Tag Archive: james brown


James Brown

The weirdness of leveling up has worn off.

Found a good comfort zone in this stage of peak efficiency.

Feels like the right song choice.





While my childhood was one of many defined by what came next, as an adult I can’t really argue with anyone who feels ‘Off the Wall’ is a superior album.  Spike’s documentary captures all the reasons why.

As the title suggests, the first half covers the journey and how (absurd as it sounds now), Michael Jackson was having a hard time figuring out how to be taken seriously.  He was the bubblegum kid singer, he was the novelty at the front of the novelty act the Jackson 5.  As (a nice interview choice here) Kobe Bryant explained, young Mike was a hardcore student of his craft.  Not just studying Sammy Davis Jr’s moves, and James Brown’s moves, but how the industry treated them as black stars.

After ‘the Jacksons’ became a success after leaving Motown, it was time.  The concert footage really captures why ‘Rock With You’ is one of my favorite videos.  No one (in all the good and bad ways) was more theatrical than Michael Jackson, but he could blow you away with nothing but the microphone in his hand.  A great vocalist.

The last third of the film is the track by track breakdown.  Everyone from Questlove to his brothers, to Stevie Wonder breaking down ‘the last great disco record.’ Rock With You. Off the Wall. She’s Out of My Life. I Can’t Help It. Turn this Disco Out.

Yep, that album still holds up.  So does this doc.

Was a Showtime exclusive for a long time, now you can rent it on iTunes and I assume your other digital channels.

Beatles at the BBC

CNN is about to push out ‘The Seventies’; over the weekend I finally saw the British Invasion episode of ‘the Sixties’, and it was everything I wanted and more.

Short version: BeatleMania hit, inspired in part by their covers of Isley Brothers and Barrett Strong’s hit songs; the Rolling Stones followed suit, letting James Brown open for them to show their appreciation for soul music (cool but BIG mistake Mick never forgot), the Beatles started writing their own songs and got bigger, which inspired Brian Wilson among others to try harder and play around with harmonies and the studio to create ‘God Only Knows’, which the Beatles heard and a year later, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ comes out.

(And yes, the creative competition and artistry fired me up as much as it sounds like it did. I picked my guitar the next weekend and started playing my favorite solos again.)

Including this one.  Enjoy!


So let’s start with what a lot of us felt before shooting began: Andre 3000 is a great choice to play Jimi Hendrix.  There’s enough in his style and cadence (and natural persona) to suggest Jimi without feeling like complete mimicry or impersonation.  The story of this particular biopic covers the period of Hendrix leaving America to take on London, and ends with his return to America (for Monterrey).  To me, it had a different rhythm than most Hollywood biopics.  I appreciated this, but it’s far enough away from genre convention that it might not be for everybody.

A few other hot takes:

  • You probably know the Hendrix estate didn’t sign off on any official Jimi recordings (and the film suffers for it).  But, ‘All is By My Side’ makes it clear Jimi Hendrix was very abusive to the women who loved him.  Conversely, ‘Get On Up’ was cosigned by James Brown’s estate.  Fun movie with studio backing and the official music.  There was one, off screen, implied moment where Jill Scott was thrown down a flight of stairs.  And it was never really followed up.  So…coincidence?
  • I’m never surprised but always impressed when an actor gets a chance to prove they can play different notes than the ones we are used to seeing them play.  In this film, that’s Hayley Atwell as Jimi’s main love interest.  I know, Captain America ain’t gonna like all that but…
  • There’s a scene after he’s made a name for himself where Jimi has tea with a native black Londoner.  In short, he tells Jimi that it’s great he’s so comfortable being the crossover sensation, he should also maintain a connection to the kids who actually see part of their own identity when they see Jimi Hendrix.  Have I mentioned yet that John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) wrote and directed this movie?  And yes, of course this was my favorite scene!
  • My second favorite scene (just as a music geek) was staging when Jimi covered ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ TWO DAYS after the record came out, with Paul and George in the audience. Unbelievably cocky, but of course it was fantastic and its own way, original.  That was Jimi Hendrix.

So yeah, maybe not even the best possible Jimi Hendrix movie. But I liked it.  Streaming on Netflix.


Before Michael and Jackie, it wasn’t just James Brown. It was this man.




An oft forgotten classic carol from the Godfather of Soul…


‘Get On Up’



I can’t really ‘spoil’ a movie about the life of James Brown, can I?

I’m in my ‘peak period’ of introspection as some of you know, so on the way home I was comparing filmmaking to life in general (just go with me for a minute).  When you have a good thing, don’t mess it up.  Know when to be patient and when to go for the kill.  Have fun.

So, when we talk about music biopics as a genre, I think at all costs you need the original music (so I’m already setting myself up for disappointment with 3000 as Jimi Hendrix); musician or not, it’s probably better for all parties if the subject is dead (even the best of us get uncomfortable seeing our flaws played out as ‘entertainment’ for the masses), and you know, it’s still a movie right? So be cinematic at points.

With that lead in, I think Get On Up is as well done as a studio genre pic can be in the current climate.

Chadwick Boseman (’42’) takes on another iconic brother from history in the Godfather of Soul.  AND HE NAILS IT!  The first scene most of the audience naturally laughed cause it did feel like a really good James Brown impression.  But as the film unfolds, it feels less like an over the top impression and more like James Brown.  That was the way he talked, that was the way he danced, and I don’t think any of us will deny that the man was larger in life in every way possible.  The second of the film’s many strong points was in showing (but not dwelling) on each part of the icon: the hair, the heavy gospel influence, the Flames.

I don’t think ‘America’ knows Chadwick by name (yet), so the next set of major props goes to how many ‘faces’, as actors in the film, we get.  Craig Robinson, Black Thought, Jill Scott (we all agree she is the sexiest ‘big girl’ of all time right?), Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer.  Not to mention the brother who stole his scenes as young Little Richard, and the quick nod to the Stones in the first act (I know Mick Jagger has his hand in this, but it’s not overplayed).

My only problem with the film to be honest is that it stuck so close to the genre sometimes.  James Brown (and his music) is so contagious and charismatic; obviously he’s human like the rest of us, but the few moments where the film went to drama felt either underdeveloped or like a studio note (i.e. ‘James Brown is/was one of the most beloved entertainers ever, make sure you throw some ‘jerk’ scenes in there, dammit!’)

That’s small potatoes though.  If you like James Brown or any of his songs (which is I’m guessing 98% of you), Get On Up is one you should see.