For President Bill Clinton, the attention being paid to Monica Lewinsky these days has meant plenty of trouble. But Candye Kane, a jump-blues singer whose new single is titled "200 Pounds of Fun," sees the rise of the big-boned former White House intern as a personal blessing. "She probably weighs about 200 pounds," says Kane, who tips the scales at a similar figure. "So this is not a bad thing to have my CD coming out while all of this stuff is happening. But big lips are what Clinton likes. He likes girls with big mouths."
Granted, Kane is referring to Lewinsky's kisser, not her recent decision to kiss and tell. But the singer is perfectly at ease when it comes to spilling the beans about herself. Stints as a welfare mother, a phone-sex operator, a nude model and a star of X-rated films are all part of her resume, and she doesn't care who knows it. "To not talk about it would be to let people jump to their own conclusions," she argues. "And I don't want that to happen. Besides, it doesn't have anything to do with how I do my job. The bottom line is, if you like the way I sing, you'll buy the record."
With luck, Swango, Kane's debut for the Sire imprint, will prove her point. Due in stores September 22, the horn-laden collection is highlighted by Kane's impressive pipes, which easily wrap themselves around a slew of swinging raveups, bluesy thrillers and sparkling cabaret tunes that brim with personality as expansive as she is. ("You can call me voluptuous, or you can call me zaftig," she says, "but in the end, I'm fat.") Typical is the aforementioned "200 Pounds," a virtual anthem to largesse that opens with what could be the year's sauciest intro: "It takes a lot of woman to keep you satisfied/Well, I got me a saddle they call 'The double wide.'" The tune--which features a delightful call and response that counts toward the title sum with lines such as "198...I'm feeling great"--is enough to drive Kate Moss to the nearest refrigerator.
For Kane, who is openly bisexual, the ditty is "a tribute to big women," but it's also something more. "Anybody whose body doesn't fit into a cultural norm will also relate to it, and that includes people who are going bald and people who are the wrong color, or who are gay or disenfranchised. That's why my crowd is so eclectic. It ranges from queers, rockabilly fans and bikers to porn fans, blues fans, size activists and sex workers. And I'm proud that these people come together to hear this music.
"The music is fun," she continues, "and I use it to really empower other people. For me, being empowered was so essential for any success that I've had, and I really want to give it to other people. I feel I can really make a difference in making people feel better about their bodies, and maybe even a little more courageous about pursuing their dreams."
Kane wasn't born with the self-confidence she currently oozes. She grew up in East Los Angeles and began singing at an early age. But the unusually busty physique she developed during her teen years made her a target for cruel peers. Desperate for acceptance, she began experimenting with sex and wound up pregnant at age sixteen. "All of that was related to the way I felt about my body," she says.
While looking for a way to support herself after the birth of her child, a son, Kane stumbled onto a job with a phone-sex firm, which led her to other roles in the adult-entertainment business. Her robust chest soon became an asset, landing her topless modeling work in magazines and hardcore films. She poured the profits from these endeavors into her music, and before long, her efforts started to pay off. After Kane landed a song on the 1986 compilation A Town South of Bakersfield, musicians such as Dwight Yoakam and Los Lobos began to sing her praises. She subsequently issued a pair of genre-bending discs on the Antone's label, and the success of her 1996 release, Diva La Grande, attracted the attention of Sire. But even though Kane is now on the roster of a much larger company, she has no intention of watering down the campy live shows she performs with the Swingin' Armadillos, a crack band anchored by Kane's husband, Palladins bassist Thomas Yearsley.
"On stage, I still poke fun at the business," she says. "I play piano with my boobs and balance a drink and let people drink out of it, to de-stigmatize my body. I immediately do something with my boobs to disarm people and get them to relax a little bit, because I don't want them sitting there for the whole show going, 'Oh my gawd, are those real?' and 'Look how big they are!' They may be big, but they're not that big of a deal."
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Perhaps not, but that doesn't mean music-biz sorts have always been happy about how many people have seen them. "There was a time when I had to hide things from the record companies and hope that they didn't find out," Kane notes. "But now the record company calls me and says, 'Hi, Jugs magazine wants to do an interview and Hustler's going to review your record,' and they're happy about it. When they start looking at those kinds of options as publicity angles, that's good. They're learning from me, because I exploit the sex business as much as I can--as much as they exploited me." Her persona is "pretty provocative, I know, and I hope it doesn't turn off people in Colorado, which I understand is kind of a conservative place. A lot of times, women will read about my show and say, 'Okay, she's an X-rated star, she plays piano with her boobs, I'm not going to go.' But if they do come out, they go away with a good feeling, because my show is for and about women."
By contrast, most of her credos work equally well for music lovers of either gender: Her favorites are "Work what you've got, whether it's a little or a lot" and "Love yourself, your body and everybody else's if you get the chance." Bill Clinton apparently subscribes to the latter principle, but the cutting comments some failed comedians have made about Lewinsky imply that many Americans are not as open-minded about pleasantly plump women as he is. Kane believes that they might be, though, if they followed his example.
"I think that whoever says those things has never had a big woman of his own," she says. "The fact is, we're soft and cuddly, we keep you warm at night, there's more of us to love, there's more to grab on to, and it's more womanly to be big and voluptuous than to be thin and look like a boy. There was a time when being big meant you made more money--because you could afford more food--and that you were more healthy and robust and more desirable. I hope those days are coming back. But I'm not trying to say that bigger is better--just that bigger is okay, too."
Ronnie Dawson, with Candye Kane. 9 p.m. Friday, August 28, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax, $8, 830-6700.