I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul
By James Brown (Intro by Marc Eliot)
(New American Library)
Humility, self-deprecation and subtlety are not words commonly associated with James Brown and his recently released autobiography does little to dispel this assumption. He is, after all, the Godfather of Soul, a pivotal figure in American culture whose musical innovations and defiant stance against social injustice (and his ability to be just so damn funky) have earned him considerable bragging rights. With all respect to you, Mr. Brown—we know you’re great. You don’t need to explain it to anyone who has a beating heart and a butt that can sufficiently shake. Yet, in I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul, a rambling, often overly defensive manifesto of his life and career, he has done just that. But still, one has to admire a supreme practitioner of chutzpah of the stature of James Brown. As one reads through the pages, the jaw drops with amazement and the eyebrows reach a height on one’s forehead that no amount of Botox can repair.
What else but chutzpah could account for a man who considers Ray Charles, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and segregationist governor of Alabama George Wallace as his “friends”? What force of nature besides James Brown could take almost absolute credit for the transformation of gospel into soul (despite Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles’ undeniable influences)? Who else but JB could give advice on romantic relationships and marriage? Nobody. Yet the chutzpah that makes his autobiography so amazing is the very same quality that makes his music indispensable, arresting and so thoroughly visceral. If you want to know where the real James Brown resides, it’s in the grooves he’s laid down for half a century.
Brown’s autobiography is unfortunately a fairly typical affair in terms of celebrity tomes—it is self-serving, arrogant, riddled with unaccountability, and features the usual historical distortions. It is also, despite some badly needed editing and general reorganization to form a coherent narrative, surprisingly entertaining.
It’s OK—we still love you, James. You don’t need to explain it to us. We’ve been listening for quite some time and we’ve learned about the power of pride, conviction and assertiveness through your music. But man, it’s sure a trip to listen to you shine on.
Read NT's review of the newly reissued CD Soul on Top