Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown (and the summer of discontent)

When I heard of James Brown's passing, it reminded me of this little story. Please indulge. Thanks.
It was the summer of discontent.

The band hadn't broken up, but fragmented into a quartet. There was grumbling among the ranks, but musicians are keenly mercenary creatures.

At first, all was happy in "Crushed Velvet" quartet land. Four happy fish gladly rehearsing, composing and gigging. All was well.

All is never well for long.

I don't know why, but there was a sudden cold wind found blowing in my general direction. Arriving at rehearsal, it was announced that the band's name was changing. All three of the guys must have had some secret meeting or talk to suddenly want to change not only the name, but to change musical directions. I thought we were happy in our direction, but plans were changing and it was three to one.

One suggested adding more Robin Hitchcock songs and songs by bands that were the 80's equivalent of post punk. We listened to this music and all liked the music (Except me who thought it was not my cup of tea, but politeness prevailed and said nothing). I suggested adding more latin flavored originals. That suggestion was not greeted with much enthusiasm. Then, the main conspirator brought out James Brown's Greatest Hits. We listened to this music and afterwards, I was stunned. It was one of those moments.

"Well guys, what do you think?"

"I think we need to shave our heads and do nothing but listen to James Brown." I wasn't kidding. It blew my mind.

Like most folk, I had heard JB before, but this time something happened. Brown's music was so tight, so hot, and so funky, it literally devastated my musical landscape. When Brown performed, it was as if he was plugged into an electrical storm. He had so much passion and energy that it looked like he could catch fire at any second.

James ruled his band with an iron fist; often docking a musician's pay when he heard mistakes.
There are no democracies in a band. Someone is the boss. Believe it.
As it is well-documented, James at times had a tumultuous personal life that couldn't keep him out of trouble and the inevitable limelight. Great artist, but flawed human being. Separate art from the artist kids and you'll never have your heart broken.
Oh, the band? I hated the direction they were going in and the new name, so I bowed out as gracefully as I could. That's what was happening anyway-they were kicking me out. God love 'em. I can be a real pain and a strain. Just thinking about having to put up with me as a band mate is enough.
So, thank you James Brown for reinventing music, for making the funkiest music on the planet.

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