Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown is Forever Alive - lnf

James Brown is dead. No, not the 1992 L.A. Style track which tried to negate the need for soul in dance tracks. The real living legend, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" is really gone, having passed on Christmas Day.

JB was a special figure in my own exploration into music, soul, race, and expression. I don't know when was the first time I saw a video of JB, but I knew it was electric. I think it was on Video Music Box, the afterschool rap music show on Channel 21 that showed all the cool videos.

Seeing JB do his moves just made me want to be like him. And so when I was alone in my own room, dorm room, or apartment, I would get the hair brush out like it was my mike, put on the JB tape, and let it rip. For me, he represented a certain fearlessness about himself. Not afraid to let his soul come out, let it all hang out. And I admired that, primarily because my own personality was not like that. But certain situations or songs would bring that out in me, and I liked that new me, as fleeting as it was.

So JB was a reminder of what can be, of what I can be.

He was also a pioneer of sound and beat and dance, influencing the whole of hip-hop and rap. He contributed many great tracks which have a life of their own: I Got You (I Feel Good), Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud, Sex Machine, just to name a few.

Watching him and listening to him was a liberating experience. It is like how they say, when one person is liberated, it cannot help but have a liberating effect on those around him.

Sex Machine affirmed my machismo. I'm Black and I'm Proud was the basis o
f one of the placards we used during an anti-racist march after the beating of a young Indo-Caribbean in Richmond Hill. Our placard read "I'm Brown and I'm Proud." Newsday ran a picture of two little girls, twins actually - maybe 6 or 7, each holding signs saying "I'm Brown and I'm Proud."

So I was not such a follower of JB where I went to any of his concerts or had a big collection of his albums - I had some. But his influence on me and the world extended far beyond his music.

And so, even as his own personal history was uneven and, at times, troubled, JB was a legend, a true American original representing agony and exultation, pride and pain. Most importantly, he did it with soul, his soul, which he was never afraid to express, and which in turn liberated so many others to express their own soul, even if it was for a brief moment with the hair brush while alone in one's world.

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