India Uncut

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

RIP Kill 'em, James Brown!

James Brown is dead. Jon Pareles nails it in an NYT obituary when he writes that Brown's music was "was sweaty and complex, disciplined and wild, lusty and socially conscious." But you're unlikely to read a better piece on Brown than Philip Gourevitch's masterly feature from four years ago, "Mr Brown", in which he writes:
Mr. Brown has always regarded his public with an attitude akin to that of a politician on the campaign trail: by their adulation, he says, "the people" made him, and to keep them he must serve them. At the same time, he has the peculiar idiomatic habit of describing himself as a slayer of audiences. "Normally, I just go out there and kill 'em," he declared in the Oakland dressing room. What he means by such remarks is that, for as long as the price of a ticket brings you to him, he will transport you so totally into the grip of his groove that you will forget your mortal coil in eager surrender, and, if he does his job well, he will literally control your breathing as precisely as if he had his hand clenched around your trachea. So the relationship is symbiotic: he gives his all, and asks for nothing less in return.
Mr Gourevitch's feature is worthy of its subject, of course, writing lifted to a special pitch. Reading it, I can hear Brown singing in my head, and I can feel the goosebumps.

And then I turn the record player on, and I'm transported. Sex machine indeed!

Update (December 28): Reader Anupama directs me to Jonatham Lethem's excellent feature, "Being James Brown."Nikhil Pahwa directs me to a 10-minute film called "Beat the Devil." And Boing Boing has some terrific links here, including to many videos.
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