May the hardest working man in show business finally rest in peace.
Driving home from Boston yesterday, my wife Rachel and I cranked up James Brown on the stereo, listening to Love Power Peace – Live at the Olympia, Paris 1971. An incredible set, James Brown at his most elemental, just when Bootsy Collins first joined the band (he and Jabbo Starks are totally ferocious in the rhythm section and the whole band is on overdrive.) Then we listened to Disc 3 from the Star Time box set, the studio recordings from the same era, ridiculously tight and funky. With all the hype around his death, the basic fact is that he has to be considered one of the five most influential musicians of the twentieth century, and arguably the most influential in terms of breadth of influence in popular contemporary music. Besides pretty much all funk, r&b, and hip-hop bearing his mark, I’d say Mr. Brown was creating some serious minimalism while Glass and Reich were still dealing with Debussy. (One beat, one chord, for as long as it takes! And if Glass or Reich ever took it to the bridge, I think I’d enjoy them much more.) And beyond the basic connection to the black church, I hear a real parallel between Brown and post-Ayler improvisation, where the pure intensity, commitment, and conviction of the performance matter more than complex harmony or structure. And as Rachel commented, James Brown was dealing with meta-commentary well before all the post-modern hipsters. (”Bobby, I think I’m gonna scream!” “Yeah!” “Think I’m gonna scream!” “Yeah!” “Gonna scream!” “Yeah!” “Gonna scream!” “Yeah!” “Gonna scream!” “Yeah!” “OOWWWEEEEE!”) And he came up with the greatest lyric in pop music history: “I don’t know karate, but I know ca-razy!”
There was a great profile in the New Yorker back in 2002. My favorite part was when the author transcribed the words to Brown’s first big hit, Please, Please, Please. Could anyone else ever have made a hit song out of this? James Brown forever.
Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Honey, please! Don’t. Yeah! Oh, yea-ah. Oh. I love you so. Baby! You did me wrong. Whoa! Whoa-oh. You done me wrong. You know you done! Done me wrong. Whoa. Oh yeah! You took my love. And now you’re gone. Please! Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Honey, please. Don’t! Whoah. Oh, yeah. Lord. I love you so. I just want to hear you say, I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I! Honey, please. Don’t. Oh! Oh, yeah. Oh. I love you so. Baby! Take my hand. I want to be your lover man. Oh, yes. Good God almighty. Honey, please! Don’t. Ohhh. Oh. Yeahh. Lord. I love you so! Pleeeeeeeease. Don’t go. Pleeee-ee-ee-ease. Don’t go. Honey, please don’t go. Oh. I love you so. Please. Please.