If I had the time, I’d build James Brown a proper online shrine, with “Night Train” welcoming you and Tom Tom Club’s exquisite JB tribute song “Pleasures of Love” bidding him farewell… (“What you gonna do when you get out of jail? We’re gonna have some fun…”)
But I don’t have the time, so listen instead (you can do it online) to Terry Gross’s excellent James Brown tribute edition of her excellent “Fresh Air” radio program. It has rare groove tracks and great interviews with Mr. Brown, Maceo Parker and the inimitable Bootsy Collins. My favorite clip is when she asks Bootsy about the dress code of the JBs, and he admits that being down with the psychedelic revolution personified by the likes of Jimi Hendrix at the end of the 60s, he would have been more inclined to take the stage wearing a T-shirt, jeans, an Afro and granny glasses — but it was not to be. In the JBs, you had to wear matching suits and keep your hair cut, or get a fine from Mr. Brown. “It was like we was the Army band,” says Bootsy.
I love the fact that thousands of people took to 125th Street today to bid him farewell, chanting “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” And there he was, lying in state on stage as mourners filed slowly, reverently past, resplendent in the sort of powder-blue suit he’d wear on stage.
I’m also reminded of that scene in Alan Parker’s “The Commitments,” about a Dublin soul band in the late ’60s that includes that immortal “we’re the blacks of Europe” line. The band leader, in one scene, is educating his bandmates in soul traditions by showing them old clips of James Brown performing. At the passionate climax of one song, JB did his signature collapse on the stage to be carried off, covered in his cape, by anxious looking attendants. “Is he dead?” one band member asks, before JB returns to finish the song.
Sad to say, there’ll be no encore this time.
P.S. I’m reminded by Bernard’s comment below that I forgot to add a link to this truly excellent piece from Rolling Stone by Jonahtan Lethem who got to hang with JB while completing his final album. And also this appreciation by my fried and pop-culture oracle Richard Corliss.