Thursday, February 03, 2005

James Brown: Get on the Good Book, Part Two

There is a review of the James Brown's new autobigorahpy at the New York Times. It is described as "uneven but occasionally jaw-dropping." Here is some more:

...Mr. Brown's remarkable journey - from poverty in the Deep South to the chitlin' circuit to stardom to arrest to state laurels to arrest again, with pungent detours along the way - is only as absurd as the backdrop against which it takes place. As a reminder of this greater absurdity, Mr. Brown keeps with him a heavy set of shackles and chains that he bought in Africa. His life and accomplishments deserve a proper biography, and his many brushes with the law, beginning in 1949, when he was sent to a Georgia reform school at age 16 for petty theft, and continuing at least up until last year, when he pleaded no contest to a charge of domestic violence, call for a juicy tell-all.

Mr. Brown's self-made genius and self-destructive behavior make a grand American narrative, filled with impossible triumph, unlikely haberdashery and indestructible funk, all forged in the racial cauldron of the last century. He performed on national television to calm potential rioters after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then alienated black audiences a few years later by supporting Richard Nixon. He danced for pennies and nickels as a poor child in Augusta, Ga., then built a musical empire that included airplanes and radio stations, only to lose it all to tax, legal and marital problems.

"I Feel Good," Mr. Brown's second stab at an autobiography after "The Godfather of Soul" in 1986, touches on each of these moments, attributing most of his troubles to racism and racial conspiracies, including government use of "reverse X-rays or something" to spy on him through his television. The book is porous enough that some readers may even appreciate its 37-page introduction by Marc Eliot, which fills in some of the who-what-wheres of Mr. Brown's 71 years.

But at its best the book works as gnostic commentary on the action. Mr. Brown is nobody's easy fix. "Remember the 'Segregation before, segregation now, segregation forever!' speech he made?" he writes about George C. Wallace, the late governor of Alabama. "He, too, became another of my best friends." (The other "best friend" was Lester Maddox, a segregationist and former governor of Georgia.) As with his music, Mr. Brown's literary m├ętier is not exposition but transcendence and gall.
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Needless to say, James Brown is very Advanced. Also, calling his book "I Feel Good" is pretty funny. The man knows business, that's for sure.

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