"Touring with indie rock faves Mars Volta was a typical rock-star journey for Ikey Owens. There were rabid fans, criminally boring van trips and nights of keyboard banging with a band he loved. The crowd reactions were typical, too: “Who the hell is that black guy onstage?” “What’s he doing in a rock band?”
"Kids thought it was strange. People thought I was Mars Volta’s bodyguard," says the six-foot, 240-pound Owens. Rock fans weren’t the only ones hung-up about race. Many white musicians revealed their myopia in backhanded ways.
"They’d say what we were doing was just like the Beatles doing ‘Let It Be’ with Billy Preston," Owens remembers. Were these delusions of grandeur on the part of white musicians? Did these guys have no context of black musicians outside of Preston’s famed keyboard session work with the Beatles?
Maybe it was both, yet Owens never let the racist slips of the tongue or the dirty looks overwhelm him—it was all just part of the hazard of being Ikey Owens. To many, he has always been “the black guy” playing in a host of bands in Orange County and Long Beach, some as well-known as Sublime, Reel Big Fish and the Aquabats.
But Owens’ rock & roll career tells the bigger story of his 28-year-old life. He was one of the few black kids raised in largely white Lakewood. Friends and neighbors couldn’t figure out how a black kid liked “white” music like Tom Petty. They thought it odd that a black kid was enrolled in the gifted classes and not special ed. Then there were the often unintended but cruel asides from the mouths of supposedly liberal, open-minded people: the familiar “I don’t like black people, but I like you” was a frequent conversation stopper. And their sting lingered long after for Owens—petty prejudices and affronts that sliced like thousands of paper cuts until he felt as if he was bleeding.
"If you want to talk to some of the angriest black people, talk to one from the suburbs," says Owens. "You live among your enemies. If you open your eyes, you can see how much people hate you. You can’t win. If you have what they have, they’re jealous. You can’t figure out why they would dislike you because you’re supposed to be the ‘good example’ of your race.
"You have everything: you’re not committing crimes, you have high SAT scores, you’re going to college, your parents do well. And the bottom line is you still live next door to people who are, at their core, prejudiced. Directly or indirectly, they don’t want to live next to a lot of black people," says Owens."
- Nothing To Prove: Ikey Owens And The Sonic Politics Of Race (via blackrockandrollmusic)