Monday 4 April 2011

Economics 101

One of the most curious notions entertained nowadays about the music of James Brown is that somehow the direction it took in the 1970's into an increasingly spartan, etiolated, minimalist groove was somehow a quirk of the Godfather Of Soul's character - that it was a reflection of Brown's obsessive, puritanical personality, and offered no reflection on the world around it. For the Rare Groove aficionados of the 1990's who excavated deep and wide into his back catalogue, the archaeological process was enacted to salvage all those deliciously funky tics and riffs so they could be recycled any number of times in an increasingly diverse array of subcultural styles. What Brown actually had to say on those records was deemed irrelevant, or, at best, nothing more than a worthy series of exhortations to stay clean and do something useful.

Which is weird, because Brown was probably the most forensically meticulous documenter of the economic mores of his time, and his music was nothing other than the sound of relentless, concerted economic pressure. Brown famously ran his career like a corporation, and for all the opportunities this gave him for petty tyranny, it also informed him how the system worked. His music could only sound the way it did, because Brown realised that for African-Americans, there was no way out; the only realistic strategy of coping was the stoical maintenance of self-respect, an endless, boundless struggle to maintain your equilibrium against the bewilderingly pernicious social and economic forces that were ranged against you.

The JB's sound was nothing more than the sound of stagflation - the aural manifestation of an economy entering the vicious circle of its own demise.


David K Wayne said...

Nice and succinct about a big reason why he was so influential. It wasn't just the grooves.

Unknown said...

And by the 80s Eddie Murphey insists that James Brown wasn't saying anything:

Although by the 80s Brown was saying stuff like this: