book called Close Encounters: Films, Feminism, and
Science Fiction, which was this one, was by Constance Penley, Eliwabeth Lyon, Lynn
Spiegel and Janet Bergström, all amazing women scholars. And this also talks about the
role of feminism in science fiction.

Maiysha Well, yeah. I love that you pointed those two out because they both seem to
dovetail really well with this book. I'm sorry I cut you off. I couldn't help but be like, oh, my
gosh, I get it now because I'm really excited to talk to you about Fade 2 Grey. This is this
was like a like I mean, first of all, I should just start this off by saying so I am a Gen Xer,
Gen Xers have been trending lately. I am Gen X. And so when you hand me a book that
says 80s dance music on the cover, which was the era of my childhood, my, my, my gen x
heart goes pitter pat. And this book, you know, for for those who are unfamiliar with it, for
our listeners, is I mean, it's really this is really kind of an anthology here, correct? Of
essays and and think pieces and pictures and, you know, kind of musings and really a
deep exploration of this intersection of so many things that happened during this one
decade surrounding dance culture. Correct? Would that be a good way to some it up?

Air Date: 7/29/21

Adrian Loving That's absolutely right.

Maiysha OK, all right. Great. And, you know, it's it's coming at a time...First of all, I think
it's coming at a time that we're all being really reflective, but I couldn't help but notice it's
coming at a time. You know, there's been a few people that we've interviewed here on the
podcast that have been kind of meditating on Black performance in particular. And while
this book doesn't strictly focus on Black performance, it's definitely more about the era,
race is written really strong through here. So, you know, just to start things off, like how did
this begin for you? Like how did this project, this concept, this massive undertaking begin
for you?

Adrian Loving Well, I'll go back to my nerd musings and visual art. I studied graphic
design and I later started working in video art. And some of the work I was doing in the
early 2000s was really sort of toying with analog textures like VHS beta glitchy kind of
artwork. And I was invited to do an art exhibition at this gallery in D.C. And so I didn't want
to do that again. I wanted to do something different. And so I looked at all these records
that I had and they're pretty amazing. And I noticed that I had quite a few records that
were centered in the 80s that focused on beautiful covers and interesting covers such as
this sort of androgynous style of Prince, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Boy George, Culture
Club, Annie Lennox, all these people, you know, their regular DJ records in my rotation.
But I didn't I hadn't yet stopped to think about, is there a similarity between these records
or is just good music? And so I started I was thinking, wow, this would be a good cultural
study, a good anthropological study, a good creative study to look at these artistic subjects.
And so I went about the task of using the artists to be source material for an exhibition.
And then from the development of the exhibition, it was suggested that I do a book
because the discussions around the artists are far more interesting and you could have
greater reach. So I started doing research on these characters and I figured that the topic
of androgyny was sort of, you know, Bowie was still alive. Prince was still alive. So many
people were still alive. When I started this research and I got I got all this great material.
And then I just started writing and there were some people who I felt could write better
pieces. And I wanted to have a collection of voices. So I commissioned pieces to different
five different writers.

Maiysha Yeah, you've got some veteran journalists in here, some, you know, some
well-known names. You know, Michael Gonzales is a mutual friend of ours, Miles Marshall
Lewis. And there's another voice that a lot of people will recognize here. But a lot of this is
you and I can't imagine, like, how much work you had to put into this research. How did
how did the narrowing down process go in terms of I mean, you know, that list of names
that you just ran off like that...I was really sitting there like, "yes, yes, yes, yes, yes." You
know, those are all like a lot of my favorite artists that I grew up on. Blondie's in here. You
even have like Motley Crue and, you know, people like that in here. And I should tell you,
you know, I'm I'm originally are regular listeners know this 'cause I probably say it every
other episode. I'm from Minneapolis. So the you know, you kind of open with Prince and it
just, you know, you had me right there. And I think you'll have a lot of people right there
because you know, who doesn't love Prince? If you don't love Prince, I don't believe in you
as an entity. But how did you kind of make this selection? And then, you know, I want to
get into organization of how how this information is organized. But how did you kind of
narrow down these ideas? I mean, the names you said were really big, but you also have
a lot of obscure artists here.

Air Date: 7/29/21
Adrian Loving Well, I'm a crate digger. I want to provide and dig into areas that are not
the sort of superficial 80s skimming off the top. You know, you think about Rubik's Cube
and Reagan and MTV and all of these things, but I wanted to go deeper. So I would be
doing myself a disservice as a researcher and my contemporaries if I didn't, like, try to dig
up things that had not been talked about for people who didn't get the shine. So I had a I
had a I had a bunch of ideas that I was playing around with. And I sort of like a vision
board. And I was like, OK, let's talk about this. I want that here. Here's some things I want
to cover. And I vetted these ideas through conversations with friends. Sometimes I would
say, hey, what do you think about this or why do women find Prince attractive? You know,
let's talk about this era in club culture. So a lot of these things came from conversations
that eventually formed a thesis statement. And then within that thesis statement, I tried to
drill down the intersections of gender, race, art, music. That were particularly influential
during this time period, like why was the 80s an important time period? What made that
decade special? And how were these artists able to sort of utilize all these things to get the
message out and be successful?

Maiysha Well, I mean, I know why the 80s was special to me, but why was it special to

Adrian Loving Well, it's a those are coming of age time. I mean, I was I was born in the
70s, so there was a time I was I was like a kid and had that awakening myself to all this
fresh, new, exciting music. And, you know, it's when you first kind of get your little job and
you get you have money to buy records and go see movies and you have a little bit of
disposable income that you decide to spend on the exciting things in life. Music...

Maiysha Or you get Columbia House Records, you just pay that one penny.

Adrian Loving CDs were not out yet because cassingles were out and tapes and vinyl.

Maiysha Yes. Or when we would take the tape recorder and we put it in front of the radio
and try to...

Adrian Loving Exactly.

Maiysha I know I'm not the only one who did that.

Adrian Loving Oh no, I made mix tapes from the quiet storm, and—.

Maiysha That's right.

Adrian Loving So a lot of a lot of this book is a really sort of a pouring out and a love letter
to this period that I grew up in. And it's also a sort of revisionist look at the period, you
know, like looking at it through adult eyes versus through kid eyes.

Maiysha I try not to gloat about it because, you know, as a Gen Xer, I feel like, you know,
we're supposed to be like really apathetic and just kind of like whatever. But speaking of
intersectionality, we really did sit at this really amazing juncture of music. You know, that
intersection of our parents kind of, you know, especially if you were Black, your parents
kind of Motown era and, you know, then funk and disco and being the MTV generation
because we are that, right? You know, so we remember when video killed the radio star
and now, you know, reality TV has killed MTV. So you've got that, right. Hip hop, you know,
grunge, heavy metal, all these things to your point that intersect here. But also I think we're

Air Date: 7/29/21
a generation that really got to see and are still seeing, obviously kind of a new sexual
awakening. Like, you know, obviously there was a sexual revolution of our parents'
generation, but in large part still very much existed on this, you know, kind of gender
binary, these these very finite terms of what that meant. It was like free love, but not really
like free, free. But and, you know, we are also the generation who lived through the AIDS
crisis as children, the HIV AIDS crisis. And it's very hard to have a conversation about the
80s without having that conversation as well. Right. But insofar as you talk about
androgyny here, we are now finding yourself in an era I find really refreshing, which is
people kind of playing with gender, dismissing gender, doing what they want with gender.
How do you feel that this work that you've done here dovetails with that kind of current

Adrian Loving Well, I think that what these artists stood for and how they at the end of the
day, still tried to have a good quality product and express themselves individually, I don't a
lot of these I mean, you know, you had your sort of facsimile artist that kind of came and,
you know, jumped on the trends that were happening. But they were something about the
freedom of artists, especially Black artists, that didn't get this freedom in the Motown era,
didn't get this freedom in the 60s. So when you talk about a Prince or Rick James or, you
know, these really sort of independent musicians, musicians, they you know, Rick was a
super freak. He was like, I'm going to be a freak. And that's part of what I do. I'm going to
wear whatever, you know, Grace Jones was like, oh, this is me. You know, they really were
they were brave. They were bold. They were beautiful. And they were unapologetic. In a
sense. They were like, this is the music that I'm making of this music. I think you can see
the seeds of artists, contemporary artists today that have borrowed or taken note of some
of these artists. And you can kind of see it like you wouldn't have a Lady Gaga or Rihanna
or, you know, Janelle Monae or a Billy Eilish or any of these people without—

Maiysha Or eve a Li'l Nas X,

Adrian Loving A Li'l Nas X yeah without tracing back these things. I mean, these trap
artists that are painting their nails and doing all the stuff, you know, there was a price to be
paid in the 80s for being different. Like you would be beat up, you could be killed, you
know. You know, it wasn't it came with a price.

Maiysha No, absolutely. I mean, for some reason, of course, the person who came to my
mind most vividly was Sylvester, because, you know, again, you also made this comment
about the quality of product. And there is always that thing in music, especially since music
has become more visual over the years of the sacrifice of like the quality of product for the
imagery or the gimmick or what have you. And, you know, Sylvester was an artist who was
both unapologetically himself, but also just a really tremendous vocalist. Right. A really
tremendous musician and I think embodies a lot of like the era and what was going on in
the era and how a lot of the price that was paid by that era. But as I was mentioning
earlier, I also think that, you know, I'm very interested always when we have these
conversations, you know, because I get to talk to so many of you amazing writers and
thinkers that I am always interested in the timing of things like the kind of kismet of when
you kind of release a book. And this has been a year in which, you know, coming out of
this racial reckoning, so-called racial reckoning, several books dropped that. I was really
excited about because they were they were both talking about race, but not talking about
race and these very creative terms, you know, like I'm thinking like, Hanif Abdurraqib's
Little Devil in America, you know, talking about the history of Black performance. And, you
know, some of them are fictional. You know, you have a lot of what you're alluding to here
in a fictional context with like Dawnie Walton's, Opal and Nev. And but at the same time,

Air Date: 7/29/21
you have something like Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham putting out Black Futures,
which is another side of this. How do you hope that people will interact with this book?

Adrian Loving I want it to be used as a tool. And I want teachers and students and people
who are collectors or music enthusiasts to try to read it first. I mean, there's some good
reads and I mean a lot of great pictures and the surface level of the book level one is like
go through and look at all the pretty pictures. The level two is really read the fine print.
There's some stories. There's some moments in there that are really very, I believe, pretty
well researched and hint at things that we aren't discussing. For example, one of one of
my favorite pieces I wrote was about Andy Warhol and Black musicians, because know in
the mainstream, Andy Warhol is known for his relationships with Grace Jones and
Jean-Michel Basquiat and a couple of people. But the legacy that is untold largely is that
the people that he worked with them photographed you know, your Andre Leon Talley's,
your Pallay, Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder, Prince, all like hundreds of people that he
worked with and even his ladies and gentlemen series, which was Black and Latino
transgender people. This was one of his first shows that exhibited his new style of screen
printing. So. I want people to sort of be challenged to look at things again and consider
stepping away from the conventional narrative and thinking about, you know, how can we
retell the story? How could we think about artists versus what is always sort of sold to us,
you know? So I think that those are themes that run throughout the book and also writing
from different viewpoints. Like, I didn't go to journalism school, like I studied art, but I
learned about you know, first-person and reportage and more journal journalistic styles
that tell it from different viewpoints. And so I wanted to have a variety of sort of outlooks
and perspectives and things.

Maiysha Well, I think you do. And I think like one of the things that I found striking and I'm
not going to sit here and lie to you and say, I've read this cover to cover yet because
there's so much there. And I am a former musician myself, so I do really like to dig in. But
one of the things I do think is really interesting is that there is this kind of this narrative arc,
if you will, and this kind of I don't even know how to describe this. This is something that I
think we have lost in terms of the way that we report about music, if that makes any sense,
you know what I mean? The kind of more like a thoughtful deep dives that I mean, they still
exist, but they're not as common as they used to be. What are your plans for the book?
You are an artist. So I assume that the journey is not stopping here with a degree with
what's next with this project or I guess the evolution of this material.

Adrian Loving That's a big question too. The big vision for this is coming out of covid. I'm
trying to sort of restart the engine again and we get some book talks out there, participate
in some conferences, speak on panels, really get exposure to educational groups,
scholars, academics, music people. I want to sort of hit different markets. And I'm also very
much interested in making it into a series like I could see it being like a Netflix series where
we pass out parts of the book and then create like a four-part series that just dives into
androgyny and 80s music or something like that. And I want people to use it as a research
and reference tool, like, oh, that book Fade 2 Grey has these things in it. So that's one of
the goals. And also I'm working on the second book. I've got material that wasn't even in
the first book that is being sort of put together and thought through right now. So there will
be a Fade 2 Grey part 2. And it's funny that you talked about this sort of racial reckoning
with all the things that are sort of like floating around and even some really cool
documentaries. A month or so ago, I saw Raoul Peck's Exterminate All the Brutes. And as
you know, James Baldwin's I Am Not Your Negro, these fantastic, brilliant director, writer
and it made me think about storytelling and really going deep and really pulling pull and
pulling out all the stops, and it just made me think, like, what am I talking about? Where

Air Date: 7/29/21
am I going deep enough? Am I really pulling at some things? And so the transition from
book one to book two will be some more hardcore discussion pieces, things that are going
to really make you think, you know. But I'm mining this beautiful period of 80s. Like, if you
can study Harlem Renaissance and study like all these times, you can study the eighties
as a decade. So I want to go back in here and really look at things that we just accepted
and felt like just kind of we didn't know certain things back then. But now it's like I really
want to sort of like relook at things that we just sort of accepted without any questioning
and really talk about it. So that's what the part 2 is going to be.

Maiysha Well, I appreciate that you're doing that for the 80s. I think that we often get
written off, you know, especially those of us who grew up in that era is like this like
superficial generation, when really it was I kind of think it was anything but there's so much
going on during that era and not a lot of time to catch a breath. But this book also, you
know, leaves me breathless. It's a really I really cannot commend you enough for what
you've done here. I think it is a really fantastic to look at. It's going to have a place of honor
on my coffee table. And I hope our listeners will check it out, please. Thank you so much
for coming and talking with us today about Fade 2 Grey. I can't wait to see what comes
next. I totally agree with you. I want to see it as a series. I think this would be brilliant as a
series. So cheering you on for that. Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian Loving Thank you so much.

Maiysha The Root Presents: It's Lit is produced by myself, Maiysha Kai, and Micaela
Heck. Our sound engineer, is Ryan Allen. Our theme song was penned by yours truly and
producer Scott Jacoby. If you like the show and want to help us out, please give us a rating
on Apple Podcasts. It really, really helps us out and we appreciate your feedback so much.
Now, if you have any thoughts or feedback, you can find me on Twitter at Maiysha. That's
M A I Y S H A, and at Maiysha Kai on Instagram.

Maiysha And before we go, we always like to talk a little bit about what we're currently
reading. And admittedly, I haven't really been reading much lately because I've been
packing all my books and I have a lot of books, like too many books. You know what it's
like to have too many books. I know Marie Kondo says get rid of your books, but I can't
because I love books more than anything. So my books and I will meet you on the other
side. But until then, that's it for this week. Thanks so much for listening. And we will see
you next week. You know what to do until then, keep it lit.

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