Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Go Power at Christmas Time"

James Brown died Xmas morning. Too much go and you're gone. Every recording he made from 1960-77 hit the Billboard top 100. 119 singles that charted. That is, you know, a lot. He was still performing at least as recently as November, and was scheduled to play New Year's Eve. According to one of the people around him when he died, he was mostly regretting that he'd miss the gig.

I like Jesse Jackson's quote: "He was dramatic to the end - dying on Christmas Day. ... He'll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way." I like the notion that he was in control, that he timed things to get better press coverage.

Brown was a complicated musical legend. When I told my mom he had died (after she asked if this was a joke, since I apparently find nothing as funny as a fictitious celebrity obituary) her first question was "was he in jail?"

Craig and I were planning to drive down to Memphis for a music festival in May. Brown was on the bill, alongside a collection of acts that can only be described as comical in its diversity. It turned out that we didn't go: both of us had quite a lot going on and the days absent from our lives would add to our general stress. It would have been nice to see his show, but since his passing was the first time I've regretted not going, it's probably for the best.

The department I used to work in over at Silver Lining used to do an hour of James Brown music every Friday afternoon. For an artist who released 50 albums, it's amazing that his greatest hits package seems to get the job done. I've never felt much of a need to dig deeper, while still loving the crap out of the stuff I know. They stopped doing this a while ago, but maybe they'll revive the idea this week, at least.

He was famous enough that he was one of the musicians I had heard of before I had heard. When the Tom Tom Club mentioned him in "Genius of Love" and I saw the video as a boy, I knew immediately who they meant. For quite a while I was aware of him mostly as the preacher in "The Blues Brothers."

His lyrics weren't exactly complex most of the time. A huge number of his songs were a phrase or two repeated over and over again, mixed in with comments about or to his band. He could be heard spurring them on, urging them and the audience into what was perhaps his favorite state of human emotion: frenzy. This is what he was going for in his live shows. He said he wanted to "give people more than what they came for—make them tired." His encores often lasted 40 minutes, his stage crew draping his sweat-soaked body in a cape and leading him offstage. He would break free from them and return to sing a little more of "Please, Please, Please."

Farewell, Mr. Dynamite. Aside from your criminal behavior and your treatment of women when it didn't cross the legal line, you provided a lot of joy and great music.

4 comments:

Liz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz said...

I have such fond memories of being a little girl and watching my mom and aunts dancing to old James Brown records. I know they all saw him several times in concert. He was indeed the "hardest working man in showbiz".

Suze said...

saw a clip of him as a young man. His legs, while dancing, were a blur. Literally, blurring sticks of legs. I, for one, love that he never abandoned the style that carried him to fame. Outrageous about the "jail" comment from your mom though. Loved it. True confessions, I involuntarily thought that maybe, just maybe, it's nice that he can abandon his wigs for a change. Please don't shoot me. It was my brain. Not me. Honest. Us moms are doomed...
Thanks for honoring him. He was a dose of seratonin with every note.

The Moon Topples said...

Liz: hope your initial comment got to whatever post about Tempest Bledsoe or whoever it was intended for.

Suze: What wigs? What are you talking about? (tee hee)