Godfather Of Soul -- Will You Miss All This?
American dead in Iraq have passed the 3,000 mark, with US elites from the New York Times, the Dems and the GOP calling for more fresh bodies. Ethiopian warplanes pound Somali Islamists, the type of African-on-African violence that the West supports, however quietly. Saddam will probably hang within 30 days, a cynical, empty gesture that will do nothing to ease the pain in Iraq -- indeed, quite the opposite, as the Iraqi death toll jumps daily. And at home, last-minute Christmas shopping led to shootings at Florida and North Carolina malls, suggesting that for some, holiday warmth comes from the mouth of a hot gun barrel.
Yes, 2006 is going out as it came in, with more, so very much more, on the way for '07. And of course the Son will try to place it all in some kind of context, for clarity's sake, if nothing else. It's not as if this humble space can thwart the crazy, murderous tide.
Today, however, I bid adieu to the great James Brown. Unlike many of his fans, I was not steeped in Brown's body of work. My earliest memories of him confounded me, as I lived in a largely all-white world where the likes of Brown were mocked, if noticed at all. Whenever he appeared on Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin, I was immediately drawn to his intense, precise movements, sweat rolling down from his pompadour, grimace on his face. Brown conveyed so much emotion and feeling with so few words, when he wasn't simply grunting and tossing off quick asides. In my young world, James Brown was an alien, but not alienating, and I often fell into his groove, not knowing what the hell was happening. And the bit where he broke down to his knees as his handler draped a coat or cape over him, ushered him off-stage before he turned and ran back to the mike for more singing and dancing, always hooked me and made me feel for the guy. Too young to know about stock routines, his breaking down usually made me sad. "That poor man," I'd say to myself. "He's so brave to keep going."
Well, Brown kept going for decades, on and off-stage. Stories of his domestic problems, physical abuse among them, seemed to always follow the man. His drug use, while unsurprising for a musical performer, could stagger even the most jaded observer. PCP in his 50s? Who the hell does that? Louis Armstrong smoked weed all of his adult life, but that seemed like grape juice compared to what Brown poured into his small, sturdy body. The hardest working man in show business worked it at every level, no matter how destructive. It's amazing that he lived as long as he did.
Here's a VH1 video of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," which shows Brown at various stages of his career. A nice, tasty selection. After that, his appearance in 1980's "The Blues Brothers", a so-so comedy that featured some wonderful musical segments, and introduced legends like Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Johnny Lee Hooker to a whole new audience. Brown played a singing preacher who really brings it for the Lord. And the great thing about this clip is that Brown could perform gospel as beautifully and smoothly as he did R&B, funk and his own brand of hip-hop, the latter of which mined his riffs for years.
The final cape now rests on James Brown's shoulders. Part of me wouldn't be surprised if he threw it off for one last encore.