Wednesday, December 27, 2017

James McBride's 'Kill 'Em & Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown' (2016)

James McBride, Kill 'Em & Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016. The American subtitle is different. Oh, don't ask why . . .

From the moment I first heard him to this forward-moving moment and beyond, James Brown has been, is and will be an important musical flame inside my internal soundtrack. For me, his sound (with various bandmates) from the 1960s and 1970s is what really turns the heat up. 

And so I was greatly pleased to check out this recent take on Brown, who was born on May 3, 1933, and died on Christmas Day of 2006. 

McBride takes us along on a quest. Along the way, fresh details are come upon, or coaxed out of people who knew James Brown. And the milieu: McBride doesn't sugarcoat race or culture or history or music. He lays out hard truths in particular about race in America, and the power divide.

McBride starts with the Southern setting of the James Brown story: "There is nowhere in the USA quite like America's South; there is no place more difficult to fully understand or fully capture . . . The South is simply a puzzle . . . You cannot understand Brown without understanding that the land that produced him is a land of masks. The people who walk that land, both black and white, wear masks and more masks, then masks beneath those masks." (page 8)

McBride spotlights an aspect of the milieu that I'd not connected before: the creation of the Savannah River Nuclear Site and total displacement of people who lived in the area (pages 52-55): "The thousands of blacks there simply vanished into history" (page 54). Brown would end his years in the same region.

McBride also gets into the music, and "why funk is as challenging as jazz. You must know when to enter the groove, and what to play. Funk -- any good music, really -- requires space. Knowledge of when to throw in your small contribution and when to lay out . . . Consistently. Every time." (page 147) 

Today's Rune: Journey


Charles Gramlich said...

Don't know that much about him but I do like bios on musicians. I'll have a look

Luma Rosa said...

Hi, Erik!
James Brown lived and what passes us is passion, humor and power. I wish that more books of music that were published had the same balance.
Happy 2018!!