I recently stumbled upon the fascinating Stand & Deliver: The Documentary on You Tube and found myself enthralled as the extremely well-read Adam Ant revealed influences and historical roots behind his music, wardrobe, and various stage and video set pieces. Some fascinating stories are divulged, many of which I, as a more-than-casual-but-less-than-rabid Adam Ant fan, had never heard before. The most intriguing of these stories was the tale of how he got called out by Native Americans for cultural appropriation… and then got a free pass.
In the film, Ant discusses his use of feathers and Native American war paint as part of his early costuming. According to Ant, “I always wore a few feathers to project an Apache image on stage,” and “the Apache war line [painted across his face]... was a declaration of war on the music business.” Apparently this appropriation did not sit well with some Native American groups, who reputedly wrote in to Ant’s record label to express dismay.
Sally James, presenter for the British program, Tiswas:
Someone had written to him that he had upset the Native American Indian community because they had felt that the line across his face [was problematic]... Instead of ignoring it, he went to their headquarters to see them. He said ‘please come and see my act,’ and they all went along and then they wrote to the record company: ‘this guy is fantastic, we won’t have a word said against him.
Writer Karen Krizanovich adds:
He met up with ten leaders of the Native American nations and he said ‘the dancing that I’m doing on stage, the way I’m looking with feathers and the paint… if you find that disrespectful to your people I will stop it immediately.’ Actually, he cared enough to see if he was offending anyone with what he was doing.
According to the story revealed in Stand & Deliver: The Documentary, Ant’s invitation to the tribal leaders led to his being given the “A-OK” vis-à-vis the war paint and feathers. Ant seems to corroborate the story in an interview with louderthanwar.com:
I already had the Native American Indians on my back about the look but when I met them I said I’m a Romany and that’s a tribal culture and I’m very serious about this and I’ve studied it and we have also had lots of our people knocked off as well.
The genocide in America of the Native Americans affected me, and the songs that touched on that like “Kings Of The Wild Frontier,” “Human Beings,” and even “Catholic Days” singing about Kennedy had been banned. Now I know I was right singing about that stuff.
Anyway, at the time, this good looking six foot plus Indian comes in to see me and says that they were suspicious that some white boy was singing about them, so I went there and spoke to the people at their centre. They showed me their system and their history and I basically said to to them come to the show and if you don’t like what I’m doing or if you think that I’m taking the piss I will fucking take the stripe off and not wear it again.
Fortunately they liked the gig but I had to go to them to speak to them. It’s their country and you have to go to them. I was very passionate about it, and I still am. I don’t do politics, but this is beyond politics. It’s about justice, but nobody is innocent. I mean look at our empire. I’m a musician not a politician, but there was stuff that I was singing about like I was suffering years of taming and the kids like me were inspired about this wildness, and they got it and when they came down to the gig they got it.
Now, the ‘80s were a much less, shall we say, culturally sensitive time, and a what got a “pass” then might not fly today—and giving concert tickets to a handful of tribal leaders—who may or may not speak for the Native population at large—doesn’t necessarily make Ant’s costuming choices less “problematic” by today’s standards; however, the fact that Ant met with these leaders and offered to drop his iconic look, upon their say-so, speaks to his integrity, respect for Native culture, and his desire to do the right thing.
Ant has more recently been accused of cultural appropriation by Cap’n Crunch.
There are other incredible stories in Stand & Deliver: The Documentary. One reveals a late-night phone call from Michael Jackson asking Ant where he got his military jacket (note - Jackson soon showed up in public wearing a very similar outfit), and how he got his drum sounds. Jackson subsequently got Adam Ant a gig on the infamous Motown 25 TV special, by actually refusing to appear himself unless Ant was allowed to go on after him!
Ant recounts this same story in his autobiography Stand and Deliver
The ringing of a telephone cut sharply through my sleep. I fumbled for the receiver.
‘Hello?’ A soft, highpitched voice echoed down the line to me.
‘Hello,’ it repeated. ‘Is that Adam Ant?’
The voice had an American accent and sounded vaguely familiar, but my fuzzy brain reacted angrily.
‘Terry,’ I said, thinking it was one of the Ants’ drummers playing a prank. ‘Stop pissing about. It’s 4am and I’m trying to sleep.’
‘No, it’s not Terry,’ said the voice. ‘It’s Michael. Is that Adam Ant?’ ‘Very funny, Terry, now fuck off.’ I slammed the phone down, rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.
The phone went again. ‘Hello,’ I barked into the receiver. ‘Hi, no, really, it is me, Michael Jackson,’ said the funny voice, ‘and I just want to ask you…’ ‘Terry, if you don’t stop this I’m going to come over there and fucking thump you.’ Bang. Again the phone went down.
Again I rolled over. Again the phone rang. I grabbed the receiver and shouted: ‘Terry! That’s IT!’ ‘Er, hi, is that Adam Ant?’ This time the voice was deep, sonorous, American and calm. It didn’t sound anything like Terry. ‘Oh, oh,’ I stammered.
‘Yes, this is Adam. Who are you?’ ‘I’m Quincy Jones, calling from LA. Sorry, we probably woke you, but I’m here with Michael Jackson and he’d like to speak with you. Is that OK?’ A pause, and then that same soft voice. ‘Hi, Adam, it’s Michael. Sorry if we woke you.’
‘Oh, no, sorry to have been so rude,’ I apologized. He said he had just seen the video for our song “Kings Of The Wild Frontier.” ‘It’s great,’ he said. ‘How did you get the tom-tom sound?’ ‘Oh, thanks. Well, we use two drum kits and then add loads of other percussion on top…’
‘That’s great, Adam,’ Michael interrupted. ‘I really like your jacket. Where’d you get it?’
‘Huh? My jacket?’ I tried to think. ‘Berman’s and Nathan’s in London’s Covent Garden. They supply costumes for movies.’
‘Wow. That’s great,’ he replied. ‘How do you spell that? Bowman’s and who?’ ‘No, B-E-R-M-A-N-apostrophe-S and N-A-T-H-A-N-apostrophe-S.’
‘Great, thanks. Let’s meet up next time you’re in America, huh? Bye.’
The line went dead.
I got invited over to LA and I went to his family home, because he was still living with his mum and dad. All his brothers and sisters were there and I just spent the day walking round the house with all the snakes and llamas. I actually followed him onstage right after he did the moonwalk for the first time.
Watch the Adam Ant documentary after the jump…