A trifecta of celeb death. Jerry Ford......and I mean who gives a fuck.......the American backed lynching of our former pal "Saddam".....and then Soul Brother Number One.....the Godfather of Sweat......the Hardest Working Man in Show Business....James Brown. When I first heard this I was in a small farming community in central west Norway. My hosts had never heard of JB -- so I quickly found some internet videos and introduced them to the embodiment of hip.
As I watched, I found myself in a twilight zone between constant smiles and the threshold of tears. I watched the classic video of Please Please Please.......and I started smiling as I noticed the steps of the back up singers. But they weren't smiling. They were serious.....they were part of the ritual of the James Brown show. And James himself......he wasnt selling anything, he was suffering. He was suffering for us. And this makes him a bit like JC......(hey, just back up one letter...you know!?). The sidemen were serious as heart attacks......and even when Brown would smile, it was a tortured smile. Throw the cape away, my people need me.
JB in 1974—wild and true to himself.
Let the square world tremble.
Sonny Liston trained to JB's Nightrain. Its not an accident. Sonny is tragic too. Sonny also never sold anybody anything, or at least not up front. James wasn't there to suck your dick, you were there to suck his. And there is a price for this. James had troubles. But then I don't trust anyone who doesn't have troubles.....or who tries to hide them. James was an avatar of authenticity. He was born in a cold sweat. Watch some of the early stuff, the TAMI show, or that classic version of Please Please Please. I remember seeing James on some afternoon pop show....the Dick Clark knockoffs that were everywhere in the early sixties. It was like watching the avenging angel come to smite the unbelievers. His conk was epic all by itself. And then he danced.....I remember it clearly, on one foot.....backward. I sat there....all of fourteen or something, and I knew I had seen something the straight world really doesn't want you to see. The straight world will domesticate all it can. JB never gave in. He probably didn't know the concept.
I wonder if anyone remembers his weird performace on the final season of Miami Vice? As a UFO-cultist, so I recall. It was watching Brando, or Billie Holiday, or Muddy or Hank. It was watching something too big for the context. It wasn't exactly acting, or exactly good.......but it might have contained that glimpse of oblivion we all unconsciously seek.
So, that small part of America I still have feelings for has lost another major player. Its like the cultural ice flow lost a chunk....and is much smaller. Smaller, more craven, and less sexy. Salesmen aren't sexy, and those who do the bidding of others aren't sexy. James and his entire show were sexy. They were serious. They were the church of JB and nobody better smile the wrong smile in church. If a man must suffer to be alive, then JB was among the most alive men of recent history.
John Steppling, playwright and director....is living in a safe undisclosed location in Europe.