Lowell George and Body Image: Little Feat, Big Man
by Dan Taylor
So, yeah, Little Feat! What a great band, right? Possibly the best American Band of the 1970’s (with Traffic being the best British band, obviously). Responsible for such canonized albums as “Sailing Shoes,” and “Dixie Chicken.” Cut too short by the tragic death of Lowell George in 1979 from a heart attack and their break up beforehand.
Lowell lived hard, but for all his problems and excess, one thing that is often glossed over which has a big contributor to his passing was his weight. Lowell was often a big man, whose weight fluctuated from a lot to even a whole lot more.
And he often wrote about it in his songs. Take for example this line in the classic song, “Trouble,”
“You yelled hey when your car wouldn't start
So you got real nervous and started to eat your heart out
Now you're so fat your shoes don't fit on your feat
You got trouble”
Trouble, indeed. And in all too typical Chris Farley style fashion, he also played the clown with other songs like “Fat Man in a Bathtub.”
Eating disorders, weight issues, and body image problems are not often associated with male rock stars, especially of that era. But, the case of Lowell George shows the dangers of ignoring these issues.
Look at these insane statistics. More than one third of adult Americans are considered “obese,” and heart disease is the number one killer in our country. Beyond that, an estimated 30 million people deal with eating disorders. Almost 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. Even more staggering, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Women are far more like than men to suffer from these disorders, due to our societies’ fucked up patriarchal beauty standards. It is up to us to smash these false standards.
Lowell’s weight did fluctuate up and sometimes down, most likely because of his frequent heroin use. Due to this and other factors, he probably dealt with depression related issues as well that play into weight and drug abuse. Musicians, even amazing ones like Lowell, are just people with the same hardships and body image concerns as all of us. Weight is soft often a proxy for issues around not only gender, but class (most “obese” people are poor, not rich), food production, work and exercise, and mental health, etc. Touring musicians are most likely mentally ragged a lot of the time, at the mercy of gas station and rest stop food, and sit on a bus most of the day. So, we see how these things happen to people like Lowell and others.
A telling verse of his says,
“Well they say time loves a hero But only time will tell But if he's real, he's a legend from heaven But if he ain't he was sent here from hell.”
But, it is corporatists industrial junk food culture and poisonous ideas of societal beauty standards that we need to straight to hell, not ourselves. So, take a listen to “Dixie Chicken,” later today and remember Lowell George, the brilliant man, albeit troubled man, but also one who loved chicken.