Thursday, December 28, 2006

Farewell to Funk

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Ask any baby boomer about the day that President Kennedy was assassinated and they will have a story for you including details like where they were, how they found out, who they were with, and their personal reactions. Regretfully, I cannot share a personal account of that fateful day in 1963, however on December 25, 2006, our country suffered the loss of another American hero and the day’s events will remain vibrant in my memory.

The day that James Brown died I was in Grandma Noreen’s front room in Clio, Michigan. I was drinking eggnog that tasted like bourbon and watching the news while everyone else was getting gussied-up for mass. It was Christmas. Word of Brown’s passing came from some effervescent, over-enthusiastic newscaster/small-town celebrity, Angie Something-or-other. Her self-tanned smirks and sorority girl hair-flips left me unsure of whether she truly is a friendly do-gooder and local philanthropist or just a self-indulged socialite with the hots for the camera guy. We wouldn’t have been friends in high school. She was definitely a cheerleader.

Angie delivered the news of James Brown’s death in the same way that she delivers the traffic report and updates in Iraq – as if all of her viewers require closed captioning and are naughty, silly incapable toddlers. I imagine she says words like naughty and silly and wrinkles her nose and giggles wildly about how naughty and silly she sounds. She spoke slowly with over-exaggerated expression as a concerned parent would, “The. God. Fah. Ther. Of. Soul. James! Brown! Passed. A. way. Early. This. Morn……..” Her vowel practice trailed off as I focused on the theatrics of her pout.

My mother entered the room, ready for mass, in leather pants.
“James Brown died today,” I said solemnly and vacantly. “I can’t believe it.”

“Why not, honey?”

“He was only 73. It wasn’t his time.”

“He probably wasn’t good to his body… ate a lot of trans fats and fried food.”
This was her immediate rebuttal, said matter-of-factly as if I should have considered this already.

For the remainder of the day, I mourned the Godfather’s passing by means of several bizarre rituals, which - in retrospect - leave quite a cause for concern. Initially, I became extremely saddened and drank considerable amounts of bourbon-flavored nog. I thought of James… of his sweaty showmanship, his fancy footwork, his amazingly bouffant hairstyle, his horrifying celebrity mug shot, that song on the radio in the early 90’s that said repeatedly, “James Brown Is Dead.” Were they prophetic? Perhaps they shared my mother’s dietary sense and noticed JB’s intake of southern cooking.

LA Style - James Brown Is Dead

One more legend down. For a moment I felt a wave of thankfulness and relief that it wasn’t Willie’s time yet. Then I scolded myself for comparing the value of two legendary lives based on my personal preferences. The word ‘legend’ immediately triggers memories of an old Nintendo game. I start to imagine Willie in Zelda’s little green peter pan getup, and I laugh. I sing Sex Machine and I Got You in the bathroom mirror, instructing my reflection to “Get Up! Get On Up!” Then I spend the remainder of the evening pondering trans fat intake, both my own and Willie’s.

I heard on the news this morning that The Reverend Al Sharpton plans to parade James Brown’s body through the streets of Harlem in a horse-drawn carriage. I guess they’ve got one last show at New York’s Apollo Theater. It seems as though even the godfather of soul can’t stay on the scene like a sex machine forever.

I would like to think that James Brown’s last words would be some soulful universal message to us all.
People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul!

“The hardest thing about being James Brown is I have to live. I don't
have no down time.”
- James Brown

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James Brown 1933-2006
Rest In Peace


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