City Journal Spring 2014

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Ian Penman
Did He Feel Good? « Back to Story

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James Brown music Do'nt be a dropout inspired
me to finish school.Say it loud I'm black and proud change my life when everyone love white or light skinned people.James Brown was my chemo when the doctors said i had ten years to live.When he said get up off that things and dance you will feel better.fourteen years now cancer free and I OWE LOT TO JB.
This is an otherwise good critical piece except for the Bob Marley so-called "parallel". DJs and Dub didn't "carry the day" they just added flavor of current generation doing their thing in the wake of decades long absence of Marley! Bob Marley is such an icon, that his death is also his life is in Reggae; his message and mission remains relevant inspiring listeners who weren't even born 15-20 years hence his passing. James Brown is undeniably a pillar of Black Music but don't forget he lost 'it' way back in the mid 1970s when the sound changed to Disco, leaving him to parody himself for the next three decades. And for the record, Bob Marley walks in no one's shoes. He's not "Che Guevara with a Gibson guitar". Marley completed his mission complete with song coda. He blessedly believed in an almighty God, Ethiopia's Haile Selassie, Rastafari. While Che the atheist revolutionary, lost his fight trying to spread communism, on a still-born mission in Bolivia. Of this unlikely triumvirate, only Bob Marley died with honor and a growing movement beyond his unblemished name!
Yeah, but Mr. Brown made magic... http://www.littlerature.com/the-music-of-all-time/
"Brown had his own code for this hypnotic way of playing off the beat: he called it The One." ?? Jeanne is correct (though reggae??); funk is on the beat, on The One to be precise.
Superbly written. Most engaging and informative. What an illustration Brown's life seems to have been of money not being able to buy the respect he so obviously craved. And, like so many rags to riches stories, the inevitable anger and self abuse when he realizes it never will. One can only hope he at least bought his kids a decent education.
Anybody who ever saw the James Brown show (at ANY point in the man's career), will be able to instantly discern that this reviewer has NEVER been to a James Brown show.
Wow! Penman lives up to his name -- what writing!
I feel good now that I know what made the HWMISB tick.

william mcneill June 12, 2012 at 6:15 PM
Brown's greatest performance, in my opinion, was his raise-the-roof, set-the-walls-on-fire interpretation of "Let Us All Go Back to the Old Landmark," from the movie "Blues Brothers." Backed up by a diesel-engine black gospel choir, you can't sit still when listening. You just have to jump up and shout, "Thank you, Jesus!"
I have lost myself many times to his music, and probably will for the rest of my life. I was lucky enough to see him in person a few times. Amazing show.

But, like a lot of geniuses he was likely really messed up.
Hat's off to you Mr.Penman your incredibly well written review compels me read this book, what an icon the man was,flawed or otherwise...PC
Hugo de Toronja June 09, 2012 at 1:08 PM

Mr. Penman writes in his lovely review, "Brown died in the same small patch of South Carolina where he was born. ..."

It will be impossible to write an elegiac line like that about any American musician, black or white, now alive. People no longer remain deeply tied to a region or specific place for very long.

What's striking about Brown's story is how insistently, and durably, Southern it is. His favorite types of people were the same ones that fascinated Flannery O'Connor. One of his best friends was Strom Thurmond, an eternal emblem of the South's obsessions. And Nixon? Synonymous with the "Southern Strategy."

If there's any lesson, I guess it's that genius doesn't need to roam widely, that cosmopolitanism isn't necessary for inspiration, and that rather magnificent mountains can in fact be made out of molehills.

Even molehills in South Carolina.

Even I know this and I'm just little old lady from Florida! "the One" is a musical term regarding tempo: from a wikipedia article on reggae---"differs markedly from the drumming styles in R&B and rock and roll, which put the bass drum on the first beat (the downbeat) and almost never on the second and fourth beats (the weak beats in a bar).James Brown's style characteristically put a Huge kick on the One.
"but it’s not music you play at home to lose yourself in"


Erm I was 'losing myself' listening to some JBs on my MP3 player on my way to work
So, Mr. Brown was a bad man, even though his music was, very likely, immortal.

Drivel.
"but it’s not music you play at home to lose yourself in"

Oh I disagree. As a white woman I'm going to lose myself in some hard working James Brown, James Brown, right about now.

James Brown doing "Please Please Please" on "Live at the Apollo" is one of the greatest recordings ever made.