Thursday, December 28, 2006

Burning Down My House

It tells you all you need to know about life in a very white Canadian city in the early '60s to discover that I first heard about James Brown in an Archie comic book. If memory serves—and it was, after all, 1964 or something—Betty and Veronica were musing about what music they would continue listening to in the coming year, and one of them (likely the more soulful Betty) opined that James Brown would continue to groove her world.

When I saw the T.A.M.I. show sometime in the following months I knew what Betty meant. Suddenly, the up-to-then-oh-so-cool Mick Jagger seemed like a little boy—even to my little boy eyes. James Brown was, literally, the man.

Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke were the only black singers heard on Canadian radio with any regularity in those years, so I never had the thrill of hearing Mr. Dynamite alongside his pop and rock peers, and he remained an elusive thrill—seeming almost like an imagined dream as the T.A.M.I. experience faded from memory—until I was old enough to seek out the few recordings I could find.

The fact that one of the most iconic and influential artists of the time was unavailable to me through the standard commercial avenues like AM radio taught me a lot about the need to seek alternative channels. For that, and so many other things, I owe James Brown an enormous debt.

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