Tuesday, December 26

On The One

James Brown is dead. Details and adulation available elsewhere.

I have a troubled relationship to James Brown's music (I never knew the person, only the persona; his personal triumphs and failings - as documented in public - are a mixed bag, to say the least). I appreciate him greatly as an innovator, one of the greatest of the second half of the 20th century, but find it hard to like much of his recorded output. I've never warmed to him as a singer, which greatly limits the appeal of his pre-funk heights such as the lauded Live at the Apollo; he had more power to me as a vocalist, and I find I can somewhat get behind the emotive grunts, exhortations and exuberant sighs of the later funk recordings. I'll freely admit that he seemed to always have a top notch backing group, from the Famous Flames to the JBs; the music was tight, the band seemingly united in a hive mind, and the grooves they could cut were a pleasure to hear.

Though I've heard the Star Time box set countless times (It came out just a few months before I began my stint as a record clerk, and James was one of the few musical meeting points between the older owners and the lowly grunts), I've never owned it; in a now somewhat eerie moment Sunday morning I again passed on a used copy at my local store, opting instead for the magisterial Mingus set Passions Of A Man. I find I don't even listen to the one James Brown album I've ever owned, the pre-Star Time best-of The CD of JB (which I will gladly argue is better than 20 All-Time Greatest Hits merely because it includes my favorite Brown track, "Licking Stick - Licking Stick"). He just isn't an artist that grabs or compels me to listen in more than a cursory way.

JB is a trailblazer, and without him I wouldn't have artists I love, such as Sly & The Family Stone, the extended George Clinton/P-Funk family, Prince, and Fela Kuti. Though his music may not have touched me the way it did so many others, he indirectly has had a great effect on my musical tastes, and for this I offer my respect and thanks.

Rest in peace Mr. Brown.

No comments: