Having enjoyed James McBride's memoir The Color of Water and his National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird, I looked forward to reading this bio of a favorite performer of mine, James Brown. The "Hardest-Working Man in Show Business" is a gift to biographers, and I've read several valiant attempts to do his life story justice. By focusing on a few specific quests, McBride creates something new and noteworthy. Brown's art and influence are tremendous, but his personal life was full of failures. This generous, impulsive man was a victim of his success, and McBride does his best to understand why, in the years following Brown's death, the money and legal issues continue to grow and to betray the entertainer's intentions. McBride, a musician, also provides a thoughtful, illuminating appreciation of James Brown's music. I enjoyed it thoroughly and put on a 45 of "Licking Stick" as soon as I finished the book.
McBride shows that Brown's rough-and-tumble life is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. From the forgotten corners of the country town where Brown's family was among those displaced by America's largest nuclear power bomb-making facility to the Augusta, Georgia, funeral home where the Michael Jackson sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, you'll come to understand Brown through McBride's own insights as a black musician with Southern roots.