I am a big fan of James Brown. There is a new biography out on him, The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, by R. J. Smith and the book was reviewed on City Journal by Ian Penman. If you are interested in the man and his music, please read Penman’s review. I think he gets it just right (just a little over the top). Here is a sample:
Born in 1933, Brown learned his hard-headed ways in a 1950s music business that was a rough twine of Mafia hegemony and outta-sight profits. He believed in the redemptive power of hard work as others believed in the blood of the lamb. A true believer in the do-it-yourself ethos of the American Dream, he didn’t see why race should be a barrier to getting the good things in life. Hard work was how he shaped his destiny in a sectarian world, his eventual success the product of near tyrannical drive and will. He could be hard work personally, too. He rarely took no for an answer, whether it was a question of getting an encore, sleeping with him, or signing away your royalties. In his music as in his wiles, Brown was no suave pinkie-ring seducer. He had none of the snake-charmer sweetness of a later generation of soul men. If the key to musical seduction is hiding all artifice behind a carefully disheveled front of natural élan, Brown took another road, emphasizing all the stuff other artists tucked away. Listening to Brown’s classic hits—“Cold Sweat,” “Out of Sight,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”—you could be eavesdropping on some 11th-hour rehearsal, the air jumpy with back chat, barked instructions, and flip, musicianly code. You can all but hear the effort that goes into summoning up the bumpy and volatile groove. …
I have my own James Brown story.
I was introduced to free market economics of Ludwig von Mises and the philosophy of Ayn Rand in the latter 1960s while I was attending law school at Hastings College of the Law in downtown San Francisco. While I was studying law, and in my free time, economics, I also listened to a lot of soul music from a station in Oakland across the Bay. I was fascinated by black urban culture and music. As a white boy from suburban San Diego, I had little experience with blacks other than the music. So when I got to urban SF (yes, for a while I lived in the Haight), I was immersed in the polyglot of cultures and races of the City.
I started listening to a radio program (later on TV) by a black lawyer, Don Warden, who talked a lot about black pride. His idea of that was not as much ab0ut the Man, as it was about self-help. He urged his black listeners to celebrate their African heritage and take care of things themselves because the White Man was not going to get it done for them. That appealed to me and my libertarian friends. I eventually met Warden in his law office and we discussed our mutual interests and ideas. He was cool, came across as a lawyer firmly immersed in the business world. I learned later where he was really headed.
Warden was also a friend and an attorney of James Brown, who at that time was a leader of the Black Pride movement of which Mr. Warden was one of its proponents. James’s hit songs at that time were, “Don’t Be a Drop-Out”, ”Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”, and ”I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)”. So the big day came (1968/1969) when Warden had James as a guest on his TV show. After some whining I was allowed into the studio, where I met James, shook his hand, told him how much I appreciated his music, and received a smile along with, “Right on, brother.”
I never saw him again. Nor did I see Warden. I continued to hang around as an observer of the SF scene. It was a heady time when the Black Panthers had started, their armed “invasion” of the State Assembly building in Sacramento, the Oakland shootout, Berkeley riots, leftist/communist/labor movements, anti-war marches, the Haight scene, the Fillmore Auditorium, drugs and drugs. What I didn’t know then about Don Warden is that he supposedly helped Huey Newton and B0bby Seale found the Black Panthers. Later Warden became Khalid Abdullah Tariq al-Mansour, a Muslim and radical black nationalist who espoused mostly incomprehensible ramblings. He apparently bounced around the country but he continues today with his podcast rants.
I found this quote made by Brown back in 1969 that will give you an idea of his thinking, which I wholly endorse:
My music tells what the man on the street feels. I haven’t had one bit of help from the government, states, or local cities. It’s been a fight all the way … and I’m glad, because when you set the record, you can see what James Brown did for himself, with the help of his people. He made it as a black man.
If you like this story, I may tell you about the Black People’s Free Store.