Monday, August 4, 2014

Super Bad

If I'd been asked, I probably couldn't have named five James Brown songs.

So besides the entertainment value, part of my motivation for seeing "Get On Up" was to learn a little something.

Standing in line to get popcorn, I chatted with the guy in front of me about how slow the girl behind the counter was.

"I'm from Buffalo," he said. "To me, everyone here moves slow." Ouch. He might have rethought that if he'd seen me eating my popcorn.

It was a far bigger crowd than I would have expected on a Monday night and mostly middle-aged, which was no surprise.

The story of the godfather of soul's wild ride of a life is told out of order, so it begins in 1988, well after his heyday but squarely in his druggy period.

That's followed by he and his band in a plane on their way to entertain troops in Vietnam when the plane is attacked.

"Who wants to go down in history as the one that killed the funk?" he yells at his band mates in the oddest of reactions.

But by then his ego was massive, according to this version, requiring that his band address him as Mr. Brown and ask permission for everything.

When a promoter tries to tell him to keep his set to under 30 minutes, he screams, "Don't tell me for how long I can be funky!"

As early as 1964, he gets angry when he finds out he has to play before the other band on the bill - the Rolling Stones- complaining that they haven't even had a hit record. Yet anyway.

Interestingly enough, Mick Jagger produced this film.

One thing I did know about Brown before this movie was how progressively awful his hair looked and the film did a great job of moving him through the early pompadours with high and tight sides through the Afro stage and the later years when he'd use yellow plastic rollers to set his hair.

RVA even got a couple of shout outs when Brown tells his manager (played by Dan Aykroyd as "an old, lucky Jew") that they can book the band themselves and save the cost of paying a promoter.

"We get some 20-year old white deejay in Richmond, Virginia who's playing my music because he loves it to promote the show!" Brilliant and goodbye payola.

Parts of the film were difficult to watch (the women next to me made a lot of empathetic noises), especially Brown's childhood with issues of abuse and abandonment (not to mention coming upon a lynched man).

And it was hard to understand how he was sentenced to 5-13 years for stealing a suit from a car. A suit, for goodness' sake.

No easier were scenes of him hitting and grabbing his wife.

But as the godfather himself put it, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." Or at least it was then.

After seeing the movie and hearing all those James Brown songs performed, here's what I learned.

I still don't know the names of most of them. Oh, sure, I recognized bits and pieces of many of them.

"Get on Up" is not a song title but a line from "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)." Who knew?

The signature JB starter,"I feel good," apparently comes from "I Got You." No clue.

Just for the record, I nailed "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." So there's that.

Okay, I didn't learn as much as I could have, but this much I know: I need to add some James Brown to my collection.

I'm going to get up on that right away.


  1. Karen, if you are so inclined, Shout Factory, a company that specializes in DVDs of old TV shows, cult movies and some music, is showing their 3 DVD "James Brown in the 60's" set for free on YouTube until 8/11. Here's the info from the email they sent me: "Starting today (8/1), watch I Got The Feelin': James Brown In The '60s for FREE. This special online presentation of the acclaimed 3-disc DVD set will be available for only 10 days, on both the official James Brown YouTube Channel and Pluto.TV (channel 117). Not only does it feature rare concert footage, it also delves into the man behind the music during the turbulent 1960s." I hope to check it out myself, along with the movie. Thanks for the always entertaining blog!

  2. Great tip, Tony! Thanks for sharing...and so glad to hear you enjoy the blog. Hope you'll keep reading.