December 25, 2006


The Afterlife Cafe makes it FUNKY

Godspeed, James Brown, aka The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz, aka The Godfather Of Soul, aka Soul Brother Number One, aka Mr. Dynamite...

My earliest memory of James Brown comes from my days in elementary school. By the early 1970s schools in Evanston, IL were pretty well integrated without much fuss (at least as far as I could see). In second grade, a black friend invited me and another white kid to his birthday party. We were the only honkies at this gig, and we were petrified little wallflowers, that is until our brothers of another color would have no more of it. We were cajoled out to the dance floor, and it's the first time I can remember just letting loose of inhibition and becoming euphoric in movement. Hell, I probably picked up a few moves that served me well in my later Deadhead years (not that rhythm mattered at those functions). The strains of JB's, "Awww, Hyit ME!!" would be parked down on the basement level of my soul for a long time.

In the years after that party I followed the typical flow of musical tastes among white suburban teenagers. It wasn't until well into adulthood that I rediscovered my tiny roots of funk and began cultivating an avid appreciation of James Brown. Sometime in the early 1990s I would gain copies of "20 All-Time Greatest Hits" and "Live At The Apollo" (1963 incarnation), and baby, it was a new breed of pure dynamite!

Oh, I almost forgot another one of JB's AKAs - Reverend Cleophus James

In a scene from one of my favorite films, The Blues Brothers, the Rev. James shouts out in his inimitable way (several times):


To which Jake Blues (John Belushi), at the apogee of a musical epiphany, shouts:


One paragraph in particular stood out in the Associated Press report of his death:
"He often talked of the 1964 concert in which organizers made the mistake of having the Rolling Stones, not him, close the bill. He would remember a terrified Mick Jagger waiting offstage, chain smoking, as Brown pulled off his matchless show."

The above scenario with Jagger can actually be seen in the the '60s concert film, "The TAMI & TNT Shows" (TAMI was Teen-Age Music International - a foundation devoted to providing music scholarships to teens).

In a special appreciation for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn, the Times' pop music critic for nearly 40 years, sums it up best:
"Long before he was showered with more celebrated (and fitting) titles... Brown was briefly thought of by some as the black Elvis, which was mostly silly - except in one profound way. If Presley was the artist most often cited by leading white musicians as an influence - and I found that to be true in the '60s and 70s, Brown was the name I most often heard when asking black musicians about who inspired them."
Read the rest of Hilburn's tribute.

I can't let an appreciation of JB slip by without a passing mention of the fact that the man had his demons:

Enough said? Well, perhaps I should also mention that, in my humble opinion, not everything musical that the man touched turned to gold. Indeed, he often skirted and dipped a toe across the line into some pretty cheezy shit (case in point - his performance of "Living in America" in Rocky II). But hey, he was sincere.

Go in PEACE, James baby - I hope in your show of tomorrow you stay on the good foot.

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An excellent tribute, O'Tim.
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