Summary of “Being James Brown: Inside the Private World of the Baddest Man Who Ever Lived”

The statue’s back is to what was in 1993 renamed James Brown Boulevard, which cuts from Broad Street for a mile, deep into the neighborhood where James Brown was raised from age six, by his aunts, in a Twiggs Street house that was a den of what James Brown himself calls “Gambling, moonshine liquor and prostitution.” The neighborhood around Twiggs is still devastatingly sunk in poverty’s ruin.
“Sounds good,” James Brown says, “But it sounds canned. We got to get some James Brown in there.” Here it is, the crux of the matter: He wasn’t in the room; ipso facto, it isn’t James Brown music.
Suddenly, James Brown is possessed by an instant of Kabuki insecurity: “I’m recording myself out of a group.” This brings a spontaneous response from several players, a collective murmur of sympathy and allegiance, most audibly saxophonist Jeff’s “We’re not going anywhere, sir.” Reassured, James Brown paradoxically regales the band with another example of his imperious command, telling the story of a drummer, a man named Nat Kendrick, who left the room to go to the bathroom during the recording of “Night Train.” James Brown, too impatient to wait, played the drum part himself, and the recording was completed by the time Nat Kendrick returned.
For my part as a witness, if I could convey only one thing about James Brown it would be this: James Brown is, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a man unstuck in time.
James Brown then tells of playing craps on the road. “I won enough from the Moonglows to buy myself a Cadillac. Them cats was so mad they stole my shoes. Wilson Pickett, all these guys, I look so clean, they don’t think I can play. I was a street man even though I had a suit on.” But his stake in being thought of as the luckiest man alive is compromised by an eagerness to divulge his secret: “Shaved dice,” which always came up the way he wanted them to.
It is the nature of traveling with James Brown that everyone treats him like a god: “The people that show up in every city, they all fall back into their old jobs, like they never stopped. The doormen stand by the door, the hairdressers start dressing his hair.” R.J. is being modest, since his responsibilities have grown to a performing role, as the second voice in a variety of James Brown’s call-and-response numbers, replacing the legendary founding member of the Famous Flames – James Brown’s first band – Bobby Byrd.
Also on the scene is another son, whose name I don’t catch, a shy man who appears to be in his early fifties, and with two sons of his own in attendance – James Brown’s grandsons, older than James Brown II. These different versions of “Family,” with all their tangible contradictions, mingle politely, deferentially with one another in the overcrowded playback room, where James Brown and Fred Wesley are seated together in the leather chairs.
Damon, while not critical of the previous week’s shows, says, “He needs to warm up on tour, too. Think of all the bits he has to remember. If he screws up, you notice.” Damon recalls for me a night when the floor was slick and James Brown missed his first move, and as a result “Lost confidence.” Lost confidence? I try not to say, “But he’s James Brown!” It is somehow true that despite my days in his presence, my tabulation of his foibles, nothing has eroded my certainty that James Brown should be beyond ordinary mortal deficits of confidence.

The orginal article.