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The Knees of James Brown

Yesterday our London office sent me a mini-review of Douglas Wolk’s James Brown book, which apparently appeared in the March issue of Mojo. Not sure how that one escaped my notice, but anyway, it’s good:

Wolk’s exemplary analysis of James Brown’s legendary LP contextualises his performance within his own career, the political events unfolding that week of recording in October 1962 (the Cuban Missile Crisis) and its place in the history of black American music, illustrating how Brown utilised often uncredited elements from the 1920s onwards. Brown’s oft cited ruthlessness reaches a nadir with the dismissal of singer and pregnant-with-Brown’s-child Yvonne Fair after the shows. Most astonishing, however, is Wolk’s conjecture that to avoid recording distortion, the riotous album captured, “James Brown holding back.”

And here’s one of my favourite passages from the book:

James Brown does not, as a matter of routine, perform without begging, repeatedly. Not being one for half measures, he does not beg without falling to his knees. He falls to his knees half a dozen or so times in every show: on soft wooden floors like the Apollo’s, on hard concrete stages, on carpet, on stone, on metal, on earth. Four or five shows a day, three hundred days a year, in the early years. A hundred or more shows a year, even now that he’s in his seventies. Fifty years in show business. Imagine James Brown falling to his knees for his audience tens of thousands of times, probably hundreds of thousands of times. Imagine the scar tissue, inches thick, on the knees of James Brown.

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