Tuesday, December 26, 2006

walk with me / talk with me

My daughter is bopping around the garden singing I Feel Good

I’ve just received an email from a good friend telling me that James Brown has died. It being Xmas, I’ve been out all day doing Christmas type things (and sitting on the beach) and to be honest, this was the very last thing I expected to come home to. The internet, such is the nature of things, will be awash with tributes to one of the most influential musical figures of the last century, and beyond saying that without James contemporary music as we know it, and popular culture, would be a completely different beast, I’ll leave the musical eulogies to others.

I saw James for the first time in London in 1984, way past his prime sadly but still absolutely compelling. I’d turned down an invitation to see him on Auckland’s North Shore at the quaintly named Kicks Cabaret in late seventies, one of those gigs, and there have been a few, I’ve always regretted, in my naivety (and poverty) missing. I saw him again twice in the latter years of the eighties and he was never less than astounding. As I mentioned in my live overview, standing physically next to Maceo, and by extension, JB, who was chanting “Maceo, Maceo” over the sax solo, in Melbourne, in 1988, is quite a memory for me.

I turned down the chance to see JB in the early part of this decade (twice actually) and from all accounts, I made the correct decision. I’d seen him late enough in his career and didn’t want to spoil that by seeing a half baked money making machine. Those I knew that had also seen him earlier and saw the latter shows indicated that was all it was. Not that I begrudge the man that, it’s just that I didn’t want to see it.

Inevitably there has already been a whole bunch of stuff online along the lines of “one less wife beating junkie”, (his troubles dominated the CNN tribute I saw…it’s hard to be a black icon in the USA) and quite frankly, he wasn’t perfect or close to it…how many of our musical heroes are, especially those that come from the time and place that James did. But none of that can remove the sheer joy and exhilaration generations felt and will feel “taking it to the bridge” one more time.

In 1988 Stetsasonic released their classic Talking All That Jazz with the now famous lines

Tell the truth, James Brown was old 'Til Eric and Rakim came out with "I Got Soul"

which, whilst there was an element of truth in it, rather missed the point : the hip hop samplers may have given James’ catalogue a new life but the crucial point is that without JB, there would have been no hip hop. End of story. None. He, or those he surrounded himself with, invented the music that made possible Stetsasonic.

One of my favourite JB moments was seeing the man on Larry King in the early nineties claiming he had been sampled “almost 100 times”...uh okay James...are we talking in the average week...

But we can talking about legacy as much as we like, it’s all made absolutely irrelevant by the opening swirl of It’s a Mans World, or the breakdown in Talking Loud and Saying Nothin’, or for that matter, a thousand other moments. JB was always about the joy of hearing him; of never getting over hearing him; and of wanting to hear him again and again. I’ll miss you James, thank you….

His last words, so I've read, were I'm going away tonight. No you're not James, you'll always be here...

With that in mind I’m off to immerse myself, for a moment, get slightly morose and then grin widely to the glorious Ballads album

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Well I'm running / police on my back

Oh I’m proud of my wife. A few days after my post about the ongoing training being undertaken by the Bali Polisi, Brigid was stopped. In broad daylight, by the big roundabout that links Sunset Road and the Bypass, she was hailed over by a man in a brown uniform.

“You went through a red light, it may have looked green to you but it was red”
If you have ever driven in Bali, or anywhere else in Indonesia, you will be aware that lights may or may not go, and either way, no-one generally pays the blindest bit of attention anyway.

Regardless of that, she handed over her license, which was handed back, and he asked “What do you want to do about it”. She replied that she wanted the ticket and would go to court. He said she could not do that and he would confiscate her license. She then retorted that that was not correct procedure and she would neither hand it over or pay a bribe, as was being requested.

Furthermore, she said, her friend was a good friend of the Balinese Police Chief and she was going to ring her. Which she did. Her friend’s advice was to ask for a ticket and if he would not issue one, remember the name on his badge, give him RP50,000 and wish him a happy Christmas.

Upon being told this the man noticeably freaked, refused the money and told her to go.

Merry Christmas……